An unpretentious rock club that became a downtown Minneapolis mainstay, the Fine Line Music Café has been sold to the owners of velvet-rope dance and cocktail bar Aqua, who plan to make it part of a chain of event centers.
Starting Aug. 6, the Fine Line will become one of the Minneapolis Event Centers operated by Entourage Events Group, which also runs a catering and party-planning business.
"Our intention is to continue the great tradition of live music at the Fine Line," said Entourage executive Wendy Schallock, speaking on behalf of owner Steve Hark. "We will enhance the opportunities for corporate events there, but only around the music."
Thus ends the tenure of one of Minneapolis' longest-operating club owners, Dario Anselmo, who took over the Fine Line in 1993, seven years after it first opened.
"It's a tough business, and getting tougher," Anselmo said, "but regardless of that, this is really mostly about changing things up for me personally."
Under his watch, the Fine Line hosted everyone from George Clinton to President Bill Clinton, including Sheryl Crow, Maroon 5, the Pixies (who played their first reunion gig there) and, in recent years, hip-hop acts such as the Geto Boys and El-P. The club even survived a fire in 2003 (no one was hurt), the same week of a tragic inferno that killed 100 at a Great White concert in Rhode Island.
One of the toughest aspects of running the club, Anselmo said, was its location: The Warehouse District, where crime and improperly run bars have been a problem in the past, and where a lot of club and restaurant space sits empty despite the construction of nearby Target Field. Anselmo still owns the building that houses the Fine Line and will act as landlord.
"I've tried for a long time not to be pessimistic about the Warehouse District, but it's hard to be optimistic anymore," said Anselmo, a former president of the Warehouse District Business Association.
He said it also has gotten harder for clubs to survive on live music alone, noting that the nearby Epic Events Center and the Varsity Theater largely owe their longevity to extracurricular business from private events. Anselmo said Entourage Events Group has "more experience on [the private-party] front than I did, and that's essential." Entourage is eyeing other properties to provide "an umbrella of venues for any occasion," Schallock said, but would not comment further.
One key element to the Fine Line remaining a vital live music venue is its relationship with First Avenue nightclub, which has booked many of the noteworthy gigs there in recent years, including a sold-out concert Monday by buzzing British folkie Jake Bugg. First Ave general manager Nate Kranz said he plans to meet with the new team Wednesday.
"My first impression is they're excited to continue working with us, and we're looking it as business-as-usual," said Kranz, who added, "I think they have good ideas, and some new energy there could re-invent the place."