you like big-scale, celebrity-owned theme restaurants like the Hard Rock
Cafe, Planet Hollywood,
and the House of Blues, but your
musical tastes run more to country-western than to blues or rock - then
have I got the place for you...
The Country Star restaurant on the Universal CityWalk is owned by a number of country music superstars, including Vince Gill, Wynonna Judd, Reba McEntire, and TV hosts Lorianne Crook & Charlie Chase. The place is Country-gone-Hollywood, as bright & glitzy as its celebrity owners, with as much high-tech polish as anything inside the gates of the adjacent Universal Studios Hollywood theme park.
The main entrance to the restaurant is resembles a three-story, 42-foot high jukebox; it displays 256 colors at night. Just inside the door, you'll find yourself in a cave-like walkway with TV monitors embedded underfoot in the floor, playing videos of Reba and company. To your right is a cavernous gift shop where you can pick up t-shirts or the latest CD's by the restaurant's celebrity owners.
A little farther back is a bar area when you'll find touch-screen computer monitors matched with glass display cases. The glass cases exhibit clothes worn by Reba, Wynonna, and Vince; touch the monitor screen and you can choose between a reading a biography of the star, listening to an interview, or watching the music video (where the star wore the very clothes on display).
Inside the main 525-seat dining room, a non-stop barrage of country-western music fills the air. The color scheme tends to dark reds and brown marble walls, with lots of pillars (some of the pillars are made to resembled the tops of giant, silver cowboy boots). There is a large mural of Nashville on the wall over the stage, and the entire restaurant is loaded with music memorabilia, making it a virtual shrine to country & western legends.
On the walls, you'll find celebrity posters, guitars, a white suit worn by Garth Brooks, and a multitude of 96 colorful video monitors playing an endless flood of country videos. Glass cases scattered throughout the restaurant contain even more souvenirs, including George Strait's hat, the leather bustier Tanya Tucker wore at the Super Bowl halftime show. a collection of celebrity cowboy boots, revolving display cases holding sequined stage jackets by designers like Nudee, and costumes worn by legendsRoy Rogers' & Dale Evans.
Overhead is a sky-blue dome with twinkling stars. A large motorcycle ("Wynona's Harley") sits parked inside near the door, and various CD listening posts allow you to put on a pair of headphones and listen to even more country music. On weekends, Country Star's brunch features live country bands. And if that's not enough music for you, walk into the men's restroom and you'll find tiny video monitors placed above the urinals!
They don't miss a trick here. Even the menus are glitzy: an electronic logo of a shooting star twinkles across the top of the inside page when you open the menu - if the battery hasn't worn out (the menus are on sale at the gift shop for $15 if you get the urge to take one home).
The food is old-fashioned Americana: BBQ chicken, various types of BBQ ribs, honey-roasted ham, Black Angus steaks, pizza, salads, and a very good chili. Most entrees are around $11.99, although there are less expensive choices. A sampler called "the Country Star Barbecue Feast" ($15.95) offers a huge platter of just about everything on the menu. If you like celebrity names to go with your entrees, there's also "Reba McEntire's Garden Vegetable Pasta," "Wynonna's Hickory-Smoked Chicken," and the "Vince Gill Cheeseburger." The food won't win any prizes, but there's plenty of it, and anyway, the ribs play second fiddle to the show here. An average meal for two will set you back about $35.
But at its heart, Country Star is more Hollywood than Dogpatch. You'll find no faux haystacks or sawdust on the floor here, and the staff (and most of the customers) are strictly city-slickers (my waiter was a young, flamingly gay urbanite). What you have is basically a Planet Hollywood with a country-western veneer - but it's still a lot of fun. Which is apparently just how a lot of country stars like it - the manager boasts that over 70 stars have already passed through the doors of Country Star Hollywood. (The Academy of Country Music hosts its annual post-awards party at CSH.)
The restaurant's grand opening was attended not only by the three the three main celebrity investors, but also by Loretta Lynn, Charlie Pride, Hoyt Axton, Diamond Rio, Wayne Gretzky, Little Richard and many more.
The restaurant is open Mon-Thur from 11:30 AM to 11 PM; Fri-Sat from 11:30 AM to 12 midnight; and Sunday from 10:30 AM to 11 PM.
[Update: Recently, the Country Star chain hit on hard economic times. The price of their stock plummeted, and all of their other restaurants closed - only this original CityWalk venue remains open. But crowds are getting thin here, and I've been receiving complaints about the service, food and cleanliness at the restaurant. It looks like cost-cutting is hurting the dining experience there.]
Getting there: Country Star is located on the Universal CityWalk, just outside the main gates of Universal Studios Hollywood (so you don't have to pay admission to the amusement park to eat at Country Star restaurant). See directions for the studio.
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