ANAHEIM IS still the town Walt Disney made famous, but it's not just Walt's Anaheim anymore. The city's night life scene is growing, with recent additions such as the Ember Cafe and Music Club and the Heat Ultra Lounge.
The new center of the scene, Heat, is in an unlikely spot: the Anaheim GardenWalk, an outdoor plaza in the vein of Downtown Disney and Universal City's CityWalk. Like its predecessors, GardenWalk is the kind of place where family-friendly establishments and night life venues bump up against each other.
Here, the juxtapositions seem a little more pronounced, especially with Disneyland a stone's throw away. In the courtyard of the GardenWalk on a recent Saturday night, a mom in an Angels baseball shirt and her young son were looking for a place to grab a bite. Walking past them was a group of young women, one in a shimmering silver dress that barely reached the middle of her thigh. It drew a sarcastic grin from the mom.
It's to be expected, though, when one puts a self-described Las Vegas-style club in the same plaza that houses a Robeks Juice, California Pizza Kitchen, Skechers, 24 Hour Fitness and other bastions of strip mall life.
Owner Mike Joher says he selected the locale for Heat after searching three years in places as far and wide as Hollywood, Las Vegas and San Francisco. "I got used to looking in Vegas, and everything in Vegas is attached," he says. "Big clubs like Pure [at Caesars Palace] and Tao [at the Venetian] are also tenants like I am at GardenWalk."
Joher says he knew he had found a home as soon as he saw signs for the shopping plaza. "During the search I lived in Anaheim Hills, and I used to always drive by and say, 'Why is there no nightclub there?' Anaheim is the heart of O.C. -- Disneyland, Convention Center, Downtown Disney, Honda Center, Angels, Grove. We should've opened two years ago in that area."
His instincts seem to be right on. Despite the club not being visible from the street and with no signage outside the center, by the time the place opens at 10 on this particular Saturday night, there was a bustling crowd jockeying to get in.
Anaheim Hills resident Darren Drennan, hanging out on the smoking patio with a group of guy friends, has become a semi-regular, returning after doing bottle service a couple of weeks ago. "It's a new club for the O.C.," he says. "And it's the closest club around with a Vegas feel."
Heat has all the requisite club amenities, including a Funktion One sound system, three bars, an enclosed smoking patio, tables for bottle service, go-go dancers and two dance floors, both of them booming already by 11.
But what makes the club stand out visually is the ornate crystal chandelier hanging above one center booth, as well as the often red and pink lighting, which add to the surprisingly warm atmosphere for a club.
It's those little touches reminiscent of Vegas, with a bit of O.C. thrown in, that have people talking. "It's glitzy and glamorous," Drennan says. "It's O.C. style."
Heat Ultra Lounge, 321 W. Katella Ave., Anaheim. 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. $20 cover charge. (714) 776-4328, www.heatultraloungeoc.com