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From Cabo to Fresno, Tequila Bar Rocks On

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A Cabo Wabo Cantina -- the music, food and tequila joint started by rocker Sammy Hagar -- is scheduled to open in Fresno.

Milt Barbis, president of The Village at Granite Park, announced Tuesday that the restaurant and nightclub will open this fall in the complex of ball fields -- that is also to include future offices, restaurants and retailers -- near Ashlan and Cedar avenues.

He said a company affiliated with Hagar has signed a lease. Public-relations firm Ketchum Entertainment Marketing, which represents Hagar's tequila business, confirmed that Cabo Wabo will open in Fresno.

Hagar, a former Van Halen frontman and longtime solo musician, opened the first Cabo Wabo in 1990 in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, a resort town at the tip of Baja. His Cabo Wabo Tequila business took off shortly afterward.

A song called "Cabo Wabo" appeared on Van Halen's 1988 release, "OU812."

He has since opened another Cabo Wabo in Lake Tahoe, and one is in the works for St. Louis. Plans for a club in New Orleans were scrapped after the hurricane, though talks are under way for Las Vegas and Atlantic City, N.J., said Hagar's architect and personal friend John Montgomery of Montgomery Roth architects, which has offices in Houston and New Orleans.

Barbis said the Fresno club started construction two weeks ago.

Why Fresno?

Hagar -- who could not be reached to comment because, a representative said, he was flying back to California from Hawaii -- explained in a San Francisco Chronicle story recently: "I've been to Fresno. There's nothing to do. I'm opening a Cabo Wabo. They're going to have something to do."

Barbis said the Granite Park connection has a lot to do with his cousin in New York, who is singer Elton John's manager and is friends with Hagar.

"He got Sammy and I in a conference call, and we put the deal together," Barbis said. "Sammy was always in love with Fresno because Fresno has always been good to Sammy. I think he has a strong fan base in Fresno."

The business intends to open cantinas in cities heavy with Hagar fans, Montgomery said.

Hagar has played in the area at least four times since the 1990s, and though thousands attended, he didn't always sell out.

Montgomery acknowledged that not every cantina discussed has come to fruition, for various reasons.

"Not all of them always go forward," he said. "This is one of the ones that is going to go forward, and this is going to be one of the larger ones."

Plans call for the business covering 14,000 square feet with a 4,000-square-foot patio, while a restaurant area would serve lunch and dinner with coastal Mexican food, including a lobster burrito, Montgomery said.

A lounge area with a large central bar and the dining area would be situated so that every customer can see the stage.

The business would feature a DJ booth. Part of the stage could be curtained off to form the VIP "Red Rocker room," a nod to Hagar's penchant for wearing red.

The business also will feature a wall-to-wall aquarium and a mural depicting the process of making tequila, Montgomery said.

It will seat 300 people during the day and possibly more when in "concert mode," he said.

The facility is scheduled to open in late September or early October, Barbis said.

Other Cabo Wabos have served as venues for local bands and a place for Hagar himself to perform.

Barbis said he expects Hagar to perform in Fresno "multiple times."

Fan Mike Seay, 36, of Fresno has seen Hagar in concert 12 times and has visited the Cabo Wabos in Cabo San Lucas and Tahoe. He was surprised but pleased to hear one would be coming to Fresno.

"I think they're really cool places," he said, comparing them to a House of Blues or Hard Rock Cafe.

"It's a good place to hang out all day, and then at night it kinda turns into a club. ... [Hagar]'s got this rock 'n' roll party atmosphere around him."

The Fresno Bee / Bethany Clough

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