[Metroactive Music]

Beat Street
By Todd S. Inoue

Fuel 44
Robert Scheer

Underworld Figures: Fuel 44 co-owners Chris Esparza (left), Monte Lebo (center) and Tim Wilson stand beneath the club's world-map mural.

Gonna Fly Now:
New club Fuel 44 ready to fly

TWO AND A HALF YEARS AGO, the downtown jazz club Ajax Lounge died when managers Chris Esparza and Chris Elliman were relieved of their duties by owner Steve Borkenhagen. The club stayed open, but its exclusive urban flavor never returned. The club closed and reopened as the B-Hive. During that time, Ajax refugees went through a transformation. Some found a new place to hang out; others got married, got kids or got a life. Meanwhile, the two Chrises got an office downtown and put on events at Gordon Biersch and Plaza de César Chavez, biding their time until they could open another venue. The wait is over. Fuel 44 (at the corner of Post Street and Almaden Boulevard in downtown San Jose) marks the duo's return to the downtown scene.

"There are a lot of people who want to go to a special place with their wife, with their buddies, have a bottle of champagne," Esparza says. "Where will you go? To me, you can go to a boring hotel, a huge nightclub or us. And there was no us before us, except for Ajax." Fuel 44 is a departure from Ajax. For starters, Fuel 44 opens at 7am for coffee service and light European-style breakfasts (Belgian waffles, homemade oatmeal, bakery goods). During the afternoon, it turns into a cafe/bar with outdoor seating. At night, Fuel 44 becomes a music club. The musical format mirrors Ajax's urban style--straightforward jazz, acid jazz, roots rock, hip-hop and reggae--plus a focus on Latin jazz. The south corner will house a two-tiered stage. The permanent tier holds a piano and up to four other musicians. A piece pulls out from underneath to create an additional stage large enough for a 10-piece band.

Elliman designed the ornate, woodcut bar; Jose Ulloa built it. Elliman's ceiling mural depicts a world map from 1936, when the building was born. Elliman painted the panels, which were then installed by co-owner Tim Wilson. "We want it to be a classic place and have a great feeling for the next 100 years," Esparza says. "It's good to have something like this that has atmosphere, where you can have a cup of coffee and eat during the day, have a glass of wine or glass of beer in the afternoon. We want to offer all those unique things we used to and even more." The club officially opened Nov. 7; for information, call 408/295-7374.

Odd Men In

I felt like a proud papa watching the Odd Numbers opening for Pearl Jam last week at the Catalyst. How'd they get on the bill? Joel from the Sessions skateboard shop recommended the Numbers to his pal Eddie Vedder when word got out that a surprise show was going down. The fact that Pearl Jam and the Odd Numbers have mutual admirers in Gas Huffer and the Fastbacks didn't hurt either. Before the show, Vedder hung out with the Numbers, jamming with guitarist Dave Baisa on a batch of Who tunes. "Ved's a bigger Who fanatic than I am," Baisa says. Vedder later gave props to the Numbers before the final song, "Alive." It was a great moment for the local band, which plays the Usual on Nov. 23.

Flash Is Fast

Pioneering turntablist Grandmaster Flash logs in an appearance at Palookaville in Santa Cruz on Dec. 3 with the Sugar Hill Gang. ... For an up-close peek at a top-notch ska group, there's no better place to be than the Dance Hall Crashers performance at Santa Clara University's intimate Brass Rail. Watch it unfold on Monday (Nov. 24). ... Ex-Police guitarist Andy Summers performs a special local club show on Dec. 16 at the Agenda Lounge.

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From the Nov. 20-26, 1997 issue of Metro.

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