Carl Costas / Bee file, 2008

Harlow's, which has just been sold, opened in 1982 and grew into an entertainment venue.

Cathie Anderson: Ex-Fillmore manager buys Harlow's nightclub in Sacramento

Published: Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B

If Eric Burdon appears willing to stay up half the night sharing stories about the Animals, the Beatles and the British Invasion, break out the whiskey.

When Prince's people call to say he'd like to do some DJing at your club after his arena show, let him – even if you've already got a DJ.

And, when literally everyone in the club is moving to jazzman Maceo Parker's band, it's OK to slightly bend the rule that says employees don't boogie.

Magical moments like these built Harlow's stature among musicians, their fans and even other club owners, so when owners Peter, Barbara and Danny Torza decided that after 30 years it was time to sell their midtown Sacramento venture, they found a buyer waiting.

"We talked to (business broker Tricia Bernhardt) just to see what was out there," Danny Torza said. "She had someone who was looking for exactly what we had. We never actually put it on the market … 30 years go by, and all of a sudden, we have the perfect buyer that wants Harlow's to survive another 30."

James Cornett leads the consortium of buyers. He managed the Fillmore for five years and the Warfield for three on behalf of Bill Graham Presents. He expects to take ownership next week. The sales price was not disclosed.

The last 30 years

These days, locals know Harlow's as a nightclub and bar, but that wasn't always so, explained Barbara Torza.

She and Peter Torza opened it in 1982 as a café.

"We borrowed $10,000 from Peter and Danny's mother and we opened with a menu Peter and I put together, and I ran the floor and he ran the kitchen," Barbara Torza said. "… We opened with breakfast and lunch, and within a month we were doing lunches and dinners."

In fact, the Torzas scored the first four-star review given by former Bee restaurant critic Mike Dunne. Years later, Dunne wrote about another favorable critic, the late Judge John M. Sapunor, who had occasion to approve a legal settlement between the Torzas and a former landlord.

A prescient Sapunor put this gem in the court record: "It would have been a tragedy to lose (Harlow's). It's a fine business; a fine restaurant. It's going to get better and better and more widely known. ... I want the record to reflect I eat there frequently. I find the food to be very good. ... Cocktails are served promptly, are delicious and properly formulated."

Harlow's didn't remain a little cafe for long. The Torzas bought the adjacent Harlow's Bar and the Hobnail. They introduced music in the mid-1990s, and as the number of restaurants grew in Sacramento, they decided to distinguish Harlow's as an entertainment venue.

The next 30 years

The Torzas said the sale will allow them to take vacations that last more than 10 days. Danny Torza plans a cross-country motorcycle ride late next spring.

Harlow's next owner, the 49-year old Cornett, said that he got into the bar business at age 21, after studying business at Chico State University. (He's heard the party school jokes.)

"My goal was always to purchase my own place," he said. "I've wanted to run the show since I left San Francisco. It was hard to leave that job, but I needed to step out and take a chance and do my own thing."

Much of Cornett's career was with Bill Graham Presents, but he also opened two entertainment complexes for other concerns – Blue Planet in Dallas and America Live! in Sacramento's Downtown Plaza. The latter opened with much fanfare in 60,000 square feet in 1993 but closed after three years owing $1.6 million. Cornett was an employee for its opening year.

The Torzas believe he's the right person at the right time. They were impressed when, faced with protests over the transfer of Harlow's liquor license, Cornett met with the Marshall School New Era Park Neighborhood Association and won their support. Cornett said his concern for patrons and neighbors extends beyond the club's door.

Danny Torza said: "He's going to make Harlow's continue to be what it is."

In other words, it would be the kind of spot where Charles Barkley would feel safe going to play a game of pool with Michael Jordan.

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