Blue Note eyes Napa Valley Opera House as City Winery exits

Blue Note Club wants to open a venue at the Napa Valley Opera House in early 2016. City Winery chose to close its Napa location in late 2015 after opening at the opera house in April 2014.

CYNTHIA SWEENEY, BUSINESS JOURNAL STAFF REPORTER

The internationally renowned Blue Note jazz club wants to come to Napa Valley.

The club (bluenote.net) is in final negotiations to rent space from the Napa Valley Opera House. The business has venues in New York; Honolulu; Tokyo; Nagoya, Japan; Beijing; and Milan.

In downtown Napa, City Winery has been leasing the building from the opera house since December 2013. After negotiations to get out of its 10-year lease, City Winery’s contract will end at the end of this month.

“This turns the City Winery model a little on its ear with a world-recognized brand,” said Bob Almeida, chairman of the opera house board. “It will be more upscale and Wine Country specific.”

The club will operate seven days a week downstairs as an intimate supper club with farm-to-table cuisine and top notch artists from the full spectrum of jazz, from blues to Dixieland to world, comparable to Yoshi’s in Oakland.

“On Main Street, Napa, you have to have a very serious, quality-minded and high service program to compete,” Almeida said.

The Blue Note was established in 1981 in Greenwich Village, and has become a jazz institution drawing some of the world’s finest jazz musicians such as Sarah Vaughn, Tony Bennett, Lionel Hampton, and Dizzy Gillespie to its intimate setting.

Blue Note’s lease with the opera house would be similar to the City Winery’s 10-year agreement.

Almeida cited good relations with City Winery and credited it with making renovations to the theater, estimated at $2.5 million, which makes the venue more marketable.

City Winery’s goal was to host 300 shows a year, with talent like Los Lobos, Gordon Lightfoot, Al Stewart and Todd Rundgren as well as emerging local talent. The venue also hosted special events and operated a tasting room and an on-site brewery.

Minor renovations to the upstairs Margrit Biever Mondavi Theater will include getting rid of the unpopular wood chairs and creating four different seating configurations to accommodate performances. There, the opera house will be presenting a variety of entertainment from film to musicals to Shakespeare performances.

To make the economics work, Almeida said, the opera house will rent out the upstairs for special events like weddings. It is also negotiating with organizations like BottleRock to bring in other big name presenters.

The opera house, which was built circa 1880, will also host nonprofit theater companies like the musical company Transcendence and NapaShakes, with the only agreement that they participate in the Opera House’s arts education program.

“We will ride the Blue Note tide to lift the boat of other nonprofits, not just ourselves,” Almeida said.