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BELLFLOWER - I was born in 1985, but when I was in high school so much of the music that resonated with me was classified as Post-Punk and New Wave, made in the 1980's from bands like The Smiths, Elvis Costello, Depeche Mode, and The Cure. Fast forward 10 years later and quite often I find myself listening to these very same bands.
So imagine my surprise a couple of years ago when I noticed the transformation of a once non-descript Lakewood Boulevard Mexican restaurant into what can only be described as an 80's mecca, complete with a brightly-lit sign that said "New Wave", inviting visitors to the bar and restaurant the opportunity to "experience the 80's." I was beyond thrilled - and the joint definitely delivers on the promise of an 80's experience.
Bellflower's New Wave Restaurant & Bar celebrated its two-year anniversary on August 3 and though business was initially slow, that is definitely no longer the case. On most weekends you'll find a line wrapped around the outside of the building, and that's not even when former KROQ DJ Richard Blade is spinning records or when bands like Berlin, A Flock of Seagulls, Dramarama or 2 Live Crew are playing live on the bar's tiny stage, giving music fans the rare opportunity to get up close and personal with their 80's idols.
It goes without saying that 80's music is all that's played at the bar and restaurant, from Madonna to The Clash and everything in between. All of the food and drinks are also references to 80's music and pop culture, like the Meat is Murder Veggie Burger (a reference to the 1985 Smiths record of the same name) and the massive, blue drink you receive in a fishbowl, called "The Love Boat." All of the posters featuring icons like Deborah Harry and Lou Reed, all of the records on the walls, and even the old school Pac Man table game are personal belongings of the bar and restaurant's owner, Anaheim native Danny Sanchez. Purchasing the spot finally provided the DJ with an opportunity to showcase the piles of 80's memorabilia he'd been collecting for years. The bar is now exactly how Sanchez envisioned when in 2010 he decided to fulfill his life-long goal of opening an 80's-themed bar, but upon first stepping foot into the then-grimy space a little over two years ago, it was unclear whether or not the location would fulfill his vision.
"My first impression wasn't so great," Sanchez says. "I'd been looking on Craigslist for spaces when I came across the listing for this location. I came down on a Saturday night and there were maybe 10 people in the place. No one was drinking or dancing, it was a 65 and over crowd, and it just looked sad. But the longer I stayed, the more potential I saw. I had a feeling about the spot, so that night I cozied up to the owner and by the end of the night we were shaking hands and promising to move forward with the transaction."
The next day documents were signed. The following week, Sanchez was in escrow. On May 1st, he was handed the keys to the restaurant and on August 1, Sanchez officially opened the doors to his dream.
"I can't even explain how good it felt. That day was amazing, one of the happiest of my life. I'd been thinking and talking about it for years. There was probably a point where people stopped believing me, like it was just a pipedream. When the actual day finally arrived, I felt so proud," Sanchez says.
Like many kids growing up, Sanchez felt a deep and profound connection to music. We've all been there, that time in adolescence when it felt like our favorite band was making records just for us, the lead singer singing lyrics that could have been lifted directly from our journals. It sounds cheesy, but when you're young, music feels so big and it lends itself to such an interesting period in your life. For Sanchez, that was true tenfold.
Born in 1970, he came of age in the 80's, beginning his DJing career in 1983 when he was just 13. In his community, Sanchez quickly became the go-to guy for parties, formals, and gatherings of all kinds. He even DJ'd his own prom. Music was Sanchez's life and while still a teenager, the young entrepreneur figured out how to make it his living. At 17-years-old, Sanchez began DJing at night clubs and promoting events in and around Orange County. It was Sanchez's promoting that eventually brought him to the city of Downey in 2000, where he started the Hully Gully's wildly popular 80's Club Addiction, a bi-weekly club every Friday at Saturday night where two full rooms are devoted to playing 80's music and rock en español. Currently, it is the longest running 80's club in Southern California, but Sanchez had to give up personally overseeing the event when things with his own bar began to take off.
When it first opened its doors two years ago, the New Wave wasn't a place for live music, which is now its claim to fame. For the first year or so of its existence, the bar's only source of entertainment was a juke box, one that would skip over any song that wasn't from the 80's. Sanchez dreamed of opening his own place since he was a kid and part of that dream was having live bands play, but the city of Bellflower put Sanchez through the ringer, requiring thousands of dollars' worth of construction upgrades before it would even consider handing over an entertainment license.
Finally, in April of 2012, Sanchez was granted the license and according to the owner, it felt like the final piece of the puzzle. Immediately, Sanchez began booking bands to play the New Wave. As a matter of fact, the day the license was issued, These Handsome Devils took the stage, a popular Morrissey tribute band from Compton that has been playing the Los Angeles club scene for years. Sanchez booked the band often during his days as the Hully Gully's promoter and was proud to have these local boys be the first live band to rattle the New Wave's walls. Given their history with Sanchez, it only made sense that These Handsome Devils also played at the bar's two-year anniversary celebration.
Though the New Wave's weekly dance parties and karaoke nights often draw a sizeable crowd, nothing quite brings folks out like live music. Sanchez draws upon his many contacts and his experience club promoting to book the kind of entertainment he knows his patrons will enjoy. On Friday, September 27, Sanchez is bringing live music back to the venue when the Sweet and Tender Hooligans, considered the ultimate Morrissey and Smiths tribute band, play the New Wave's intimate stage.
Like any new venture, deciding to open the New Wave came with a lot of fear and apprehension for Sanchez. What if no one showed up? What if he overestimated the number of 80's music fans in the area? What if the location was wrong? As it turns out, it was all needless worrying. If the routinely large crowds and a recent segment on KTLA's morning show is any indication, Sanchez is doing something right and the success is inspiring him to dream bigger and expand his reach.
When Depeche Mode plays Las Vegas, Sanchez is often tasked with planning the band's after parties. After spending a reasonable amount of time in Sin City, Sanchez realized that though many clubs have 80's themed nights, there was no 80's club in the large, sprawling city. Sanchez is now kicking around the idea of opening another club, setting his sights on Las Vegas.
"That could be years away, but I like thinking ahead," Sanchez says. "The New Wave has been a dream come true. My friends used to joke with me, saying I was stuck in the 80's. I guess it was true. It seems like everyone's music tastes evolved and mine just stayed the same, but I love this music, I love DJing, I love being around people who love this music. I love my job, I'm happy every day I come into work. So, being stuck in the 80's seems like it's working for me."
Published: Sept. 19, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 23