Borderline Bar and Grill was a place you could go to dance away your worries.
Even after what happened there last month, regulars still wanted to do that together — so they met up and danced in parking lots, in backyards, in a barn, at the mall.
Borderline’s brown stucco building has been off limits since Nov. 7, when a local former Marine stormed the Thousand Oaks bar and 13 people, including the shooter, died. The walkway leading up to it has become a giant memorial, with wreaths, American flags, pumpkins, cowboy boots, teddy bears and a Christmas tree with stockings for each victim.
The front door is behind a chain-link fence. The windows people frantically jumped through to escape are boarded up with plywood.
Owner Brian Hynes says its too soon to know whether he’ll ever reopen. But he did so for one night last week, in a way.
On Thursday, more than a thousand people — including many survivors and parents of some victims — gathered in their cowboy boots for the first night of line dancing Hynes had organized since his bar closed.
The event was held eight miles east in Agoura Hills, in a bar called The Canyon. But as the music played and the room filled, many felt the old Borderline warmth.
Their longtime DJ, Josh Kelly, was up on stage, hyping up the crowd in a bright red Santa hat. Their dance instructor, Candy Sherwin, was leading a two-step. Jerry Sears, 76, a Borderline denizen of 25 years, shuffled across the dance floor as always.
"Hey Jerry!” someone shouted from the stage. “I love your dance moves.”
Since the shooting, it’s been difficult for the bar’s family to know where to go in Borderline’s stead — though a lot of people have been determined to find ways to reunite.
“You can take Borderline out of that building, but you can never take Borderline out of us,” said Alyssa Baccillieri, 22. “We’re always going to find a way to come together.”
People have offered up their homes for small dances, trying to fill the void. Some have tried going to other country spots.
Katie Wilkie, 24, drove one night with her friends all the way to a club in Anaheim.
People were nice she said. So was the music. But it wasn’t Borderline.
“It’s like walking into your friend’s house,” she said. “You feel welcome, but it’s just not home.”
Borderline was a laid-back place where it was easy for anyone to fit in. The whole neighborhood was welcome and blended together there: college students, moms, grandparents. Most who stopped by quickly felt at home. It didn’t matter if they couldn’t dance or didn’t know anyone at first.
The shooting instantly shattered that sense of security. It was all confusion, all chaos. Gunfire cracked across the crowded dance floor. People called their moms crying. They smashed windows to flee.
Some who died had worked at the bar; others just liked going there. There was Justin Meek, 23, the beloved bouncer and bar promoter. Kristina Morisette, 20, the cashier at the front desk who greeted everyone with a big smile. Sean Adler, 48, a father of two who had just opened a local coffee shop called Rivalry Roasters.
Police said the shooter, Ian David Long, 28, had been to Borderline before. But he didn’t have ties there. He didn’t even have beefs there. The regulars still wonder: Why their place of all places in the world?
Survivors of the shooting continue to stick together for comfort. They meet up at one another’s houses; some have gotten matching bracelets or tattoos.
They’ve raised money to help victims’ families and to try to help Hynes and the more than 40 Borderline employees who lost their jobs when the bar became a crime scene.
So many people showed up at The Canyon on Thursday night that a line formed as they waited their turns to get in. They wore jeans, cowboy hats and “Borderline Strong” T-shirts bearing the names of the 12 victims on the back.
Many were relieved to reach the front door and see a metal detector and security guards.
“I’ve been really nervous,” said Rochelle Hammons, 24, of Woodland Hills, who was at the bar the night of the shooting. “It’s a big crowd, and I worry something could happen.”
Inside, Hynes and his crew had done everything they could think of to try to put folks at ease. He said he wanted the night to feel much like all the other nights he used to host at Borderline, a bar where he started out as a customer before he bought the place 10 years ago.
Onstage, he invited a mix of DJs who had entertained at Borderline over the past two decades. They played the bar’s usual country music mix line dances, two-steps, couples dances.
When it was Hynes’ turn to come onstage, everyone cheered.
“We love you, Brian!” somebody yelled.
“I love you guys,” he replied. “Every time I hug you guys, you ask me how I’m doing. Right now, I’m doing great.”
Out on the dance floor, everyone else seemed just fine, too.
In row after row, people moved to the rhythm of the music, rookies looking to learn, hams showing off their moves. Together, they pivoted and two-stepped in some of their favorite line dances: the Watermelon Crawl, the Honky Tonk Attitude, the Desperado Wrap.
Baccillieri and her friends used to spend hours watching YouTube and practicing. She used to love going to Borderline above all else to dance.
But ever since the shooting, she’s struggled with anxiety. She searches for exits and hiding spots everywhere she goes — restaurants, theaters, church.
On Thursday her boyfriend, Alex Chatoff, persuaded her to go to the Borderline gathering — her first time back in a big crowd.
Outside in the car, her fear so overwhelmed her, Baccillieri wanted to turn back home.
“You’re going to be OK,” Chatoff told her.
And once she got inside, she was. As soon as she walked through the new bar’s front door and saw all the old bar’s familiar faces.