Report: Fine Line Music Café sold to owners of Aqua

Report: Fine Line Music Café sold to owners of Aqua
Photo by Erik Hess

The Fine Line Music Café has been sold to the owners of Aqua Nightclub & Lounge. According to the club's website, the new ownership and management by Minneapolis Event Centers operated by Entourage Events Group begins on August 6. The sale comes not long after the venue's 25th birthday last November and less than a year after longtime national talent buyer Kim King departed to work at the Cabooze after 12 years at the club.

In an interview with Gimme Noise last year, owner Dario Anselmo seemed like he knew a decision like this was coming for the 750-capacity downtown club. "I think the Fine Line... it'll be part of a larger music scene," he said. "I see it being here, but it being part of something else, to make sure it's got an extended life. Maybe part of two or three clubs, not necessarily a national promoter, just a place that makes sure that people have a unique experience." Now it's a little more clear what he meant by that.

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Report: Fine Line Music Café sold to owners of Aqua
Photo by Erik Hess

Last week, Greg Burke wrote a brief message regarding the situation in Thursday's TC Club Crawl email, and the reports of the sale began to spread. "Let's hope the new owners of The Fine Line keep some of the great people who have worked there for years, some more than a decade!" he wrote. "All existing shows are on for now and any possible changes are up in the air at this point."

On Monday the Fine Line's current staff members were interviewed by the new owners, upscale nightclub honchos Jado and Steve Hark, according to reports. Judging by the events that have already started showing up on future dates at the cub, there could be a serious change in tone and personnel. Take the Twin Cities 1st Annual Black & White Tie Event, which includes a dress code and VIP section in its listing. However, the event is not presented on the current Fine Line calendar, suggesting that different leadership is already working on events.

"There weren't as many when I came in [at the Fine Line], and the structure and the cost to do music has really gone up," said Anselmo, who is expected to remain as landlord for the building housing the Fine Line. "There's a lot of bands [now], but the actual cost, from a club standpoint, has changed so much -- meaning they've gone up. It's an expensive business to be in, and there's a lot that goes into it. It's definitely a bigger challenge than it was 18 or 19 years ago. There's more from the weekend standpoint -- there are more places that play live music than full-time live music clubs... You've got so many places. It's a bigger challenge."


From the Fine Line's annual Best Love is Free event held earlier this year.
From the Fine Line's annual Best Love is Free event held earlier this year.
Photo by Erik Hess

The stretch of First Avenue holding the Fine Line already has several dance club-type spots specializing in cover charges, velvet ropes, and bottle service, but it's not clear if the new owners are planning to completely abandon live music -- hopefully not.

In its quarter-decade run, the club has hosted umpteen influential shows, including the Pixies' return to touring in 2004. In all, the Fine Line has proven intimate -- in mixed ways. Sure, there's a tough, crowded corridor along the left side of the space during a sold-out show, but there are also the fleeting moments an audience is usually not privy to as the artists walk up the steps to the eye-level stage. With the right blend of lights, the room comes alive in ways rarely experienced in a space its size.

In the year since Kim King left the venue, First Avenue's booking arm of Nate Kranz and Sonia Grover had brought a wealth of exciting shows into the mid-sized room, including Killer Mike, Father John Misty, and a scorching CHVRCHES show in June.

Looking at the Fine Line's upcoming calendar, August already begins to thin out in terms of events on the books. British folk upstart Jake Bugg plays a sold-out show on August 5, Deerhunter rolls through on September 9, and WHY? plays on October 4. The last live music hurrah on the calendar at this point is the November 12 Old 97's show at the venue.

Still, the future direction of the club is not yet clear. An official announcement of the sale is expected next week. Echoing to Burke's sentiments, the hope is that this transition still allows for one of the longest-running music venues in the Twin Cities, and one of the best local places to see a band before they break big, to stay alive.

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