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In the far west corner of Commonwealth Avenue, pounding hammers and buzzing band saws signal the birth of an addition to Fullerton's bar scene. Outside Hopscotch, the area's new (and only) craft beer and whiskey spot, workers hustle in and out, painting, polishing, drilling holes and building shelves for the mid-August opening. As the place slowly comes together, hundreds of artisan bottles of amber-colored brews are being ordered to supply a public thirst for a laid-back drinking and dining experience, brimming with soul and a charred whiff of barbecue.
From the beginning, co-owners Bryan Gonzales, Rob Marshall and Bobby Soul knew that differentiating their den of boutique booze and comfort food from the rest of the Top 40 club culture meant bringing a different approach to the table. Standing in the middle of a dusty floor with lumber and chairs piled high, Soul and Gonzales spitball sound and lighting ideas for their upcoming calendar of countrified throwback acts including Alex and the Badmen and Stax-spinning DJs such as Dennis Owens of the Goodfoot in Long Beach. "We really wanna keep the vision of this place, music-wise, throwback," Soul says. "We wanna keep it nostalgic, soulful but also hillbilly."
It's a vision that few people have when they think of downtown Fullerton on a Saturday night, when most bars forfeit their identities to throw EDM and FM hip-hop dance parties. Even such live-music stalwarts as the Continental Room are occasionally giving into the culture shift. Gonzalez, who opened the Commonwealth Lounge in Fullerton and Newport Beach with Marshall, says that despite the profitability of both clubs, they've also become part of this cliché, and there's a niche to be filled for those who don't fit into the glossy, party-rock crowd. "People walk by all the time, yelling, 'Hey, when can I get a fuckin' Scotch around here?!'" Gonzales says laughing.
Hopscotch's vibe is unapologetically dated: plaid wallpaper; mounted game heads alongside glowing, turn-of-the-century lightbulbs; and a bar built from reclaimed whiskey barrels. It almost mimics the original look of the building, which was established as a Pacific Electric train depot in 1918. The International Paranormal Society once recognized it as being one of Fullerton's most haunted places. But Gonzales insists he and the spirits are on good terms. "I was kinda walking around in here by myself one night after having some drinks in the dark, just saying, 'Hey, I'm cool, trying to make this place cool for you guys. I don't mind if you hang out. I'll pay the rent; you guys can hang out.'"
While most watering holes have a DJ in a corner booth, Hopscotch will embed turntables right into the bar, making the vinyl-spinning selectors an active part of the ambiance as patrons gather to sniff, gargle and sip 50 different brands of craft beer and nearly 100 different labels of whiskey. And instead of cranking up the venue's sound system, Soul—a veteran local DJ, promoter and member of Latin band Boogaloo Assassins—says Hopscotch will favor classic, carefully curated music that doesn't have to blow your eardrums out to be appreciated. Bands and DJs are vital, but in a place where specialty spirits are the stars, people should be able to talk about what they're drinking. "This isn't gonna be a typical twentysomething spot; this is gonna be a man's spot, a woman's spot," Soul says. "And music is definitely a way to do that."
Among the first acts to perform will be Huntington Beach singer/songwriter Jamie Allensworth, who also fronts the hard-pounding soul band Allensworth. You might say he's earned the gig: A carpenter by trade, Allensworth has sweated all summer building booths and shelves for the bar. He says he welcomes the chance to adapt his sound to the new venue. "It's definitely the kind of place where you can sit down with, like, a jug and a mouth harp and an acoustic guitar and just go to town," he says.
Most important, the joint's owners want to gain the trust of soul and Americana fans who've forsaken the local nightlife scene by establishing a standard and growing on them slowly, like a nice warm buzz.
"Sometimes Bobby and I will walk into a place and be like, 'What are we doing in here? Let's get the fuck outta here,'" Gonzales says. "We want them coming in at least 85 percent of the time and saying, 'This place is dope. Maybe the song on right now isn't that great, but the next one's gonna be good.'"
This article appeared in print as "New Game In Town: Hopscotch jumps at the chance to bring hillbilly tunes and upscale booze to Fullerton."