By Charlie Swanson
About this time last year, Napa restaurant and live music venue City Winery announced that it was cutting ties with its downtown location at the historic Napa Valley Opera House amid reports of underwhelming cuisine and under-attended concerts.
That news was followed with word six months ago that another popular franchising venue, the Blue Note jazz club out of New York City, was in talks to take over the space by the summer of 2016. Now, with summer firmly here, Blue Note is indeed planting roots in Napa, though it’s taking the slow and steady approach.
“The experience goes back a number a years,” says Blue Note managing director Ken Tesler.
Having worked with Blue Note’s founding family, the Bensusans, for the last decade, Tesler first got the idea to bring the club—which also has locations in Hawaii, Japan and Italy—to Napa Valley during a winetasting trip nearly four years ago.
“I fell in love with the region,” Tesler says. “For a good three years, I took my time learning this area and this market. I was determined to put the right business model together.”
Tesler sought out friend and five-star hotel and restaurant manager Jeroen Gerrese. “He has tremendous restaurant management experience, and I have the music experience,” Tesler says.
The partners looked at properties throughout Napa Valley before the Opera House became available last year. When word reached them of City Winery’s move, they jumped on it. Tesler moved his family to Napa from the East Coast in April, when contracts were finalized. Since then, he says he and his staff have been “taking our time, making sure we do things correctly.”
The plan for the forthcoming Blue Note Napa is to turn the Opera House’s first floor restaurant into a 150-seat supper club featuring nightly live music from a roster of acclaimed jazz artists spanning the genre and beyond. “We want a little of that intimate New York jazz-club vibe,” Tesler says. “And we want it to meet Napa Valley, to have the best of both worlds.”
The second-floor theater, which holds upwards of 600 people standing, will remain the historic Opera House Ballroom, with Blue Note opening the space to other local promoters and events like the BottleRock Napa Valley after-shows that happened there last May.
While there is no opening date yet, Tesler expects Blue Note Napa to take off by early fall. “You only get one shot to hit it out of the park,” Tesler says. “When we open our doors, we have got to show people we can do it right.”