The Tower District is probably going to look a little different the next time you set foot in it.
Major openings, closings and moves are changing the landscape of Fresno’s hippest neighborhood. New coffee shops are popping up and high-profile restaurants and bars like Livingstone’s are inching their way toward reopening. Some regular Tower anchors — Me N Eds, Brass Unicorn, the Bank of America — are making big changes, too.
Marketing of the Tower District marketing is getting a facelift, with a cleanup and new banners in the works.
Here’s a rundown of the changes.
The three owners – a married couple and a friend in their 20s who met at a rock climbing gym — gutted the space and turned it into a bright-white spot with tiled walls and a mural.
Hi-Top will serve all the regular coffee shop drinks — espresso, pour-over coffee, lattes, their own version of cold brew, etc. — made from Santa Cruz coffee roaster Cat & Cloud and others.
Customers can expect to hear music from a record player, cold coffee served in little one-person pots, and cups, stir sticks and other waste that can be composted.
We just want to bring back Stone’s, you know. I’d pay a million bucks to have my old dingy dive bar back.
Cynthia K. Green, Livingstone’s co-owner
The name Hi-Top has a couple of different meanings, stemming from a comment from Spencer Suvanto about Bagato’s “sweet hightops” and “hi” being the first word many people say upon meeting.
At the other end of the Tower District, the coffee shop formerly called Mia Cuppa has reopened after a short break. It’s back to the name The Revue and is run by the owners of popular ice cream shop Ampersand and Lanna Coffee.
The dark wood and dim corners are gone, replaced with modern blue and white.
The Revue serves traditional coffee-based drinks, plus a cold-brew coffee “on tap” that’s mixed with nitrogen to give it a slightly different texture and a head like a glass of beer. There also are ice cream drinks, such as a nitro float and affogato, vanilla ice cream with espresso poured over it.
Former owners Wendy and Mark DeRaud will continue to run Mia Studio & Gallery, the room in back.
They continue to host paint parties, open-mic nights and concerts, and the room is available to rent for private events. They also plan to teach visual arts classes like “learn to draw like the old masters.” (For details, see deraudartschool.com or call 559-326-3160.)
Mark DeRaud, an artist and instructor, is painting a mural behind the stage. Another mural that will include other artist is in the works for the outside the building.
The squat stand-alone building at 431 E. Olive Ave. across from Tower Gas has housed everything from campaign headquarters to a hookah lounge.
It recently became a gallery and shop selling vintage items.
Parabolic, a reference to the tall arches seen in architecture and engineering, will show fine art by young, emerging local artists. Tony Fernandez, who has spent a career in architecture and interior design, owns the business.
“The idea is to show arts in an environment that feels almost like you’re walking through someone’s home,” he said. “You just don’t see it on a wall by itself. There’s furniture and other things around.”
Many of those other things, ranging from vintage furniture to perhaps a line of new lamps, will be for sale, too.
You may have missed
If you haven’t been to the Tower District in a while, you may not have noticed that two mom-and-pop restaurants have recently opened.
La Arepa, a Venezuelan restaurant, is in the former Chinese food and doughnut shop at 601 E. Olive Ave. It serves arepas, a sandwich-like dish that features dough made from a corn-based flour served with beef or chicken. It also specializes in empanadas, fried pockets of dough filled with beef, chicken or meatless ingredients.
Across the street, El Patio Muy Bueno Mexican Food took over the former Meze House Mediterranean Grill. Most of the restaurant’s seating is on its large, colorful patio. The restaurant serves Mexican food, with some old-school dishes you might not find at other restaurants.
Bank of America
The Bank of America at 1264 N. Wishon Ave. is closing Nov. 28 and taking its ATMs with it. The bank has four “financial centers” within two miles in the area and decided to close this one. The bank owns the building and plans to sell it.
The ATMs were a convenient first stop for people starting their evening out in the Tower District. And businesses relied upon the bank too, noted Felix Muzquiz, marketing director of the Tower District Marketing Committee.
Fresno City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria “is contacting banks to see who we can get to go in there,” Muzquiz said. “There’s a huge need, especially for change for all these merchants.”
Another ATM, from the Educational Employees Credit Union, was recently built next to Grandmarie’s Chicken Pie Shop.
Another mainstay of the Tower District, Valentino’s, has closed. The store selling retro dresses, Doc Martens and other funky merchandise closed after 33 years in that spot.
Owners Laurie and Peter Valentino wanted to retire. It is too early to say what might take over that space.
Me N Ed’s
Tower’s Me N Ed’s is closed for remodeling and will reopen as a Me N Ed’s On Tap with self-serve beer.
The restaurant will have more than 20 taps. Customers pay up front for the amount of beer they want and are given bracelets with technology that tracks how much beer is poured.
Me N Ed’s already has this concept at Bullard and West avenues and at the Temperance Avenue and Highway 168 restaurants. Another restaurant, this one dubbed Blast & Brew, is in the works at a newly built building under construction in Old Town Clovis.
The company hopes to reopen the Tower location at the end of September. The restaurant still will serve pizza, but will add a few foods that pair well with beer, possibly including Bavarian pretzels, garlic knots and loaded tots.
After more than 30 years on Fern Avenue, Brass Unicorn has moved — though not far. The New Age gift store is now at 1007 N. Van Ness Ave., on the corner of Elizabeth Street, about two blocks south of Olive Avenue.
Owner Kathryn Barile said the old location was on a month-to-month lease and she never felt secure. She’s in the processing of buying the building that holds the new store.
“Who wants to look at the back of Dollar Tree for the rest of their lives?” she said. “There’s a lot of drama right there in the parking lot. We were always cleaning up.”
The new spot also has a bigger meeting room that can host events like belly dancing classes, Art Hop shows, poetry readings or spiritual movie nights.
Some of the most highly anticipated openings — Livingstone’s, the new Landmark and Mama Mia’s/Lucy’s Lounge — are going painstakingly slow. But they are happening.
Bar and restaurant Livingstone’s shut down nearly nine months ago after a fire caused $400,000 to $500,000 damage. The alleged arsonist, Justin Joseph Silva, is still in Kings County Jail after being arrested over a separate incident. He is suspected of several felonies, including kidnapping an elderly woman.
But Livingstone’s — or simply “Stone’s” as many call it — is reaching the end of months of bureaucratic hurdles, said Cynthia K. Green, one of the owners.
“We’re still building, just starting to build,” she said last week. “It’s pretty much just a shell. It’s pretty empty. We’ve got a long way to go, basically.”
The bar needs to be rebuilt and flooring installed, for example. But Green is optimistic, saying the new version of Stone’s will be as close to the old as possible, including “that warm wood feeling.”
One difference: Bigger bathrooms. The business must meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements and the bathrooms will be more accessible than the previous ones.
What won’t change: the staff.
“It looks like most of the staff will be coming back,” Green said. “They’re chomping at the bit. They can’t wait.”
She hopes the business will open by Thanksgiving, though restaurant openings are frequently delayed for a variety of reasons.
“We just want to bring back Stones, you know?” she said. “I’d pay a million bucks to have my old dingy dive bar back.”
Tower District Records
After three years at the corner of Olive and Palm avenues Tower District Records is moving, but not far away.
“I like the Tower District,” said owner Bob Lambert. “It’s been good to me.”
But he didn’t get much foot traffic on that corner and when his lease he expired he decided to move. The new place will still have a stage and seating area for performances, and will also have patio space for occasional outdoor activities.
He closes the current shop at 6 p.m. but plans to change that once he moves.
“Now I’ll definitely stay open til 9 or 10,” he said. “Ampersand has a crowd out the door to 11.”
He hopes more people will come from nearby businesses, including the newly opened Vivily Vintage & Handmade shop. He’ll encourage shoppers to come in with their ice cream or coffee and browse the records.
Mama Mia/Lucy’s Lounge
The signs for the new restaurant and bar between Bobby Salazar’s Taqueria and Starbucks have been up for months. The owners — Salazar and the people behind Mama Mia Pizzeria at Bullard and Palm avenues — had hoped it would be open by last April.
Obviously, that didn’t happen, but they are getting close, said Mike DiNuzzo of Mama Mia.
“The place looks like it’s all put together and done, we’re just waiting on the final OK,” he said.
The former Landmark is in the process of being turned into Splash, a bar and dance club.
The business had signs up saying Splash is remodeling and would open at the end of summer. Delays are common in the remodeling process, but work has been happening inside. The building also got a new coat of paint.
Sings on the building still say “coming soon.”
The owner did not return several calls seeking comment.
T.J. Bruce also owns gay nightclubs Splash in San Jose and Badlands in Sacramento. He plans to turn the front of Landmark into a pub-style bar in front and the back area into a dance floor open on weekends.