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One More Time--at the Doll Hut

Music: The Anaheim roadhouse, bought by a couple who met there 9 1/2 years ago, will have a grand reopening today.

November 03, 2001|RANDY LEWIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There's no evidence that Mark Twain ever set foot inside the Doll Hut in Anaheim, but the great writer and the century-old roadside bar now have at least one thing in common: Reports of their deaths have been exaggerated.

Twain is gone, but the Doll Hut lives on. Having closed at the end of August when owner Linda Jemison decided to change careers, it will be up and running again starting today under a pair of new owners.

Befitting the Doll Hut's reputation for treating its countless bands and patrons as family, the little red roadhouse's new operators were Doll Hut regulars over the past decade, but they're more than that: They're a husband and wife whose relationship was born there.

Blue and Anthony Castaneda met at the Doll Hut 9 1/2 years ago--"Monday night, Big Sandy [& His Fly-Rite Boys] night," she said without so much as a pause--and now aim to revive the Doll Hut as a focal point for their community.

That community revolves around hot rods and American roots music, both of which will be in ample supply all day today at the club's grand reopening, which includes a car show, performances by at least nine bands and a barbecue.

Refinancing Their Home for Capital

How committed are the Castanedas--she's 30, he's 29--to keeping the Doll Hut going?

They're staking their house on it. They refinanced the 1940s Old Town Orange house they've lived in for eight years to come up with the money to buy it.

"We want to make it the kind of place people will come to without having to check to see who's playing that night," said Blue--her real name--earlier this week at the bar. "People want a place where they can go and know that all their friends will be there."

She sat on one of about a dozen new stools lining the new bar, surrounded by new carpet, the room bathed in the smell of fresh paint that gives the Doll Hut's formerly battle-scarred interior a whole new look. While peeling red paint still is visible outside, inside the bar has undergone a dramatic face lift.

The lion's share of the work, Blue said proudly, was done by her and her mechanically inclined husband, who also owns and operates Orange County Rod and Custom, a car shop nearby in Anaheim. She has helped him run the business for the three years since he opened it.

To spruce up the Doll Hut, he built a short stage, raised the claustrophobically low ceilings, installed new '50s space-age-looking light fixtures and made electrical and plumbing updates. They've also hung curtains behind the stage, spruced up the restrooms and made numerous other improvements. What help they've needed has largely come from friends volunteering their services.

Even so, the little red building at 107 S. Adams St. in an industrial section of Anaheim isn't going to be mistaken for the Performing Arts Center any time soon. Their toughest call, she said, was deciding to rip down the multitude of band decals and bumper stickers covering the interior walls that had become a hallmark. They felt it was a necessary step toward making the roadhouse their own.

"We'd actually been wanting to buy a bar for years, but because Anthony's been busy with his car shop, that kind of got put on the back burner," she said. "But when we saw the first story [in May] about Linda saying she was thinking of selling the Doll Hut, we thought, 'We can't let that happen.' "

Initially, Anthony Castaneda expected someone else to take over. "I didn't believe it would really close." They quickly called Jemison to see if she was serious, and when they found out she was, they figured out how they could step in.

After considering taking out a business loan or recruiting private investors, the Castanedas concluded that the best way to get the money they needed was to refinance their house because interest rates are so low.

Refurbishing for a Month

Escrow on the sale of the club hasn't closed--that's expected to happen by December--but the Castanedas are moving ahead with their reopening after a solid month of refurbishing work. What help they've gotten has come from friends, another sign to them that support for the Doll Hut remains strong.

"'Some of the bands that will be playing even said they were going to pay to get in on Saturday because they want to see it succeed," Blue Castaneda said.

The headliner is rockabilly band Russell Scott & the Red Hots, which had a long-running residency at the Hut during Jemison's decade-long tenure. Although the Castanedas are neophyte bar owners, Anthony has been booking bands periodically at car shows he's organized with his club, the Shifters.

"It'll be different now that we're going to be booking on a weekly basis rather than three or four shows a year," he said. "But there's lots of types of roots music that haven't gotten a lot of exposure at the Doll Hut in the past, and we want to bring a lot of that in."

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