Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

Twitter photo of the day: Firefighters rescue pugs

It’s been a tough couple of days for Fresno firefighters. Captain Pete Dern fell through the roof of a burning garage Sunday into a horrific column of flames in a story that made national news. He has a long recovery ahead of him, but it’s pretty awesome to see the community’s outpouring of support for him. He deserves it.

Last night, Fresno firefighters once again showed that saving lives and keeping our homes safe is simply what they do. They rescued an 85-year-old woman in a wheelchair at a Tower District house fire, contending with two other burning structures and a broken power line to get to her. And they rescued the pugs. Twitter user @proper_exposure (Silva, Mario according to his Twitter page) tweeted this photo. If that doesn’t give you the warm fuzzies for our firefighters, I don’t know what will. Thank you for keeping us and our furry family members safe.

Does anyone know who these two firefighters are?

Development and good design and planning are not mutually exclusive

One might not expect a proposed development for an abandoned lot on one of the grittier stretches of Blackstone Avenue would cause much debate, but here we are.

The project (which includes space for the grocery/supply store Smart and Final) goes before the planning commission review on Wednesday and will likely test the limits of the city’s new general plan and set precedence for how developers will be treated moving forward.

Or, as George Hostetter put it: “Who is in Fresno’s development saddle, business as usual or high ideals?”

As is, plans for the development don’t jive with either The Tower District Design Review Committee (the lot is on the edges of the district) or the general plan set by the City of Fresno.

Those are the “high ideals,” I guess.

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Alton Brown having more adventures in Fresno

Not only is celebrity foodie Alton Brown, who is town for his  “Alton Brown Live! The Edible Inevitable Tour” show tonight, tooling around the Tower District, he’s having quite the adventure while he’s here. He’s hitting up all kinds of local restaurants and coffee shops and posting the pics on his Twitter account, Facebook and Instagram. Check out that sexy cinnamon roll from Cafe Corazon!

But, he also posted this picture on Instagram of what appears to be him at a dentist for a chipped tooth. The caption says, “Not something I thought I’d be doing in fresno. #someonefedmearock” Uh oh! If that’s indeed what happened, Fresno apologizes.

But it doesn’t appear to have slowed him down much. On his Facebook page this morning he posted what appears to be coordinates to a flash mob signing at noon today. I don’t say book signing here because he says “I’ll sign anything that doesn’t bite.” Anyone know where it is? Anyone going?

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Is Old Town Clovis the new Tower District?

Old Town Clovis is evolving. No longer just the land of antique stores, my story on the front page of the Bee today detailed many of the changes happening there. A sampling: A new law allowing wine and beer tasting rooms, next month’s craft beer crawl, an influx of young people — hipsters, even — along with a new plaza for events. A growing number of businesses are catering to a younger generation, including Kuppa Joy (pictured at right) and The Lounge at DiCicco’s. And Old Town has a less than 5% vacancy rate, with businesses scrambling to find space to open.

You can read the full story here, but here’s the thing that kept sticking in my brain as I did this story. Several times during different interviews, sources would say to me, sometimes in hushed tones, “Old Town is the new Tower District.” Or, “Old Town is what the Tower District should have been,” or some variation on that sentiment.

Interesting, huh?

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Rogue Roundup for Tuesday, March 3

Pictured: Rogue Street signs popped up on Olive Avenue this year. Photo credit: Bethany Clough.

One thing that’s caught some attention this year are the street signs that have popped up around the Tower. The signs point the direction to the various Rogue venues. They’re cool frankly, and people are talking about them. Bethany Clough snapped this photo and says “I’ve heard Fresno Ideaworks gets the credit for the signs, but haven’t been able to identify who specifically made them. One Instagram user, @chaubui7, had this to say about them: ‘We should keep such signs permanently around town — They pique your interest and would be great for tourism.’ ”

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Couple hopes to bring ice cream shop to Tower

Update No. 2: The Ampersand Kickstarter campaign has met its $20,000 goal. Earlier this week, the couple behind the effort said that if the campaign reached the $10,000 mark, “the remainder will be taken care of.” It did and it was. The ice cream shop will open in May. The couple is already installing equipment and working on the space. You can track their progress on the Ampersand Facebook page.

Update: The folks behind Amerpsand have signed a lease to take over the P*DE*Q space across from Fresno High and next to Dusty Buns restaurant. Click here for a pic. The Bennetts plan to open in May. And they say they have the money to open whether or not the Kickstarter succeeds.

The Tower District needs an ice cream shop. At least that’s what Jeff and Amelia Bennett say and they’ve embarked on a campaign to make it happen. The Tower residents make their own ice cream and have started a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to get the money to open an ice cream shop. Regardless of whether they meet their goal or not, they say they plan to open a shop in or near Tower. Here’s their video about it:

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Castillo’s Mexican restaurant coming to Tower District

If the internet could jump up and down with excitement, it’d be doing it over news that Castillo’s Mexican Restaurant is coming to the Tower District. Castillo’s announced plans to open at 568 E. Olive Ave. (which used to be Rousseau and Frankie’s 568, next to Bourbon & Taps). The family is shooting for a March 7 opening date. You can follow their progress and see the comments of excited customers on this Facebook page or its grand opening page.

Technically, this is a return to the Tower District for the family. Patriarch Kino Castillo once had a restaurant in what sounds like what is now the Million Elephant space. It’s been closed for well over a decade. Anyone remember it?

If the Castillo name brings to mind other restaurants, that’s because there are more. So, feel free to sketch a family tree while I pass along what Gino Castillo, 51 Aces bass player and son of Kino, explained to me. His dad Gino opened Castillo’s Mexican on Ventura Avenue, which is still open but has been handed down to other family members. He recently sold the Castillo’s at 4386 W. Shaw Ave. near Costco. He then opened Casa Castillo, a smaller restaurant at 3628 W. Shaw Ave. At one point, there was another at Blackstone and Shields. “He actually tried to retire like three or four times,” Gino says. “People keep offering him restaurants and he keeps opening them up.”

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Even more new restaurants opening

So I’m hoping you caught my Saturday story about all the new restaurants opening in Fresno — all 25 of them. The problem with doing stories like this is that there’s always someone you leave out or discover after publication. So, in addition to the new hofbrau, sushi and burger places in that story, here’s a few more that are coming.

The people behind REV’S California Cuisine contacted me this week to say they’d be opening in April. The restaurant is under construction in a building on Clovis Avenue near Fifth Street. Check out the menu on its site — rib-eye burger ground in house with bacon, a 2-day brined chicken breast, escargot and lobster mac n cheese. I’ll keep you updated as more details come to light.

The Painted Table is opening a restaurant — two, in fact. First, the catering company that operates out of the former Daily Planet space in Tower Theatre will open part of the dining room as a restaurant. It will serve the same “Fresno-centric” cuisine as the catering (which actually is a huge variety). Look for a March opening. (That picture is just a mock-up, by the way.)

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Here’s what’s up with Pinot Wine Bar

Pinot Wine Bar in the Tower District has been closed for a while now and some of you have been wondering what’s up. The picture at right is the sign that’s posted in the window.

Well, here’s what I know. A while back Juan Leija bought the business from Daniel Renteria, the wine lover who founded it, as Daniel wanted to spend a little more time enjoying his retirement. Leija has said from the beginning that he planned to shut down for a few weeks, do some work inside and reopen under a new name and concept. That’s happening a little sooner than expected, sped along by the transfer of the liquor license. 

“Pinot in and of itself as wine bar is no longer in existence,” Leija says.

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Would you wear these?

While touring the new Tower District location of Bebe O’s Boutique (in the former dojo, more on that here), I stopped in my tracks when I saw these babies. See the big furry things on the boots at left? They’re not boots, but leg warmers slipped on over a pair of boots. This is apparently a thing. It’s quite the fashion statement, that’s for sure. Would you wear them? Are they crazy cool or just Bigfootesque?

Five Things You Should Do This Weekend


Go follow the Queen on Twitter. Then …

1. Sudz in the City
Beer drinking on the Fulton Mall. Leave your Bud Light in the foam cooler.

2. Luxury ArtHop
For those who think automobiles are works of work.

3. Nosferatu
“Even after 92 years, ‘Nosferatu’ delivers chills like few other films.”

4. Tower District Zombie Crawl
Different from a normal night in the Tower, how?

5. Whitie’s Pet’s Pooch Parade
From my limited reporting on the subject, pugs love cosplay more than any other breed.

And a bonus five for music fans.

1. Twista
2. Joni Morris
3. Pre-Halloween covers show
4. Suicide Lounge album release
5. Feather On

For a more complete music-only list, see our weekly BANDGEEK post.
For Halloween specific events, click here.

Restaurant news: More good food to eat

Lots of restaurant news to share today. New restaurants are opening and existing restaurants are doing new things. Here’s a rundown of what’s happening in the Fresno food world.

Menchie’s frozen yogurt is scheduled to open the first of many shops in the Fresno area today. The shop is at 3090 W. Shaw Ave. in the same shopping center as Target next to Jimmy John’s. The grand opening celebration is Saturday and will feature free frozen yogurt, face painting, a balloon artist and other fun stuff. Expect to see a lot more of Menchie’s, as they’re planning to open shops in the Marketplace at El Paseo at Herndon Avenue and Highway 99, and in the Target shopping center at Herndon and Willow avenues.

Jack’s Urban Eats opened Monday. More on that and the deliciousness that is its urban fries here.

Frankie’s 568 in the Tower District has opened for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. This is the restaurant that opened last spring in the former Cafe Rousseau spot and is run by the family behind several of the DiCicco’s restaurants. The menu features pasta and pizza and you can see it online here. (Yes, you can eat penne alla vodka pasta at lunch.)

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Tower e’rth Shop goes from home decor to street art

A little shop in the Tower District has a lot going on. The e’rth Shop — formerly E’rth World Imports — at 816 E. Fern Ave. was bought by a new owner about eight months ago who as been transforming it ever since. Owner Victoria Pallares has been steadily replacing the home decor with two things: clothing and art by local street artists.

First, the clothes. The shop sells a lot of vintage T-shirts. Concert T-shirts and vintage sports T-shirts — like the 1980s Lakers shirts — sell especially well. There’s other clothing, including women’s too. A jewelry maker who goes by the name “Alien Girl” sells jewelry made from gemstones, such as turquoise rings and stones as pendants. The store also sells streetwear, including “Boy Fresno” T-shirts from FTK, which used to have a couple of shops in the Valley.

But what sets the store apart is its emphasis on local artists. These aren’t the type of artists you’ll find at upscale galleries. Most fall under the definition of “street artists,” and their modern style of art has a urban and graffiti-inspired feel. You’ll find bright paintings featuring Native Americans, an updated take on Andy Warhol’s Campbell Soup images, and a cartoon-like spray can that does all sorts of things. Many artists don’t use their real name, in part because their art is printed on stickers that are slapped on buildings and elsewhere in a modern version of graffiti art.

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Fresno gets a vegan, organic, non-gmo (and often gluten free) Mexican restaurant

photo (95)Here’s something different for Fresno: A Mexican restaurant that is always vegan, has organic and non-genetically modified food whenever possible and has a mostly gluten-free menu. Flacos has opened inside Strummer’s in the Tower District. (If you need a reminder, Strummer’s is the former Starline at 833 E. Fern St. in the Tower District and the restaurant is in the half that used to be called Starline Grill.) Strummer’s is still Strummer’s and has the same bar service and loud music that the bar has always had. (You may remember Flacos tested out serving meals on Fridays back in March. Now it’s a permanent restaurant.)

Some of the dishes at Flacos use a meat substitute, such as the textured soy protein in the taquitos (it tastes like chicken). Other dishes don’t require any meat substitutes, such as the pozole or huarache — an organic corn tortilla with avocado, refried pinto beans (no lard in ‘em), rice, cilantro, onions, cabbage, radish and salsa. (Pictured at right is the banana leaf tamale with avocado salsa.) You can see the full menu online here. Owner Antonio Magaña owns a restaurant with the same name and menu in Berkeley.

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Babylon headed for Blockbuster space

babylonclubAfter three years of sitting empty, it looks like the Blockbuster video store in the heart of Tower has a new tenant: Babylon Club. But it won’t be the same Babylon people are familiar with. Owner Tim Ferrigan is dropping the live music and stage part of the business and making it a billiards club with a bar. He’ll also change the name to Detention. If all goes as planned, it could still be four to six months before it opens. The business is still going through the conditional-use permit process with the city and has some major work to do in the building before it could open.

Babylon has been closed since late December, when thieves stole a half-inch copper water pipe from the roof. The resulting water damage — “It like it was it was raining inside,” the owner says — left the bar, walls and carpet destroyed. He said insurance would only cover about 25% of the cost of repairs. If he’s going to invest money into the building that he doesn’t own, Ferrigan said he’d rather it be in a place with more foot traffic, a good deal on a rent and a cooperative landlord.

Babylon needed the live music at its tucked-away lower level to survive, he said. But the foot traffic on Olive Avenue will allow the business to be successful without it, he said. Ferrigan bought the business when it was still Avalon and renamed it Babylon about 10 years ago. Oddly enough, he says the previous owner had originally planned to open the business in the Blockbuster spot, but it fell through. Keep reading for a letter that went out to neighbors with more details about his plans.

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Don’t throw out unwearable clothing

WORDTHRIFTWe all know to donate our good clothing to thrift shops, but what about the stuff that can’t possibly be sold — the stuff that’s stained or ripped? If you’re like me, you guiltily put it in the trash. So my inner environmentalist was happy to learn that Fresno has a recycling program for these types of clothes. I was doing an interview at Neighborhood Thrift at 353 Olive Ave., about their expansion into a new warehouse and it turns out the growth is because of its thriving clothing recycling program. Clothes that can’t be sold are packaged into 1,000-pound bales (you can see a video of the cool machine that does this here) by workers in a job-training program. Pillows, blankets, even puffy comforters are included too. They’re then sold to companies that turn them into carpet padding, insulation for car doors, oil filter and rags used by mechanics.

Neighborhood Recycling picks up unwanted clothing from 42 Valley thrift shops. You may want to call your favorite thrift shop to see if they do this type of recycling.

Update: The folks over at Goodwill have a similar program. Clothing there is recycled, but also sold to other thrift operations and overseas for people to wear. So any Goodwill donation spot can take your unwearable clothing too.

Five Things You Should Do This Weekend

5things6614Place your bets

1. Mud ‘n Blood Zombie Run
Unleash your inner Daryl. On second thought, don’t. These zombies aren’t real.

2. Rainbow Pride Parade and Festival
Celebrate a Tower District tradition that’s almost a quarter-century old.
3. FranCisco Varags Fresno Mural Unveiling
Make a drinking game out of finding the Fresno references.

4. “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein.”
He’s the guy who wrote the words to Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue.”

5. Kogetsu-DO Confectionary 100th Anniversary recognition ceremony
Mochi! Also, we love Chinatown.

And because the selection is so good this week, here’s a bonus five that’s music only.

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Five Things You Should Do This Weekend

5things5-23-14Start your own Bruno Mars countdown and then …

1. NickFest
Any three of the nine bands on this bill would be worth the ticket price. Heck, Tera Melos alone is probably worth the ticket price.

2. Marjaree Mason Wish List Spin
Ride with professional cyclist Mary Maroon. This is a friendly trip, so you won’t have to worry about keeping up. The entrance fee is an item from the Marjaree Mason Center’s wish list.
3. Fresno Grand Opry
For country music purists.

4. The Big Lebowski
My friends (and bowling team) would slap me if I failed to mention this.

5. Comic Crawl
Because you need every excuse to put on a costume and drink. Seriously though, when did being geeky get cool? I missed the memo

Angelo’s Drive In closes, makes way for high-speed rail

angelosAngelo’s Drive In on Olive Avenue closed Thursday after 60 years in business. The burger joint is on the edge of what is slated to become the path of high-speed rail. The owners do not plan to reopen elsewhere.

You can read all the details about how much money the owners got and why they don’t plan to reopen here. The dismantling of the restaurants happened quickly. By about 3 p.m., while the kitchen was still serving, the big red “Angelo’s” letters were coming down. A crane took down the iconic sign that once stretched above the restaurant.  It was sold to a local man who plans to restore it.

But yesterday most folks I talked to just wanted to reminisce about the long-time restaurant. Everyone I talked to yesterday had a different favorite, from the classic hamburger on a French roll to the chili dogs to fries with Thousand Island sauce. The drive in was a little slice of Americana that leaves lots of memories behind. Feel free to share yours in the comments.

New Tower District restaurant/bar

photo(69)Do you remember Cafe Rousseau in the Tower District that closed? It became the short-lived Bistro 566. Now it’s something new, this time with the family behind several DiCicco’s restaurants running the show. Frankie’s 568 opened quietly last Saturday. The Italian restaurant is a way of honoring Frank Vitucci — the father to Joanna Vitucci Lopez who runs three DiCicco’s restaurants and husband to Linda. Frank died in 2012. You can read more about him and the restaurant’s back story here.

Frankie’s 568′s menu is different than DiCicco’s, and includes pasta, steak, chicken Parmigiana and a few pizzas. There’s a “Frankie’s Special” on the menu: A petite filet Mignon, tender lamb ribs and an Italian sausage link. There’s also an appetizer dish Frank loved: Fresh ricotta served on toasted bread. Also, Rousseau’s wallpaper has come down and a mural of a scene in Italy went up.

The attached bar is now a separate business. Owner Pete Mejia ran both restaurant and bar under Bistro 566 and will continue to run the bar, which is now Bourbon & Taps. He also owns Tower Sports Club. The business will soon offer 40 bourbons — everything from Maker’s Mark to small-batch bourbons. By next week the place will have 19 craft beers on tap, including six or seven Tioga-Sequoia beers.

Nickfest 2014 announces full lineup, adds Owen, Tera Melos

nickfestLast week, we announced the date for Nickfest 2014, the annual Tower District concert held in memory of local music enthusiast Nick Henebury. Now we have confirmation of the full line-up, which includes Owen (the solo-project from Chicago indie-rocker Mike Kinsella) and the pedal-core band Tera Melos.

Pedal-core is the term I coined for specifically for the band, which incorporates “experimental rock, ambient electronics and unconventional song structure” to create music that is “characterized by their quickly alternating time signatures, start-stop dynamics, two-handed tapping, extended open-ended bridges and the use of effect pedals and samplers.”

Lots of pedals and samplers.

Check out the festival’s full lineup, plus a video from Tera Melos, on the jump.

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ROGUE REVIEW: The Honeymoon Period is Officially Over

Rogue Festival Poster 2014 by Tiffany Hurtado

Gemma Wilcox has been a Rogue Festival regular since 2009, when she first brought her one-woman show “The Honeymoon Period is Officially Over” to Fresno audiences. It sold-out shows that first year, and she’s been a hit at the Rogue with subsequent shows since then.

The praise is well-deserved.

I’ve somehow missed Wilcox’s shows in my past Rogue journeys, so I made it a point to see her first show Saturday night at Cal Arts-Severance, where the London performer staged the 10th anniversary run of her “Honeymoon” show. I’m so glad I did. This show exceeded all my expectations, and they were high after reading the reviews of her past shows.

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ROGUE REVIEW: Bootstrap Circus (Band)

Rogue Festival Poster 2014 by Tiffany Hurtado

If you’re in the mood for live music with a good groove, then check out Bootstrap Circus (Band) at Neighborhood Thrift.

This Mariposa, Calif., band has a distinct sound that draws from the influences of ska, rock, folk, gospel and what I would call surf-rock. The four-piece band — guitar, bass, drums and violin — is melodic, energetic and down-right fun. And the playful wit of frontman Adam Burns doesn’t hurt, either.

This band is polished and has a genuine rapport. They have wonderful stage presence born from their warm connection with each other that draws in the audience. The set includes catchy songs such as “Mad,” about the fear of being locked in mental hospital, “Sunsets and Shooting Stars,” about a robot falling in love with a girl, and “The Rescue,” an instrumental that is the soundtrack to a movie the singer made for his wife (watch below).  Between songs, there’s fun interplay between the band members and lots of stories about the music.

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What should replace Fulton’s Folly? What could boost the Tower District?

photo(60)As you may recall, Fulton’s Folly Antique Collective in the Tower District closed last month after 32 years. The owner sold the building and the new owner is currently looking for a tenant. Yesterday rumors were flying around Facebook that a Dollar General was going to take over the space. Building owner and local businessman Troy Collins says they’re not true. “I haven’t talked to Dollar General. I haven’t talked to any of their representatives. … I don’t know anything about it.”

Collins is talking to several people interested in the space, mostly restaurant and bar types or other entertainment venues. But it begs the question: What would fit in that building? At 9,500 square feet, it’s a decent-sized space for the Tower District.

Collins is also thinking big about the neighborhood and its potential. “That [building] could be a catalyst to redevelop the Tower District,” he says. “If the right thing goes in there, it could really get things rolling.” He’d like to get an attraction that would be powerful enough to draw people from north Fresno and their spending. So, blog readers, what do you think? What would be a good fit for that space? And what — if anything — can accomplish Collins’ vision of revitalizing the Tower District?

7 picks for 7 days: Jan. 10-16

I’m getting back on track with the 7 picks for 7 days feature, a list of fun things to do over the next week. This week’s version — picks for today through next Thursday — offer a variety of entertainment, from acclaimed movies to new TV shows, theater and music.