New Year's Day might seem like a natural time of celebration for revived punk roadhouse the Doll Hut. But it's not. It's really more of a sobering day of remembrance of a narrowly avoided tragedy.
“That's actually the day the Hut officially closed,” says current owner Michael “Mac” McGarvey. “I got the keys on the 2nd and we started again from there.” The reopening of the Doll Hut was–and still is–one of things we remember most about 2014. One year later, it still feels surreal for the club's husky former talent buyer, who bought the place with his girlfriend Tammy Butler with nary a shred of bar owning experience.
“Everything was a curveball for me,” the 39 year-old says. “It was all kind of thrust upon me, and the reality that I now own a business. I had run the front of the house before, but never the back half.”
Even for as small as it is, basically the size of a modest living room, the venue casts a long shadow in OC's music history since the days it was run by its most well-known owner Linda Jemison. We could give you the list of legendary bands, drunk exploits and children conceived in the parking lot of this place. But really, what can we say about the Doll Hut that hasn't already been said? What's important is that when it was time to step up and reclaim it after the previous owners mistakenly turned it into a Latin bar, McGarvey was the man to do it. It kicked off a year of lessons on everything from business plans, to booking bands and buying beer.
“It was a struggle, but it didn't feel like it in the moment. I would say it was good,” the Long Beach native says. “And hey, I'm still open.”
Over the last 12 months, the Hut has stayed the course with a non-stop calendar of shows including ones with The Stitches, Narcoleptic Youth and D.I.,keeping the place's punk cred alive.
McGarey has also been open minded, temporarily straying from the stringent punk rock ethos to booking bands and artists that don't necessarily fit the Hut's stereotype. That includes dedicating a whole day of the week to the majesty of metal, aptly dubbed Metal Mondays.
“In the beginning, we were closed on Mondays and the Doll Hut had always traditionally been closed on Mondays,” McGarvey says. “I actually sat up in bed one night and said 'why am I closed on Monday?'”
Little things like that have allowed new faces and bands into cycle of regulars who visit the bar. It's also helped that the community that wanted it back in the first place has stuck by him for the most part, even after all the fanfare died down. McGarvey likens owning the bar to the feeling of getting a new girlfriend.
“When you first get with her, you're excited about the newness of it, but eventually that kinda wears off a little bit and you have to find the substance in it that's gonna continue beyond that,” he says.
Through it all, he's stayed pretty much the same guy, working a day job in sales (no longer in telemarketing) and running the club at night. Although now a lot more people seem to know his name when he's out in public. It still feels a little weird.
“I'm more of a behind the curtains kind of guy,” he says. “A lot of people do say thank you for opening the place back up. No one's called me an asshole yet for doing this.”
Even with all that's he's managed to do over the last year, McGarvey doesn't think he's done anything yet to really add to the lore of the place other than keep it open for people to enjoy. With one year down and hopefully many more to go, that will change.
“I tell people [owning the Doll Hut] is a dream and a nightmare all rolled into one. I still think it's the best thing I ever did,” he says. “I love the Doll Hut and I feel like it loves me too, as crazy as that sounds.”