ANAHEIM — When Memories opened in the fall, the owners had trouble convincing patrons that live music, not bikini-clad women dancing, was the new order of business. But the former Mr. J's, which offered adult entertainment, left another legacy that may be its replacement's best asset.
There's not a bad seat in this house, thanks in part to the big stage built in the club's intimate main room by Mr. J's' owner, management says. He wanted everybody to have a good view of the lingerie; consequently, booths along one wall, the dance floor, a bar by the front door, even a seating area behind the musicians, put patrons close enough to the action to send them home happy.
Chuck Battaglia has a lot to do with that too. The veteran Orange County entertainer has been building a following at a dozen clubs for the past 17 years. His specialty is oldies, and he's opened for such headliners as Little Richard, the Righteous Brothers and, recently, Jerry Lee Lewis.
Battaglia sits center stage at his keyboard, bathed in a spotlight and belting out nostalgia with energy and heart: "Black Is Black," "Good Golly Miss Molly," "Burning Love." He looks a lot like a boyish Robert Downey Jr., and his deep, warbly voice can sound a lot like Elvis.
Whoops and whistles broke out when he brought a recent performance to a rousing climax with Mickey Newbury's "An American Trilogy," punching the air with a fist for an unapologetic, emotional rendition as the King typically did with that patriotic medley in his latter years. He performs Wednesdays through Saturdays indefinitely.
Dancers keep the medium-size floor (20-by-25 feet) busy, some choosing freestyle, others showing off swing, fox trot or cha-cha. The age range is 30s and 40s, and attire is dressy casual. A "Cheers"-like neighborliness pervades, probably in part because much of the clientele knows Battaglia, who kibitzes between tunes and sends out birthday or anniversary wishes and the like to patrons.
The club recently booked the Arman Blais Orchestra to play 1940s-style tunes for swing dancing Sunday through Tuesday. Lessons will be offered from 7 to 8 p.m.
Before it was Mr. J's, Memories was Bessie Walls steak house, which also left something good behind: a pleasant, upstairs dining room with Colonial-style decor and a view of the Santa Ana River lake. At night, city lights dance on the dark water.
The dinner menu features such classic fare as Cobb salad, chicken cordon bleu and a shrimp cocktail appetizer.
Entrees run from $7.95 for pasta to $17.95 for double-cut prime rib. The lighter menu at lunch, served in the downstairs main room, features grilled cheese and BLT sandwiches. Well drinks go for $3.25, call drinks are $4. Wine is $3.25 to $5.50 per glass.
Plans call for a VIP lounge to take up the remainder of Memories' second floor, which has a great, bird's-eye view of the stage and dance floor. Acoustics are good and loud throughout.
Memories, 1074 N. Tustin Ave., Anaheim; (714) 632-9403. Dancing to live oldies music Sun.-Thur., 8 p.m.-midnight; Fri. and Sat., 8:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m. No cover. Lunch 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; Dinner from 4-10 p.m.