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Say Howdy to the Dog, Make Yourself at Home

June 30, 1995|REBECCA HOWARD

When Bouquet Canyon Road in Saugus was still a dirt road at the turn of the century, The Big Oaks Lodge offered rest to dusty, wagon-weary travelers in its 10 cabins. The place has since evolved into The Big Oaks Lodge & Nightclub, a rustic restaurant and bar set in the Angeles National Forest with live bands raising tunes up into its lofty rafters on Friday and Saturday nights.

THE SCENE: The wood-and-stone structure blends into its leafy surroundings. Park in a dirt lot, cross a massive patio and you'll likely be met by a friendly, bandanna-wearing German shepherd named Ducker (pronounced Duke-er, in honor of John Wayne). For almost 12 years, the dog has acted as The Big Oaks Lodge official greeter. "When he was younger, he used to walk people in from their cars," said Dee White, owner of both dog and club. The cool, dark interior of the lodge is decorated with a mix of sports-bar, Old West and Hollywood memorabilia, with posters and photographs of James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall, among others. "Actors" and "Actresses" denote the men's and women's restrooms. A huge wagon wheel suspended from the ceiling and an enormous elk head looming over the stone fireplace lend a lodge feel.

THE CELEBRITY ANGLE: The Hollywood decor predominated during refurbishment after a 1991 fire, White said, but it's been rumored that some of the movie stars pictured on the walls have visited over the years. Recent famous patrons include Jay Leno and members of the band ZZ Top, who stop in after motorcycle rides.

THE CROWD: Visitors range from teen-agers to those in their 60s, including families who dine and linger for the music. Couples cozy up in booths--this may not be the spot for singles on the prowl. The dress code is casual--from leather loafers to cowboy boots, gingham dresses to T-shirts and jeans.

THE MUSIC: Johnny Hughes and The Only Other Band have performed at Big Oaks Lodge off and on for the last 15 years and provide a mix of bluegrass, contemporary country as well as old-time country hits and even a little rock, all interspersed with barbs of dry humor.

THE GOOD: People who find Big Oaks come back and "make it their special place," White said. You'll be refreshed by the seclusion, which allows a spectacular view of the stars if you step out on the patio.

THE BAD: The winding drive to the club is picturesque, but coming back in the dark could prove dangerous if drinking is involved--so designate a nondrinking driver.

THE WORD: Old-time ambience and the honky-tonk might tempt toe-tapping patrons to shout out, "Yee-haw!" But they didn't have to recently; the band itself kept up the "yee-haw!"-ing throughout the evening.

The Big Oaks Lodge & Nightclub is at 33101 Bouquet Canyon Road in Saugus. Dinner is served starting at 6 p.m., live entertainment begins at 8:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights only. From 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays, barbecue fare is served on the patio. Information: (805) 296-5656.

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