Tehee: Manager of latest Granite Park nightclub thinking big

The Fresno BeeMay 14, 2014 

Pino Borrelli, former general manager of Rome Nightclub, stands amid the renovation of the former club as he prepares to open Club Imperio on Friday in the same Granite Park location.

ERIC PAUL ZAMORA — THE FRESNO BEE Buy Photo

Fresno's Cabo Wabo sits alongside the Running Horse development and the Fresno Metropolitan Museum as the best example of a grand idea gone wrong.

Indeed, the 15,000-square-foot building that housed the Sammy Hagar-approved rock club for five months back in 2008 was the kind of live music venue Fresno needed, in a part of town that would benefit from its success.

Since then, so many businesses have come and gone in the space it takes an info-graphic just to keep it all straight.

A brief recap includes: The Barrel Room, a Memphis-themed blues club that took over after Cabo Wabo. It didn't last the month. Next came The Edge, a high-end nightclub that scored Kim Kardashian for its opening bash, then never opened again.

Club Rome, which opened in 2011, came the closest to success. It had its share of higher-profile acts come through. Fitz and the Tantrums and E-40 both played the venue before it closed.

The latest incarnation — Club Eva — opened in 2013 and mostly was under the radar until last week when it was announced that a new dance club would open in the space.

And immediately, I thought: "This again?"

It's what Pino Borrelli was thinking too, only not in the same way.

"Cabo Wabo was a huge success. Club Rome was a huge success," says Borrelli, who managed the venue when it was Club Rome, and is reopening the space as Club Imperio today. During his time as manager, the venue was breaking records for liquor sales, he says. That's how many people were coming in the door.

Any failures are the fault of past owners, he says, not Granite Park, and certainly not the venue itself.

The venue is one-of-a-kind. To duplicate it would take millions of dollars, he says. Borrelli spent $500,000 on a complete remodel. He already has plans for additional spaces within the center.

"I waited three years and fought to get this place," Borrelli says.

Borrelli likes the business model. He has no doubt the club's bread-and-butter — a high-end Vegas-style experience that runs until 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights — can be successful if done right.

That means charging a bit more for drinks and the cover.

That's because he's spending more on security to create a safer environment. Borrelli has a security staff of 40 and has contracted with Fresno police for additional support.

Already, Borrelli expects a large turnout for the opening this weekend. Most of the VIP tables have already sold. Even with $20 express-lane admission (the normal cover is $10), expect long lines.

"Get there early," Borrelli says.

And Borrelli isn't discounting the venue's potential for live music, either. It just has to be the right kind of performer, he says.

Think Save Mart Center-caliber acts. Because of the venue's size — around 800 capacity — fans would pay more for tickets, he knows. The benefit would be the intimacy of the show.

This columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6479, jtehee@fresnobee.com or @joshuatehee on Twitter and Instagram. Read his blog at www.fresnobeehive.com.

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