Shuttered since 2020, Arcata Plaza bar Toby & Jack’s has continued to deteriorate. | Photo by Ryan Burns.


Even for a dive bar, Toby & Jack’s is looking nasty these days.

The exterior is smeared with partially removed graffiti. The pinstriped teal-and-beige marquee has faded, and the neon martini glass affixed to the plywood siding has gone dark.

The illustrated top hat, cane and gloves superimposed on the yin-yang “TJ’s” sign above the door suggest long-lost aspirations of elegance, which can only look ironic affixed to such a ramshackle facade. 

As with Sidelines Sports Bar, the former Arcata Plaza tavern located two doors down, Toby & Jack’s was raided by law enforcement in February of 2018 following a 10-month undercover investigation into illegal drug dealing. (During a subsequent administrative hearing, a prosecutor with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control quipped that while Cheers was the place where everybody knows your name, Toby & Jack’s was where everyone went for cocaine.)

Both bars had their liquor licenses revoked in 2020 following a series of appeals and administrative hearings, and they subsequently went out of business.

Sidelines later reopened as a thrift store, with revenues benefiting Miranda’s Rescue, but Toby & Jack’s has remained closed.

But Toheed Ahmad and his sister Maria Khalid, who immigrated to the Bay Area from Pakistan in the late 1990s, have plans to revitalize the building over the coming months, renovating it inside and out to create Habibi Bar and Grill. Once open, the restaurant will offer cuisine from India, Pakistan and the Mediterranean region while the full bar will serve cocktails, hard alcohol, beer, wine and more into the wee hours.

Conceptual design for the facade of Habibi Bar and Grill by Brown Designs. | Image via City of Arcata.


The Outpost recently sat down with Ahmad in his small office at Arcata’s Fourth Street Market, Liquors and Deli, the salmon-colored landmark on Samoa Boulevard that he has owned and operated since 2004.

Ahmad | Photo by Ryan Burns

“I bought it from the Dal Porto family,” Ahmad said, referring to the multi-generational locals who opened Dal Porto’s Deli here in 1979. Ahmad, who had been managing a similar business in the San Jose suburb of Mountain View, purchased the business in 2004.

“We have a deli here, too,” he explained.

It was his sister, though, who had dreams of opening a sit-down dining establishment. 

“She’s the one who said, ‘Okay, brother, let’s move into the restaurant’ – because she’s a good cook,” Ahmad said.

Last week, the Arcata Planning Commission approved a sign permit and design review for the building’s facade, which will be renovated with a black lattice design over white background and a cut-metal sign backlit by red LED lighting.

“I want to uplift that building, make it beautiful [and] increase the cleanliness of the plaza,” Ahmad said.

The floor plan, again by Brown Designs. (Click to enlarge.)


The plans submitted to the city depict a covered outdoor dining area facing the alley. Inside the train car-shaped dining area will be a long bar, a dining counter and tables, with a row of five skylights overhead.

Ahmed said the vibe will be a mix of casual and fine dining featuring classic Indian dishes (curried, lamb, chicken, goat, etc.), a variety of spinach-based and other vegetarian dishes, pani puri, mixed vegetables, dal and “definitely some barbecue,” including fish, lamb, beef and chicken. 

“It will be nice for the community to have different kinds of food, because I didn’t see any – in all Arcata – any Indian restaurant or Mediterranean restaurant fine dining. So that will be good.”

Ahmed and his sister plan to serve food until 9 or 10 p.m. but keep the bar open longer.

“We will stay open late [and have] different cultural nights,” Ahmad said. “We’ll have Bollywood night, Arabian night [and other] theme nights. So it will be a little different for the students; the university is expanding. Diversity, different kinds of food, a different kind of culture – that’s what my idea is.”

With a hard alcohol license already acquired, Ahmad has a few more bureaucratic and logistical hoops to jump through, including city approval for the building redesign, cleanup, construction and more. He intends to keep running Fourth Street Market and hopes to open Habibi Bar and Grill by the end of the year or early next year.