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Ventura County

66 California Restaurant Is 86'd From Ventura Building

Entertainment: The popular gathering spot for musicians and music lovers is closing.

January 01, 2002|KARIN GRENNAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The 66 California closed early this morning after 15 years in business, striking a sad chord for jazz lovers who gathered regularly at the downtown Ventura restaurant and nightclub.

"I think we're going to be sadly deprived of jazz in this area," said Bob Agnew, a Port Hueneme resident who writes columns for the monthly L.A. Jazz Scene newspaper and is a regular patron of the club. "I hung out there because I met so many great musicians from all over."

Club owner Frank Parong said property owner Gil Levy, a former Ventura resident who now lives in Las Vegas, notified him Dec. 10 that Levy was selling the building and needed Parong to leave within 30 days. Parong scrambled to come up with the $900,000 asking price, but couldn't.

"I'm just kind of numb," Parong said Monday as he prepared for the club's last New Year's Eve party.

Agnew said there's a restaurant in Oak Park that also offers jazz regularly, but there isn't anything else in Ventura County comparable to the Ventura club. It attracted musicians from Los Angeles and beyond. Featured performers included the Ink Spots and the late saxophonist Harold Land.

As word spread over the weekend that the new year would mark the nightclub's end, fans flocked for their final fix of jazz at 66 California. Like every other night, there was no cover for the New Year's Eve finale, when the Kelly Joe Jones blues band performed.

"We did blues last night and the place was just packed," Parong said Monday afternoon. "Maybe it was just a last hurrah, but it was a very nice feeling."

The closure also leaves a void for musicians, said bassist Henry Franklin, whose trio was the first act to perform at the restaurant when it started offering music eight years ago.

"It kind of hurts to see another jazz club go down, especially because of all the love and the effort Frank put into it," Franklin said.

Franklin, who lives in Perris, near Riverside, drove 140 miles each way to play every weekend for five years because he liked the club, Parong and the customers.

"The audience was so attentive it was unbelievable," Franklin said. "You could almost hear a pin drop because everybody was listening."

It was memories of fun nights at an old jazz club called Charlie's, on the Ventura Promenade, that prompted Parong to begin booking musicians at his restaurant. The Banana Boat Cantina was the most recent club in Charlie's old building, and now it has also closed.

Parong said he sees more jazz in Ventura's future.

"I think it's only a temporary situation, and I think that Ventura will bounce back with another jazz club or someone will do something similar," he said.

Parong, 46, doesn't know what he'll do now, although he would like to stay in the business. An electrician before he opened 66 California, Parong said he would have made more money and had more free time if he stayed with that career. But despite the struggles he enjoyed running a restaurant more than fixing wires.

"I loved the restaurant business, the people and being able to create what I created for so long," Parong said. "It was fun."

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