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Bogart's Closing, Plans to Reopen as Upscale Club

Bogart's, the longtime Fan institution, is closing its doors in April after 37 years. The building's new owners plan to reopen it as a more upscale live-music lounge.

Over the years, the restaurant's collection of framed and yellowing photos of Humphrey Bogart -- not to mention its famed Jell-O shots -- have witnessed many of Richmond's best-loved instrumental acts, including the legendary Devil's Workshop Big Band.

"I'm devastated; it's kind of like a second home," says Samson Trinh, who leads the Upper East Side Big Band and plays saxophone with the Adrian Duke Projek and the Mills Family Band.

Bogart's owner, Jim "The Greek" Bacas, says he's looking for a second home for the club, hopefully at another location in the Fan. Since buying the business six years ago, he's kept the backroom jazz tradition going while expanding to a more eclectic mix of music and even adding a tradition of his own: the Jell-O shots.

"What I'm so tickled about is when we started this whole Jell-O shooters thing, you'd have to take your tongue or your finger and work it loose, and I guess that was part of the fun. But you'd always see Jell-O left in the bottom of the cup, so we started spraying Pam in," he says. "It's an ancient Greek secret."

Some musicians quietly suggest that Bacas' sense of fun has overshadowed his sense of responsibility and that several relationships -- including that with the Devil's Workshop -- have soured in recent years.

Tony Martucci, a drummer with the Jazz Maniacs and a music professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, recorded a live album at Bogart's several years ago but hasn't been playing there much recently.

"At the time when I was playing there regularly, it was a very friendly atmosphere for musicians," Martucci says. "About the time we stopped playing there, the atmosphere changed considerably and it disrespected the musicians. Perhaps it's been a nice venue for younger college musicians since."

Becoming more musician-friendly is a priority for Steve Gratz, who bought the building where Bogart's is located, on Lombardy Street near Grove Avenue, last year. He plans to open a yet-to-be-named restaurant in Bogart's place.

"We've talked to some people in the jazz scene to get some input because we want to create a place that musicians enjoy," Gratz says. "We're trying to be as sensitive to that as possible."

Gratz and his wife, Lainie, hope to have the place gutted, renovated and reopened by March 2009.

Whatever comes next, musician Trinh says, Bogart's has had a good run. "We do society gigs and wedding gigs and corporate gigs that give a lot of bread," he says, "but at Bogart's people actually listen to the songs you play."