A high school-themed pool hall and bar named Detention Billiards that serves drinks like the “hot Spanish teacher” is just the latest quirky business to open in the Tower District.
Detention, owned by the same people behind the former Babylon pool hall, has moved into the former Blockbuster space at 750 E. Olive Ave. Its arrival is another example of one thing that is a constant in Tower: change.
The Tower District, which has small storefronts and relatively cheap rent, always has businesses wanting to get in.
“When we get an empty space, there’s six people waiting to take it,” says Bill Kuebler, executive director of the Tower District Marketing Committee.
What can seem like abandoned buildings or inaction to the public is often the slow pace of renovating a space and slogging through required the permits and paperwork. Detention, for example, took 18 months to open.
It always seems to be in transition but it always seems to be flourishing.
Fab owner Cisco Mendez about the Tower District
Sometimes, the businesses close in what seems like the blink of an eye.
A flurry of recent changes – along with some still in the works – means new places to eat and hang out in the city’s most bustling dining and entertainment district. The latest evolution has Tower tipping more toward nightlife, with the shopping scene fading a little – at least in the heart of the district.
The stores seem to have scooted west, with shops specializing in upcycling or painted furniture and decor springing up on either side of Palm Avenue.
“The trend I’ve been seeing lately is a little bit more toward nightclubs,” Kuebler says. “For the longest time it was dining and then it started going into entertainment.”
Tower has some challenges, business owners acknowledge. Making people from north Fresno feel safe is one of them.
There have been waves of crime in Tower over the years, including a spike in violent crimes and property crimes at the beginning of the year, says Lt. Mark Salazar, who is transitioning from being the southeast district commander to the southwest district commander, which includes Tower.
“It comes and goes,” he says of the crime. “Right now it’s trending the right way.”
Much of the crime stems from gang members filtering into Tower from neighborhoods near Belmont Avenue, he says. Salazar is vowing to bring weekly or even daily crime suppression operations to Tower.
Officers have been out and about lately, walking Olive Avenue and getting to know the neighborhood and business owners.
Some residents still bemoan the loss of the police substation on Broadway Street, which closed in 2010. But Salazar said the city is working toward a satellite office in the area. Nothing is finalized, but there is momentum in the right direction, he says.
“What we want to do is change the perception by some that Tower isn’t safe,” he says. “It is safe.”
Here’s a look at the changes in Tower and businesses coming soon.
Not just a pool hall, Detention is also a craft cocktail bar. That “hot Spanish teacher” drink, for example, has muddled cilantro, tequila, limes and jalapeño. Cocktails range from $6 to $10, and the bar is cash only, though there’s an ATM in the corner.
Principal/owner Tim Ferrigan and superintendent/head bartender Jennifer Sandoval took the detention theme and ran with it. Women dress like teachers in pencil skirts, and some of the men dress like janitors.
Customers can rent lockers to store their things while playing at one of the 15 pool tables or the 22-foot shuffleboard.
Bring in a receipt from an Uber ride, pedicab or other ride and you’ll get an hour of free pool. Ferrigan likes to point out the math lesson he plans to put on a blackboard: An Uber ride costs $17. A DUI costs about $12,000.
Look up while you’re there and you’ll see a Big Ass Fan – a giant fan that takes the place of several regular ceiling fans – and yes, that’s really the brand name of the fan.
Detention will be open seven days a week from 4-11 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, until 1:30 a.m. Thursday through Saturday, and from noon to 11 p.m. Sunday.
The Sacramento man who bought the Landmark is gearing up to turn it into Splash.
Though the plans are still in the paperwork and permit stage, the business has stopped serving food with no plans to bring it back.
“It’s basically a gay club, but it’s done in a real mainstream way,” he says. “It’s a very neighborhood-style dance club. It’s probably as much a bar as it is a dance club.”
The front area will remain a pub that’s open seven days a week, perhaps with pool tables. The back dining area will be transformed into a dance floor open on weekends.
Bruce compares the Tower District to Sacramento’s midtown, a neighborhood with restaurants and nightlife that has matured over the last 15 years or so.
Tower is an untapped resource, he says.
“They have this really, really killer central midtown area that has been kind of stagnant for a lot of years,” he says.
It’s a long road with challenges, but Bruce says he is optimistic.
“It’s just a small bit of evidence that people want to be in the Tower and that they’re willing to invest in the Tower,” he said.
Mama Mia’s/Bobby Salazar’s
Sports bar Score on Olive Avenue near Broadway Street is gone, but a new tenant is already getting ready to take it over.
Mama Mia’s Pizzeria is partnering with Bobby Salazar to open a place that sells pizza and drinks. Mama Mia will provide the pizza, calzones and burgers and Salazar will handle the drinks.
Salazar envisions a casual lounge, bringing in the jazz and other low-key music that Landmark used to host.
Bobby Salazar’s taqueria on Olive Avenue is taking over the space next door that used to be Tsu Tsu Boutique.
Knocking down the wall will give the taqueria a bigger patio and dining room. They are also revamping the bar, making a bigger, horseshoe-shaped one with 30 seats around it.
The restaurant is still serving food until 10 p.m. and has started a Sunday brunch with bottomless mimosas, eggs, pozole, menudo and “lots of bacon,” Salazar says.
Million Elephant and the Arena Nightclub at the corner of Fulton Street and Olive Avenue have been closed for months. A shooting there in March got people talking. Fourteen rounds were apparently fired from the parking lot of the Chicken Pie Shop toward the closed Million Elephant.
A liquor license notice had been posted on the nightclub side got some folks’ hopes up, but has been removed.
The property owner has gutted the club and is redoing electrical, plumbing, air conditioning and other work in both spaces. It could take a while before the buildings are ready for renters.
No one has signed a lease yet with the owner for either space, though a renter is interested in the club.
The restaurant space will be ready first, however.
“I personally want to see a nice restaurant there,” says owner Peter Cobb.
Mr. Sushi, at 724 E. Olive Ave., has closed, but a new owner has already taken over and reopened it as Tower Sushi earlier this month.
The restaurant kept the same sushi chef and still has sushi, sashimi and bento boxes on the menu. New owner Thomas Nouantanouvanh is running the restaurant with his son and daughter.
Nouantanouvanh is a chef who got his culinary training in France and used to oversee the steakhouse at Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino.
He is vowing to keep the restaurant clean and affordable.
This gay club in the Tower District has been open since last fall. But unless you’re a regular, you might not be aware of all the things going on behind that bright pink wall with the Swiss cheese holes.
Inside is a dance floor, booths and a full bar with a purple light-up top. Fab regularly hosts live music, karaoke and dancing. There’s also a drag show at midnight on Fridays, and “tutu Tuesdays” where staff and customers alike wear tutus.
Female go-go dancers dance on the bar after 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. And a couple of times a month the club brings in performers like drag queens from TV’s RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Fab recently added a Sunday brunch from noon to 4 p.m. that’s free with the purchase of a drink. It includes a bloody mary bar where customers can perfect their own drinks.
The venue is a safe place for people who are gay and their friends who can have a good time without feeling like they’re being judged, says Cisco Mendez, who owns Fab with his husband, Terry Story.
“It is a gay bar and everyone is welcome,” he says. “My 84-year-old grandmother comes here. If my 84-year-old grandmother can make it, anyone can.”
The Ivy Room
The spot has reopened as The Ivy Room, a dance club that also hosts private events. It is open to the public and holds events like comedy shows and live music.
It’s open late, starting at 9 p.m. on Wednesday and at 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.
In addition to wine, The Ivy Room also serves Champagne, beer and mixed drinks.
Pinot Wine Bar was in this spot, but has closed. Now the location has been dubbed the Tower Lounge and is owned and operated by the Tower Theatre.
It’s open sporadically, used to host smaller shows. The bar is also used for larger shows in the main theater.