New owner is bringing the glory back to the Deer Lodge
By Shane Cohn 02/28/2013
If the walls of Ojai’s Deer Lodge could speak, they’d tell of a wonderful rustic outpost that, since 1932, has been a haven for those looking to get away, have a stiff drink and a fine meal in peace. It would talk about the musicians, the bikers, the cowboys — and girls — the celebrities and local residents who, for the brief moments they spent there, could be anonymous enthusiasts of whisky and venison in a place that seemed impervious to time.
But time is the devil’s plaything. It gets the best of us all, even the mighty Deer Lodge.
Speak to any local about what had become of the Deer Lodge over the past several years and you’ll hear what disappointment sounds like. Weird, they say. Creepy. Bad vibes. Falling apart.
That was, until Tom Doody rode into town.
Three years ago, Doody and his wife moved to Monte Nido, an unincorporated community in the Santa Monica mountains, from Playa del Carmen, Mexico, where he owned the Blue Parrot, a boutique hotel and night club. When he heard about Ojai, he began taking weekend rides on his motorcycle and visiting the Deer Lodge.
“I fell in love with Ojai and the Deer Lodge,” says Doody. His weekend visits however, revealed what seemed to be a slow unraveling of the venue. Doody could no longer sit back and let the old Maricopa Highway roadhouse wither away. So he made an offer.
On Dec. 26, he shook hands on the deal and it’s been Christmas at the Lodge ever since. It’s been steam-cleaned, decorated with new art and lights, and farmer/chef Canon Ciccati is overhauling the menu with nearly 100 percent farm-to-table organic selections, in addition to the Deer Lodge classics.
“The vibe has been cleared,” laughs Doody. “It’s still Deer Lodge — come as you are. The main mission is to maintain its essence.”
What most are excited about is how Doody is working to make the Lodge a venue for top regional and national talent. During the 1980s and ’90s Doody ran major music venues in Chicago, like the legendary Metro concert hall that helped break bands such as Smashing Pumpkins, Veruca Salt and 10,000 Maniacs, and he also worked as PR director for the infamous Limelight in New York City.
“It’s like taking somebody else’s song and making it a hit,” said guitar-picker extraordinaire and Ojai resident Jonathan McEuen, about the excitement of the Lodge becoming a premier venue.
McEuen has been gigging at the Lodge for the past two decades, dealing with several changes in ownership. He said he’s never seen musicians embrace the change, out of the box, so positively and quickly.
McEuen kicked off the new era with a Sunday night residency that he is reprising this weekend when he returns from a brief tour with Dave Mason. The Lodge has also established musically themed nights, including The Standard, a Tuesday night jazz collective, and the Jamboree, a Thursday night spontaneous music showcase. Each night has an eclectic open stage with featured bands and house musicians.
“This is the most non-pretentious venue in the county,” says McEuen. “This isn’t a wine and cheese situation, as most of the venues around here are trying to be something they’re not.”
Doody says the musicianship coming through the Lodge doors is at the top of the food chain. In the past few weeks, national talent like Dave Mason, Lissie, Robben Ford and members of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros have popped in to be a part of the new Lodge.
But it’s more than just the music that fans of the Deer Lodge are proud of.
“The common denominator is the expression of gratitude for taking the Deer Lodge and bringing it back to the community,” says Doody.
And if the walls could talk, they might just sing hallelujah.
Deer Lodge, 2261 Maricopa Highway, Ojai, 646-4256.