GardenWalk, Anaheim, CA
So we have a different and special kind of update today. Last night was the grand opening of the new and relocated House of Blues Anaheim, and Westcoaster was on hand to cover the festivities.
You may recall that this concert venue was located in Downtown Disney for many years. But late last year, it announced that it would be leaving its longtime location and moving to a larger facility located at nearby outdoor shopping promenade Anaheim GardenWalk. In its place, a Splitsville bowling alley will be constructed, to open later this year.
GardenWalk has long struggled to attract a consistent and populous clientele. The outdoor mall is typically deserted during weekday hours, and even weekends have brought slow flow--despite nearby Disneyland bringing in millions of visitors each year. Retail stores have had trouble maintaining customers, and turnover has been a frequent reality ever since the complex's 2008 opening. Perhaps on account of the success of its dining amenities, GardenWalk has somehow managed to stay afloat over the past nearly-decade, despite bankruptcy and multiple owners.
With the opening of this House of Blues, which also becomes the new flagship House of Blues in Southern California following the closure of the famed Sunset Boulevard location, GardenWalk hopes that a shift to entertainment and dining will finally entice crowds to flock to this traditionally lonely part of the Anaheim Resort District. Located in the former UltraLuxe Cinemas footprint at the fourth floor of the north end of the complex, the new House of Blues is larger and more extravagant than its predecessor, offering four different performance venues under one roof and a stylish and much larger restaurant and bar offering sumptuous food and beverage.
Primary music acts will perform in the Main Hall, whose 2200-person capacity is a little more than double the Downtown Disney location. There is also a secondary, smaller performance space called The Parish that can accommodate 400 people. There is also a 175-person VIP Lounge area called the Foundation Room, geared toward those looking for a more luxurious and sensual experience. The main restaurant area also has a spot for live DJ'ing.
The Blues Brothers Open the House of Blues
The first official day of operation kicked off with a special appearance by the Blues Brothers. Dan Aykroyd and Jim Beluchi in the flesh made a special appearance to say a few special words and thank the hard work of all members involved in making this new and improved House of Blues a reality. The speech concluded with a ceremonial group guitar smash to formally christen the opening of this lavish new concert venue. Some comedically awkward dancing then ensued.
Once that was done, members of the media were invited inside to a nice reception, which also provided some opportunities to tour the interior spaces. Although the food selection was limited to basic hors d'oeuvres and a jambalaya, this was not exactly representative of the food guests can expect at the House of Blues...
The Restaurant and Bar
The restaurant offers a diverse and very tasty selection of appetizers and entrees, generally based on the Southern flair that House of Blues has cultivated. Based on comments from several friends and guests I spoke to, the food is improved from the previous location (which I thought was relatively good to begin with) and definitely a draw to come early before a show.
The interiors themselves are spacious and interesting. Adopting a sort of modern industrial look with the House of Blues' traditional world culture aesthetic, there's a bit of grunge and a bit of international art that abounds, all within a material palette that is most associated with contemporary design (if not eclectic in its application). The bar is certainly sprawling, and there are several "rooms" within the overall restaurant space that give different ambiances. Everything certainly works toward a feeling of energy and dynamicism.
The Foundation Room
The Foundation Room is the House of Blues' VIP area. Located upstairs and directly accessible to the balcony level of the Main Hall, this members-only lounge is an upscale harem of exotic aesthetic. With elegant booths, its own bar, a DJ, and a bit of sensuous entertainment and eye candy, it is definitely an adult environment. Think of a bit of the nightclub scene for contributing elites. There's plenty of swank, but pretty nice perks for those who join.
That's it for now. Tomorrow, we'll take a look at the Main Hall performance space, which will also include a bit of concert photography from the Social Distortion & openers concert that inaugurated the venue opening. Well, mostly from the openers, since I didn't actually have a Social D photography pass. I wasn't able to visit The Parish on this visit.
But by all observations, this new House of Blues looks like it should be very successful venture. It has a lot of great artists already booked this year, mostly focused on rock and alternative, but with a some pop mixed in as well. The supporting amenities look absolutely great, and the Foundation Room, which was never present at Downtown Disney due to lack of space despite being standard at all other House of Blues locations, will sure attract the heavy spenders.
My only gripe remains with Anaheim GardenWalk itself--mainly the parking, which I've long suspected has directly contributed to the center's lack of financial success and popularity. Parking at GardenWalk still costs money--$3/hr with a $15 daily maximum for all guests. Although the House of Blues provides validation for up to three hours free, that's still not really enough to avoid paying for parking for a concert-goer who wants to attend a whole show from the first opener to the main act's encore. Add in time to eat for those who want to arrive early and enjoy a nice dinner, and suddenly, parking might be $9 or $12.
In the grand scheme of things, this isn't really that much, but there's an issue of supply and demand. In Orange County, aside from beaches, parking is generally expected to be free, thanks to the general suburban nature of the area. This is the case even in commercial malls and plazas. And though one would expect to pay for parking at a concert venue in Los Angeles, the reality is that Orange County doesn't support this demand. When the House of Blues was at Downtown Disney before, parking was free for the first two hours (originally three), and validation added three free hours on top of that. That meant that someone attending the House of Blues could count on five or six hours of complimentary parking, which is the least that could be offered to a paying customer shelling out a not-insignificant amount of cash.
Besides that, having to pay for parking means that a long line builds up through the parking structure at the end of the night, causing delays for concert goers leaving the venue. If visitors aren't out quickly, they can count on a solid wait while all the vehicles ahead of them stop at the exit gates, pay their parking charge, and then leave.
That said, given the popularity of quality concert venues, I doubt my complaints will impact GardenWalk operations as much as they might if the anchor was a different type of entertainment venue. And ultimately, success for GardenWalk means success for Anaheim, which supports continued improvements to help the Resort Area grow. That in turn can impact everything, from the Disneyland Resort to the ARTIC transportation center and more.
In the meantime, if you're interested in paying a visit and need more information, check out the House of Blues Anaheim's web site at http://www.houseofblues.com/anaheim.
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.