Over the past nine years, I’ve spent more time at Audie’s Olympic Tavern as a performer and a patron than any club in town.
So, it’s more than just news that the Tower District venue is holding its final shows this weekend – just as I was getting used to not calling it Club Fred.
Audie Pardon took over Club Fred in 2006 and renamed it in honor the Oly, which is what people called the place before it was Club Fred. Under Pardon, it has been the kind of club that defines a city’s music scene – a place local musicians love and to which traveling bands return.
It’s a dive bar, sure – a dive bar with personality.
There’s a claw-foot bathtub behind the bar, filled with ice and $2 tallboys of Pabst Blue Ribbon (or Hamm’s, if you like). There’s blue shag carpet on the walls and the stage, and a flickering haunted-house chandelier over what serves as a dance floor. The pool table doubles as merch space, where bands hawk T-shirts and CDs (though records and cassettes are making a comeback these days). The bathrooms are kind of gross, and the stalls are covered with band stickers.
On the busiest nights, Audie’s takes on a closed-in, claustrophobic vibe that somehow feels totally appropriate.
Audie’s has been a place to see rising bands.
“There is no greater pretentious-dude joy than to be able to say, ‘I saw that band play at a small club in Fresno before they hit big,’ ” writes Fresno blogger Mike Seay in an ode to the club.
An example is Cage the Elephant, which gave Audie’s a shout out from the stage at the Save Mart Center during its recent tour stop. OK, the band may not have mentioned the club by name, but hardcore fans knew the band played there in 2009 before 200 or so people.
Mostly, the club played to the fringe subcultures – the punk and metal and outlaw country stuff. I was introduced to the Texas metal band America Sharks at Audie’s. And the Chicago marching band/punk performance ensemble Mucca Pazza, whose members couldn’t fit on the stage and played from various spots throughout the room. The club has hosted Korean punk rock (Galaxy Express) and Chinese doom metal themed after American serial killers (Church of Misery) and any number of obscurely wonderful musical acts.
But its greatest contribution – and this is true for any great club – was as a proving ground for local artists.
You get a sense of this looking at the bands playing the club’s final two nights. All have been regulars over the years. The Friday night lineup includes Glen Delpit and the Subterraneans and the Roger Perry Band, Cattie Ness and the Revenge, Style Like Revelators, Blue Crown and Motel Drive. Saturday night will feature Llama Boy, the Creeping Green, Born Loser, Strange Vine and Brian Kenney Fresno, who once did a 12-hour set on Audie’s stage.
By nature, people want the gory details of the closure, even if it’s a blurry bit of social media he-said he-said.
The quick recap: Pardon said in a Facebook post that he is being “squeezed out” by the building’s new owners, who in turn say Pardon was given every opportunity to sign a lease to secure the future of his business. He refused, they say.
Some have expressed, quite publicly, deep sadness over the loss of the club, and concerns about the future of the space. The building’s owners seem confident about what’s in store.
“It was important for us to find someone who had a successful track record owning a bar, and felt passionate about Fresno generally and Tower specifically. We believe the new tenant is all those things and will carry on the history of the building and be good for the neighborhood,” says Steve Daniele, one of three partners in P&P Holdings, which bought the building in June.
So, a new tenant has been found and the club will reopen, under a new name, possibly by mid-May. It will continue to operate as a live-music venue, bringing in the same kind of local and touring acts.
Pardon is exploring future opportunities, as well.
Likely, it will involve live music, though he might get back into food, he says. Pardon studied culinary arts and worked in the food industry prior to opening the club. But that will be a year or more down the road, he says.
In the meantime, he will continue promote shows, when and where he can. He’s already booked a pair of dates at Veni Vini Vici in April with Bob Wayne and the Outlaw Carnies and the Sawyer Family.
While the circumstances of his departure were less than ideal, Pardon is glad for his time in the local music scene: “I’m happy that I got to do what I did for nine years.”
Countless musicians and music fans no doubt agree.
Final nights at Audie’s Olympic Tavern
- 6 p.m. Friday, March 25, and Saturday, March 26
- Audie’s Olympic Tavern, 1426 N Van Ness Ave.
- Tickets: $5
- 559-270-7634, search Audie’s Olympic on Facebook