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An unknowning outlaw for two decades, the legendary Doll Hut gets a new lease on life
As the fate of his business hangs in the balance, Juan Reynoso sits poised at a planning-commission meeting in Anaheim's City Hall with his hands folded neatly in his lap. The polite, soft-spoken man is wearing a smart pinstriped vest that complements his finely groomed mustache and delicate spectacles. In December 2006, this unlikely gentleman became the new owner of the Doll Hut, a historic Anaheim rock club that supported the early careers of such future stars as No Doubt, Social Distortion and Sublime.
As he went through the steps that come with purchasing a business, filling out endless files and forms, Reynoso noticed a glitch. The Doll Hut (previously known as Linda's Doll Hut during the late '80s and '90s) had been charging a small cover at the door for its shows, which were held several nights per week, but apparently never had the permit to do so. For nearly a generation, the well-known venue with widely promoted shows had been taking people's money illegally, and no one knew better.
Acting as the Doll Hut's representative is director of venue operations Dirk Belling. With his gregarious demeanor and shaved head, he's the polar opposite of Reynoso, but the mutual professional respect is clear. Belling, who has planned a public speech later in the hearing, does nearly all of the talking for the duo. He explains that when the Doll Hut opened in 1957 as a small beer-and-wine tavern, the venue was given a conditional-use permit that stipulated the use of live entertainment. Charging a cover, on the other hand, was never brought up.
Upon discovering the problem, Reynoso voluntarily stopped charging patrons for shows, not wanting to take any chances or cause any further problems. However, because the Doll Hut is not a "pay to play" venue, the majority of the club's earnings came from the door. With a capacity of only about 50 people, the Doll Hut couldn't make enough money off alcohol purchases to pay bands. Without bands, there were no customers, and the Doll Hut's once-packed schedule thinned.
The possible downfall of the Doll Hut spurred a global response. Belling received letters of support from all over the world, arguing that the tiny club has become an iconic place to play for emerging bands.
"What began as a little bar bought by a group of punks from Fullerton has become an undeniable piece of rock history," Belling says. "In a few months, if all goes well, I'm hoping people will go, 'Wow! The Doll Hut is back!'"
As the issue of the Doll Hut finally comes to the board, the tension is palpable. Belling takes the podium to give his speech, the one he's been scribbling and scratching at since the meeting began. His voice is nervous but strong as he fights for the future of the venue. Soon, it becomes clear there is no need to fight; at the mere mention of the Doll Hut, several commissioners smile warmly.
"Those in favor?"
"Aye," reply several voices.
Silence. With a unanimous vote, the permit is granted.
Hands are shaken heartily; Belling and Reynoso look relieved. Now completely legal, the Doll Hut looks forward to hosting more musical history.
THE DOLL HUT, 107 S. ADAMS ST., ANAHEIM, (714) 533-1286.