‘Door’ closes on Visalia’s unique music venue

The Cellar Door will close after Aug. 19 celebration looking back on 13 years of live amateur and celebrity music at nightspot

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

VISALIA – The Cellar Door in downtown Visalia offered a unique blend of concerts that ranged from celebrities to relatively unknown bands. But the great guitar riffs, hot record spins and Latin beats that normally reverberate onto Main Street will come to an end this weekend.

Owners Dan and Denise Littleton announced last week that the unique nightspot will close down this month after 13 years of live music. The Cellar Door existed as a wine bar long before the Littletons took over the venue in 2006. The Littletons, both retired educators, decided to make it much more than a bar and nightclub, instead bringing in some of the biggest names and most talented indie bands in the nation as well as an opportunity for local artists to play their music.

People line up outside the popular nightspot for one its many packed shows. Photo courtesy of The Cellar Door.

People line up outside the popular nightspot for one its many packed shows. Photo courtesy of The Cellar Door.

There are several venues to see live music in Visalia, but none had the diverse nexus of varied genres, celebrities and amateurs as well as the best unknown talent in the nation than The Cellar Door. While the Littletons cannot be reached for comment, their web site describes the “eclectic” play list with acts including Billy Corgan, Dave Navarro, Foster the People, Vampire Weekend and Frank Black. In all, more than 2,000 bands have played the venue.

The Cellar Door had booked events through October, including an Amy Winehouse tribute show called Back to Black that has been moved to Sept. 14 at Strummers in Fresno. Their last show will be an event called “Cellar Door Gathering Party,” described as a celebration of the last 15 years of music at the venue. The concert is free to the public and will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. at The Cellar Door, 101 W. Main St. in Visalia.

The event is being promoted by Sound N Vision, a nonprofit music promotion which has been bringing up-and-coming new artists as well as established touring artists to Visalia for the last 20 years.  The foundation is run by Aaron Gomes who declined to comment on The Cellar Door’s closure but did confirm that Aug. 19 would be the last scheduled event at The Cellar Door. 

“As of right now we are focusing on our youth classes and Tastemakers which will be Oct. 6 at The Lumberyard,” Gomes stated in an email.

Steve Nelson, executive director of the Downtown Visalians, said The Cellar Door filled a void in downtown by providing a place where Valley bands could be heard. In order to fill that void, Nelson said it will take a partnership between local non-profits to bring back something similar, possibly at a different venue.

“It was really a launching pad for young artists, but you aren’t going to make money off the cover charge that way,” Nelson said. “I suspect most of their money came from the bar sales.”

Nelson said he has little concern that the building will remain vacant as it is prime real estate at the corner of Main Street and Court Street in the heart of downtown Visalia. He did say it is unlikely that it will remain the same kind of venue or provide the same type of music that it did under the Littletons and is more likely to be renovated as a restaurant or retail location.

“Historically speaking, space in the downtown area is at 99% occupancy, so I don’t think it will be empty for very long,” he said. “That’s a high traffic area.”

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