Bethany Clough

This cocktail bar plans to open in downtown Fresno, a new twist for the brewery district

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A new cocktail bar plans to open in a historic building in downtown Fresno.

The owners of a business named Modernist have signed a lease for 719 Fulton St., an empty building that’s recently gotten a facelift. They hope to open this winter.

The spot is near the core of the Downtown Fresno Ale Trail, making it an easy stop for people who are also hitting up breweries. Modernist will be across the street from Zack’s Brewing and just south of Tioga-Sequoia Brewing Co.’s beer garden.

The building has a mural with the giant words “Brewery District” painted on the side. The spot that Modernist will open in is technically part of the Rustigian Building built in 1920.

The owner of the building hopes to fill the remaining spaces with renters that could be part of the brewery district.

It is the second cocktail bar to announce plans this year to open downtown. Quail State is working on a bar on the second-floor rooftop of Pacific Southwest Building on Fulton and Mariposa streets.


Modernist has been teasing photos of the types of cocktails it plans to offer on Instagram, at ModernistFresno.

Partners Carmen Serrato, a Fresno native who graduated from Edison High School, and Po Tsai are behind the business.

Future cocktail bar Modernist, which plans to open in downtown Fresno, features cocktails like these on its Instagram page. Modernist Instagram screenshot

Serrato, who has a background in business marketing, and Tsai, who is in the financial product management field, both have a passion for cocktails.

They were inspired by many of the cocktail bars they visited around the world, from New York and San Francisco to Paris and Hong Kong.

They plan to stay on top of cocktail trends, like butterfly pea tea, which has been popping up in drinks around Fresno. It’s made from the butterfly pea flower.

“It’s bright blue that turns purple when you add acid to it,” said Tsai. “Those are things that we would constantly be keeping an eye out for and thinking about incorporating.”

The cocktail menu will have 15 to 20 drinks. The classics, like martinis, would also be available.

It will also sell beer, including from its neighbors Tioga-Sequoia and Zack’s.

Modernist will have snacks and finger foods available, but the space does not have a kitchen.

Expect an “industrial chic” elegance inside the bar. Serrato and Tsai plan to bring elements of the design of cocktails bars they visited around the world, using brick, brass and unique art.

They want an interior that’s worthy of posting photos on Instagram and other social media outlets.

“One, let’s deliver a great drink, but two, let’s also make it something people want to post about,” Tsai said. “People like taking pictures to make memories.”

Downtown Fresno

Modernist has a 1,200-square-foot space, one of three in that portion of the building.

Serrato has watched the surrounding downtown change since she grew up here.

“Seeing the transformation that’s been going on is pretty amazing,” she said. “That’s what drew us to the area. One of the things I wanted to do was see how we could contribute to these efforts in downtown.”

The building generated some buzz on social media a few months back when someone posted a photo of the building’s new look.

It got new paint and boards covering up the windows were removed, said owner Nora Monaco. She lives in Morgan Hill, but has a brother in Madera who keeps tabs on the property.

The rest of the building is also for rent.

The entire building, which stretches from 701 to 723 Fulton Street, includes the large space on the corner of Mono and Fulton streets. That has 7,000 square feet in the front of the building (with a second floor) and 11,000 square feet in the back.

“We really want a large restaurant with a cocktail lounge and maybe a dance floor or something in the larger section in 701 because that makes total sense there,” she said.

Two smaller spaces are also for rent next to Modernist’s spot in the part of the building facing Tioga-Sequoia’s beer garden.

Monaco also owns the building Zack’s Brewing occupies and part of the property Tioga-Sequoia is on, so she’s deliberately looking for renters who would fit into the brewery district.

“We’ve actually had a lot of inquiries we’ve just had to say no to because they wanted to put in an office or a retail store,” she said. “What we’re looking for are things that focus on the brewery district.”

The Rustigian building is a former “bus depot,” though the buses were old-school passenger cars with eight or so seats. It was also used for paint storage by the Wilshire Paint Store. The portion of the building where Modernist will open once held a barbershop and a deli.

The building’s facade is on the Local Register of Historic Resources. But the interior is not, which gives the owner freedom to make changes.

Bethany Clough: (559) 441-6431, @BethanyClough

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Bethany Clough covers restaurants and retail for The Fresno Bee. A reporter for 20 years, she now works to answer readers’ questions about business openings, closings and other business news. She has a degree in journalism from Syracuse University and her last name is pronounced Cluff.