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Felix Adamo / The Californian

<p>Vern Hoover, right, tried on Lloyd Reading's cowboy hat at Trout's during the 2007 celebration of Hoover's 50-plus years at the nightclub.</p>

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Felix Adamo / The Californian

<p>Old friends Minnie McKibbin, Vern Hoover and K.K. Kliewer recall good times as they celebrate Hoover's fifty plus years at Trout's. McKibbin and Kliewer used to work for Hoover at the nightclub and have known him for 40 years.</p>

Vern Hoover is Trout's. He's run the Oildale bar and honky-tonk since he got back from Korea more than 50 years ago.

He knows everyone and everyone knows him.

And everyone says the same thing about Vern.

"He's Trout's. Vern's Trout's. Anytime you mention Trout's -- Vern," said friend and Trout's regular Rosa Dykes.

Friends and family gathered at the North Chester bar Sunday to celebrate Hoover's five decades with Trout's, and cheer the man.

Twangy country music sang out from a live band and the Trout's dance floor hummed under cowboy boots.

"Vern worked 20 hours a day, seven days a week," said T. Rockwell, spokesman for Trout's. "He's taken care of thousands of musicians."

If Trout's is a family, Hoover is the father.

Minnie McKibbin worked as a waitress at Trout's twice over the years.

"My first husband passed on and my girls still call Vern dad," she said. "My granddaughter thought he really was her grandpa."

Hoover loved making himself, and other people, laugh. He'd do almost anything -- from emptying a bottle of cinnamon schnapps to smoking an exploding cigarette -- to spark laughter.

McKibbin remembers one slow Christmas Eve, when the customers were elsewhere and the wait staff at Trout's was bored.

"Vern started pouring us shots," she said. "By the time we were done, we were (kneeling) down and he was pouring cinnamon schnapps right into our mouths."

Hoover laughed himself silly at the whole adventure.

McKibbin and the other waitresses remember their next-day headaches with fondness.

"There's not a better man in Bakersfield than Vern Hoover," McKibbin said.

"He wanted us to have fun on our job," said Karen "K.K." Kliewer, who admitted an occasional dance on the Trout's bar.

Hoover may be a lot of fun, but he grows serious when discussing the role Trout's played in Bakersfield's honky-tonk culture. Like other icons of the Bakersfield Sound, Trout's was, and still is, all about the twangy, Okie-powered country music.

"Somebody has to keep it going. Country's our heritage, for chris-sakes," Hoover said Sunday as friends surrounded his chair near the dance floor. "It's been slowly but surely dying out."

But the music hasn't died. It still lights up the eyes of the regulars at Trout's and the honky-tonk's name still resonates across the country.

Nashville stars hear about Trout's and still come in when they're in town, McKibbin said, to see the historic joint.

And Hoover was the center of that.

"You can't think of any musician who played at Trout's who didn't think the world of Vern," McKibbin said.

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