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

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

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