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Abilene Rose Sinks Into Barbecue Pit

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Abilene Rose, a Fountain Valley Texas-style barbecue restaurant that had become an Orange County bastion of roots-rock and alternative country music, has closed, not because the concerts were unprofitable but because of sagging restaurant business.

“It isn’t like they hated us in Fountain Valley, they just weren’t all that stirred up about barbecue,” owner John Apgar said Tuesday. “Nobody’s going to drive a long way on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday night to have dinner--you have to draw the locals, and the locals just weren’t coming.”

The closure of Abilene Rose follows that of the Culver Saloon in Culver City last year, both of which booked touring performers such as alt-country singer-songwriter Rosie Flores, rockabilly veteran Sleepy LaBeef and country rocker Wayne “The Train” Hancock as well as such Southland-based acts as Chris Gaffney & the Cold Hard Facts, Patty Booker, Junior Watson and James Intveld.

“We’d done a few things that were money losers, but the kind of things that help put your name on the map, and eventually we were able to get [the concert business] ignited,” Apgar said. “Meanwhile, we had this totally dysfunctional restaurant.”

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Apgar had purchased the restaurant, formerly RJ’s Pit Barbecue, in early 1998 and renamed it Abilene Rose later that year. He began offering live music sporadically in 1999 and in recent months the concert activity had grown to where bands were routinely playing Thursday through Sunday nights. Last weekend’s final shows featured Bay Area alt-country band Red Meat on Friday, McNeely on Saturday and the San Diego rockabilly trio the Paladins on Sunday.

“He was actually getting a lot of good people in there,” Gaffney said Tuesday. “I’m sorry they couldn’t make a go of it. . . . I liked [Apgar]--he was a great guy. We were always treated real well.”

The building has been sold and will reopen as a Vietnamese restaurant, Apgar said.


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