Downtown Minneapolis’s mainstay rock club the Fine Line Music Café has been sold to the owners of velvet-rope dance and drink bars Aqua and Elixir. The deal has been in the works for months and was finally confirmed in a short notice tacked onto the club’s website. It reads:
The Fine Line Music Café will be under new ownership and management efffective August 6th. The new business will be part of Minneapolis Event Centers operated by Entourage Events Group.
Talking about the pending deal a few weeks ago, Fine Line owner Dario Anselmo listed several reasons why he wanted to unload the club. They included the fact that he recently turned 50 (“I’m too old to run a club,” he quipped) to the loss of the club’s longtime talent booker Kim King last summer (who switched to the Cabooze and tour managing).
He also detailed his love/hate relationship with the Warehouse District, where many bars and restaurants have come and gone in recent years despite the construction of Target Field. Anselmo still owns the building that houses the Fine Line and will thus be involved in a landlord capacity.
“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.
Calls to the club’s new owners, brothers Jado and Steve Hark, have not been returned. Anselmo said the Harks hope to continue the Fine Line’s live music tradition, but they also plan to ramp up the private-party business there. Corporate events and private shindigs are a cornerstone of the Harks’ Entourage Events Group and a staple at their other clubs.
“Those guys have more experience on [the private party] front than I did, and that’s essential,” Anselmo said, noting that the nearby Epic nightclub and the Varsity Theater largely owe their longevity to private events and not their live music calendar. Said Anselmo, “The live music business has gotten to be pretty expensive one to be in.”
One key element to the Fine Line remaining a vital live music venue is its relationship with First Avenue, which has booked many of the noteworthy gigs there in recent years and is behind such upcoming dates as Jake Bugg, Murder by Death and Deerhunter. First Ave general manager Nate Kranz said he met with the Harks informally on Thursday and is planning a sit-down meeting Wednesday.
“My first impression is they’re excited to continue working with us, and we’re looking at it as business-as-usual,” said Kranz, who added, “I think they have good ideas, and some new energy there could reinvent the place.” Kranz also praised Anselmo’s tenure at the club: “It’s not easy running a club day-to-day, but he did it for a long time.”
Nineteen years, in fact. Anselmo took over the club in 1993 from Ruth Whitney Bowe (wife of guitarist Kevin Bowe), who opened it in 1987. Under Anselmo’s watch, the Fine Line hosted everyone from George Clinton to President Bill Clinton, and from Sheryl Crow and Maroon 5 to the Pixies, who played their first-ever reunion gig there in 2004. In recent years, it has welcomed more and more hip-hop gigs by the likes of Prof, Sims, the Geto Boys and (just two weekends ago) El-P and Killer Mike. The club even survived a fire in 2003, the same week of the tragic inferno at a Great White concert in Rhode Island. Thankfully, no one at the Fine Line was hurt.
“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.”