Johnny's Saloon's words to live by.
Johnny's Saloon's words to live by.

Johnny Kresimir, Hootenany Promoter Extraordinaire...and Restaurateur?!

Johnny Kresimir has one of the most important jobs in Orange County: he's the promoter for Hootenany, the annual rockabilly-punk soiree that's a rite of passage for North and Central OC kids (with a couple of South County and coastal wimps thrown in). But what most of those 'billies probably don't know is that Kresimir is also a restaurateur. Can a punk cook a mean steak? This one can.

Johnny's Saloon began as an outlaw country bar and steakhouse in Hemet in 1982, run by his father, Johnny, Sr.. "My dad was passionate about food. Our specialty was our prime rib, lobster, and crab," Kresimir said. "My dad sold prime rib for $6.99 every night."

Kresimir grew up in Orange County and went to high school in Fullerton. He developed a love for punk rock that never left him. When he worked at his father's saloon, he set up concerts after dinner. "We had a line out the door four nights a week."

Johnny Sr. died in 1997. Johnny took over the restaurant, despite the fact that he lived in Orange County. He would commute every week by spending a few nights in Hemet and a few nights at home.  In 2003, Kresimir moved the saloon to its current home in Huntington Beach off Beach and Slater.

With the new location came a few changes, but the heart of the business stayed true. "It started as an outlaw country saloon and steakhouse. I grew up loving punk rock and so I added that to it."

"Hemet was more of a rough biker atmosphere. I call it the Wild Wild West. Huntington is just as fun. It has a great, laid back beach crew."

The new Johnny's doesn't have a kitchen or a stage, but the large lit sign advertises "Live Music" and "Prime Rib" on the back wall pays tribute to their past. He traded in his stage for a punk rock juke box. "We don't have live music here because you can go every night and not have to hear a band you don't like. You don't have to sit through some reggae band. Instead, we have a punk rock jukebox," Kresimir said. "We're the place you go on the nights you aren't at a show."

After walking through thick black curtains you're greeted by two life size Oompaa Loompaa dolls tattooing each other in the corner. The bar is darkened by black walls and lit by a red glow and candles that float and descend from the ceiling a la The Haunted Mansion. One of Kresimir's latest additions to decor is the infamous "Dirty Donald": a coin-operated children ride often found in front of grocery stores of Donald Duck. You ride Donald's belly while his bill is in a suggestive place. According to Kresimir, the ride was actually made by Disney but soon after discontinued for obvious reasons.

"I'm into décor a lot. I don't paint well, but I do funny quirky things," he said.

Then there's the drinks. "Every bar has the same product," he says. "I don't see a reason to charge $9 a drink. We come from a blue-collar background. I want you to have a good time and still leave with money in your pocket." Cocktails are stiff and run about $5. There are no beers on tap, but they have plans to put Jameson on tap soon. Kresimir's brother, Bruno Nosic, created many of their signature drinks in what they call the candy cocktail collection. Swedish Fish and Gummy Bear martinis have candies at the bottom or the Pop My Cherry has a Pop Rocks rim. Others are named after rock icons such as the Iggy Pop, Joe Strummer, Hank and Coke, and Loretta Lynn. Their latest creation is the Killer Klown: a cocktail poured over dry ice and cotton candy in a martini glass,  bubbling and fizzing-ly sweet. Bruno also infuses his own vodkas with flavors from Hot Tamales to cucumber.

Despite warnings to Johnny Cash haters, hippies and Beatles lovers that hang on the wall, Johnny's is actually a welcoming place. "Everybody is always friendly, even though it may not look like it at first glance. We have a Cheers vibe. We call ourselves the Twisted Cheers of OC. It's a neighborhood spot where everyone knows your name. Everyone is welcome no matter what you look like or the music you're into."

On certain nights, guests get treated to a spectical when Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" comes on. The bartenders will throw some liquor on the bar and fire it up for the duration of the song.
The Ring of Fire
The Ring of Fire

The Ring of Fire
Every Thursday nights Johnny's hosts the Kogi BBQ truck and the BaconMANia truck on Saturdays. Thursdays are their big nights. They bring in a magician, an acoustic act, and a local painter, Gordo, who paints live in the parking lot.

In 2010, Kresimir ventured back into the food business with three business partners; Wendie Huffman, Jamie Fischer and Kevin Johnson (who he met at Johnny's). "We had this concept of a restaurant/ art gallery fusion. We want to provide a creative atmosphere for art and artists."

2nd Floor, located upstairs on Main Street in Huntington Beach, combines gourmet food, fun cocktails and edgy art. Chef Huffman was the executive chef at the House of Blues Anaheim and the Honda Center. The kitchen is "99% scratch." she said. "A lot of integrity goes in to our food. It's not processed. We make all of our own seasons and sauces and cut all of our own meat."

"We have amazing food created by Chef Wendie," Kresimir says. "I want to share her creative recipes with downtown Huntington Beach and do something different down here. There are a lot of great places here, so why do the same thing as everyone else?"

Carrying the theme of Johnny's, many of their dishes are named after rock icons like the James Brownie and the Greens Day salad. One of their better appetizers are the Zepplin Poppers: jalapenos stuffed with shrimp and cream cheese, bacon-wrapped and fried and served with raspberry chipotle dipping sauce. Huffman said that their best selling dish is their Spicy Orange Chicken served over brown rice and Thai green beans.

But their biggest attraction is their Colossal Burgers. "We have the biggest burgers in downtown. Maybe even OC," Kresmir said. Huffman suggests the Tatoo (c.q) Lou, is a Thanksgiving-style feast: a chicken-fried burger, onion rings, mashed potatoes, pickled onions, sausage gravy, Buffalo sauce, cheese sauce between a potato bun. Other Colossal Burgers have hot dogs, teriyaki pork, fried egg, sour cream or sauerkraut.
Southern Man Colossal Burger
Southern Man Colossal Burger

Southern Man Colossal Burger
"They're just insane. Clearly, we've lost our minds. They're 8 oz burgers, and weigh 2 lbs," Huffman said. "We put a sample of our colossal burgers on the sidewalk, and it really stops people in their tracks. We call it the Stop Sign Burger."

Huffman left her job at the House of Blues restaurant to start 2nd Floor. "We left stable jobs to pursue something we were passionate about," she adds. "It was a leap of faith; none of us knew. For the first month we worked fourty hours straight but right off the bat we found success and we are so thankful." She added that the risk was worth it. "I won the culinary lotto. I get to do what I want to do everyday."

2nd Floor host a variety of events from Classical Carnage on Wednesdays which features a collection of live musicians that play rock and roll in the classical style. They also host monthy art shows. All of the art that hangs on their walls are for sale and 100% of the profits goes to the artists. They plan to expand the company and open more locations locally, to "challenge ourselves," Kresmir said. Though no locations are set in stone, he expects deals to go through any day now. "I want to go to areas that have a need for this kind concept."

And as if running a bar and restaurant isn't enough, Kresimir and the 2nd floor also cater local music festivals such as MusInk music and tattoo festival in Costa Mesa and the upcoming The Hootenanny rockabilly festival on July 2 in Irvine. They will be serving the bands and the VIP section, which is open to anyone in the public that wants to front the $100 price tag. They get free food from 2nd Floor and free drinks from Johnny's all day. "I got 15 cases of Sailor Jerry's to start," Kresimir says. "We're going to serve Sailor and Lemonade," among other Johnny's specials. Behind the bar they're going to set up an 8' by 8' wall and have Gordo paint live as well.

Johnny's Saloon, 17428 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 848-0676; 2nd Floor, 126 Main St., Huntington Beach, (714) 969-9000;

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