Last call for LaSalles
Iconic downtown bar closes its doors this weekend
The sign on the front of LaSalles reads 1975. It’s gone through several transformations since then, but over the course of its 40-year history the nightclub has become a downtown institution.
But after this weekend the iconic Chico club will be no more, as the owners will be closing LaSalles before completely remodeling the space and reopening as a restaurant with a new look and a new name.
In the recent weeks since going public with the news, the club has been inundated with locals of all generations packing the place for a series of finale shows and theme nights that culminates with a four-night stand of entertainment starting tonight (Sept. 3) and ending with this Sunday’s grand finale, a reunion show with Chico’s favorite jam band, Electric Circus.
“We should’ve painted on the front window, like a furniture store—‘Closing: one week’—and then stayed open for a month,” co-owner Nick Andrews said during a recent interview.
There is a lot of LaSalles history to tap into: from its 1970s beginnings as a “fern bar”/ restaurant, to its rise as a key venue in the lively music scenes of the 1980s and ’90s (which included a wide range of popular local acts—from The Funnels and Brutilicus Maximus to The Mother Hips and Electric Circus), to its current place as a downtown dance-party hotspot.
“It was really a pretty integral part of the music scene. It was a really good stepping-stone,” said local drummer Mike Waltz, who will be joining his band Electric Circus for the finale show.
“With Circus and all the other bands, I’ve probably played LaSalles 200-300 times,” Waltz said recently by phone. “I paid my way through college playing there … [and] I met my wife there!”
Andrews, along with co-owners Kevin Riley and Mike Wear (with whom he also owns Riley’s, Franky’s and 5th Street Steakhouse), bought LaSalles in 2000.
“I used to be in bands and stuff and it was kind of a fun thing at the time,” Andrews explained about his initial excitement about taking over LaSalles. He said that it took a couple years to learn the ropes, but once they got the hang of it, the venue returned to being a stable nightclub known for its regular rotation of themed dance nights (especially the popular ’80s night on Thursdays) and live music shows featuring a wide variety of local and touring rock, jam, metal and hip-hop acts.
“When I went to college, we went and saw The Funnels,” Andrews said, referring to the über-popular party band that used to stuff the place back in the 1980s. “You went out and you knew there was going to be a fun band playing.”
During his tenure, “things evolved” at the club, Andrews said, as the musical tastes of students changed, and DJs started being more popular than most styles of live music. “It went more techno,” he said, and LaSalles’ offerings changed accordingly.
It wasn’t until the last two or three years, though, that the partners thought of doing something different with the space. According to Andrews, when “the gangs and police” started showing up regularly downtown, and the nightlife scene in Chico grew increasingly violent, it was time for a change.
“I didn’t get in this business to fight gangs; I got into this business to throw parties,” he said.
As for the new restaurant, Andrews and his partners haven’t settled on a name yet, or announced a menu. But he did say that the LaSalles stage as well as the elevated back half of the main room will be demolished, making it all one level, and that a front outdoor patio will be added. They’re hoping to be open by March 2016.
For now, Andrews said he’s basking in the glow of the current festivities and reminiscing about all the great moments he’s experienced at the club, including the time he said he watched Mother Hips frontman Tim Bluhm write a song downstairs in the green room and then debut it live on the LaSalles stage that same night. But what resonates the most for Andrews are the Thursday night happy hours on the tree-shaded back patio. “[That’s been] my favorite, from the day I opened until now,” he said of the live music and dancing complement to the Thursday Night Market.
Chicoans will be happy to hear that the market-night music on the patio will continue at the new restaurant (albeit much mellower), and many of those same locals will be out there tonight (Sept. 3) grooving to Swamp Zen at the last official Thursday night jam.