Jumpin’ at George’s

San Rafael nightclub returns to its roots


George’s is open again, but it isn’t “new” anymore. The much-missed live music venue formerly known as New George’s stood vacant for seven long years before it reopened just last month, with the tribute bands Petty Theft and the Unauthorized Rolling Stones providing an unabashed linkage to the club’s rock ‘n’ roll heyday.

“I immediately called and said I wanted to play again,” enthuses longtime Marin rocker and frontman for Mr. Big, Eric Martin. I “probably played there about a hundred times” in the 1980s and ’90s, he adds. “Almost every day they had a local band playing. It was wonderful.”

In the heart of downtown San Rafael, the original George’s began life as a pool hall back in the 1920s, going through incarnations as a bar and even a bowling alley before it turned into a lively and beloved rock ‘n’ roll emporium in the late 1970s, rechristened then as New George’s.

During the 26-year run of glory that ensued, New George’s played host to most of the Bay Area’s rock royalty. Santana, Jefferson Airplane, the Dead, Chris Isaak, Bonnie Raitt and Huey Lewis & the News were among the many familiar names to hold forth from the small stage at the back of the intimate club, often paired with the many homegrown acts who fleshed out the rest of the club’s schedule.

Ultimately, however, New George’s limped to a close in 2003, the victim of economics and changing entertainment tastes. Despite rumors and a false start or two, it remained dark for the next seven years. After plans to reopen New George’s as a northern outpost of the San Francisco jazz club Kimball’s never quite materialized, this new version with the original old name is the handiwork of a homegrown family firm led by 40-year-old Todd Ghanizadeh, a San Rafael high grad and former ballet dancer.

“It was in Todd’s mind for about a year. He’s crazy about music,” explains Jackie Ghanizadeh, Todd’s mother and CFO of the recently renovated and revived George’s, which now boasts a sleek retro look and feel intended to evoke the club’s earliest years. The remodel took about a year and a half and cost roughly $500,000.

The 5,200-square-foot facility can accommodate nearly 300 patrons, with cabaret seating for 187 and room for more at the 30-foot mahogany bar near the entrance. A modest menu for light eating is offered, though manager Paul Fernandes clarifies, “We’re not trying to be a restaurant at all.”

Open with live music Wednesday through Sunday nights, the calendar leans heavily on “people who have played here in the past,” Fernandes adds. Among them are the reconvened 1980s-era Eric Martin Band, who returned to the club last Saturday.

“There are no peanut shells on the ground anymore,” Martin says. “It used to be a rockin,’ bawdy kind of place. It’s kinda classy now. But it still rocks. And the sound system is brilliant, way better than it used to be.”

American Drag play Nov. 5 (8:30pm; $10&–$13), and the Bob Hill Band and Flanelhed play Nov. 6 (9pm; $10&–$13) at George’s Nightclub, 842 Fourth St., San Rafael. 415.226.0262.

Sonoma County Library