During its 15-year existence, the Starline was the most heralded — and at times the most hated — music venue in Fresno.
It has been mentioned by name in a national magazine but it also came under scrutiny for allegations it allowed underage drinking. It was once the place every local musician wanted to play, but it also was the subject of a musician's boycott on Facebook.
So when rumors started circulating that the Tower District nightclub had new owners, one wondered what they had in store for the venue.
In June, that question was answered when the venue reopened under the name Strummer's — a nod to punk icon Joe Strummer.
"We wanted a clean start," says Paul Cruikshank, one of four investors who took over the nightclub and the adjacent restaurant/bar. "Not that the Starline didn't have something to be proud of. It had a proud legacy."
Success and struggle
The Starline opened in 1998, a joint venture between owner Steve Lipari and Livingstone's restaurant. The venue had impressive sound and lighting systems, and a permit that allowed 18-and-over and all-ages shows.
The space was conceived as a spot for local musicians.
Popular local band Sippy and Old Guzzler played the venue's opening night.
But by the early 2000s, the venue had earned a reputation as the choice for both touring groups and locals looking to draw a crowd. When Esquire Magazine named Fresno as one of 10 cities that rock in 2004, it singled out Starline specifically.
"It was the best small venue in the Valley," says Steve Richard, a building inspector who is now part of the new ownership team that also includes Jason Pistoresi and Eddy Burgos.
Richard remembers going to the Starline often and seeing the great shows from musicians like blues prodigy Corby Yates.
But over the years, the venue's cachet began to fade.
A run of controversies hurt the club's reputation. In particular, a Greyhound bus accident in 2010 that killed six people. The 18-year old driver of the SUV that collided with the bus was drunk at the time. She had been been at the Starline earlier that night. The venue was never officially charged with wrongdoing, but there was an online fervor with people calling for the club to be shut down. Under the added scrutiny, the venue lost its conditional use permit and was forced to become a traditional 21-and-over club.
At the same time, the club's management and promoters clashed with local musicians.
Chris Estep, who has played drums in town for 25 years, was one of several musicians who boycotted the venue.
"I made the decision then not to ever go back, not even to see a show. And I haven't for over four years. Until this week, now that it is Strummer's and no longer Starline," he says.
He was impressed with the changes.
Already, the new owners have managed to reclaim some of that old buzz.
They've booked a solid lineup of midlevel touring acts such as sleaze rapper Mickey Avalon and indie darlings Panic! at the Disco, which played a sold-out midweek show last week. Party rocker Andrew W.K. plays the venue in October.
The shows are thanks to Burgos, who serves as the venue's talent buyer.
Burgos is better known as Eddy Numbskull, the guy behind Numbskull Productions. The company has been booking shows in Fresno since the early 1990s. But being part of Strummer's has allowed the southern California-based promoter to extend his reach in Fresno.
The venue will serve as its home base, he says, but it won't be exclusive.
"We will continue to bring diverse programming but still remain active at other locations through out the city," he says. "Different artists have different needs, and we pride ourselves in catering to those needs."
Strummer's might be a good fit for an indie rock band like Girl in A Coma (booked for Sept. 16), but when Numbskull brings in Jimmy Eats World next month, the band will play at the larger Star Palace.
Burgos is equally, if not more, excited about the Strummer's Grill.
The restaurant — which is next to the music venue and open seven days a week — was reopened in June with an interior redesign and new decor. It has vintage pinball machines (set to free play), a glass cabinet filled with vintage toys and walls worth of concert posters — much of it taken from Cruikshank's own collection.
It also has a new menu that includes several vegan options, under Burgos' guidance. He's added Veggie Menu Curator to his official title, he says.
"The upcoming show calendar is cool and all, but the vegan corn dogs are where it's at," he says.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6479, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Joshuatehee on Twitter. Read his blog at Fresnobeehive.com