Coinciding with the news that police may have solved a 36-year-old murder at Fagiani’s Cocktail Lounge, the new owners have begun to bring the 1940s-style cocktail lounge back to life.
Steve and Johanna Hasty, who bought the Main Street landmark two years go, intend to reopen the bar this summer after completing a $1 million seismic retrofit.
They received good news on their financing this week, the same time the police announced a break in the case that many thought would never be solved.
“It’s a weird feeling,” Steve Hasty said Tuesday.
The bar closed permanently in the mid-1970s, several years after Anita Andrews, 51, was murdered on July 10, 1974. The body was discovered the next morning by her sister, Muriel Fagiani.
When Fagiani closed the doors three decades ago, she left Fagiani’s just as it was, the deer heads on the wall, the beer chilling, the phone working.
By the time the Hastys bought the property in December 2007 for a reported $1.1 million, Fagiani’s bar had become a local legend — a ghostly reminder of a crime that was never solved.
During a tour Tuesday morning, the Hastys spoke of their conflicting emotions. Their dream of reviving the 1909 brick building was moving forward at the same time as memories of an old trauma were being revived. “It’s a mixed bag,” Steve Hasty said.
Using old DNA evidence, Napa police announced Monday that they had connected 70-year-old Ray Melanson, already serving a life sentence in Colorado for a separate murder, to the slaying of Andrews. Melanson denies it.
Steve Hasty said he welcomed the news. “I feel good that you’ll see some closure coming,” he said. At the same time, “I feel saddened that Muriel and Anita’s daughters have to go through this again.”
“There’s always the question ‘why’?” he said. “There is no answer to that question and it’s not a good feeling.”
The Hastys bought the Fagiani building at a time when the economy was booming. They reported having a high-profile Yountville restaurateur lined up to open a restaurant and bar.
When the economy tanked in 2008, the restaurant deal fell through, leaving the Hastys looking for a new financial partner and restaurant operator.
The building’s notoriety was never an obstacle to finding a development partner, Steve Hasty said. It was the Great Recession.
They now have a financial partner, David and Patricia Nobel, a Florida couple with a second home in St. Helena. “They like the building. They believe that once we get this done, it will be a fantastic project,” Steve Hasty said.
With the Nobels’ support, the Hastys are starting to seismically retrofit the century-old building. Workers were removing interior walls Tuesday morning. Steel beams will be installed to support the walls and flooring without marring the structure’s aesthetics, Steve Hasty said. Brick walls will be exposed for the first time.
Now that they have purchased a liquor license once belonging to O’Sullivan’s Bar on First Street and have seismic work underway, the Hastys hope it will be easier to find a restaurant investor-operator.
If they can’t find a partner, they will delay opening the restaurant. Instead, they will open a bar with light food offerings this summer. “I’m talking a bar with really tasty bar food,” Steve Hasty said.
The Hastys have drafted plans for adding a third story to the back portion of the roof. The front area would become an outdoor dining patio with views across Veterans Memorial Park and the Napa River into the eastern hills.
The city would need to approve construction plans. The third floor addition would not alter the building’s Main Street facade, Steve Hasty said.
The Hastys plan to retain the long bar of Philippine mahogany and the 1940s atmosphere, Johanna Hasty said. “We want the character to remain the same,” she said.
Some furnishings, such as the mounted deer heads and the neon signs, will be given to Muriel Fagiani, who supports the changes that are in the works, the Hastys said.
“She would love to see it open,” Steve Hasty said. “It will give her a good feeling to know it will be open again.”
When Fagiani, 85, talks about the property, she always refers to it as “papa’s bar,” he said. It had belonged to her father, Nicola, who died five years before the 1974 tragedy.
Quoting Muriel Fagiani, Steve Hasty pointed to the old-style cash register. That’s “Papa’s music box,” he said. The jingle of sales being rung up was music to her father’s ears, he said.
An ancient patina of dust and nicotine covers everything. The refrigerator compressor failed years ago, leaving 35-year-old Hamm’s and Burgermeister beers at room temperature.
During the tour for reporters on Tuesday, the rotary phone in Nicola Fagiani’s second-floor office rang. A ghost from the past?
No. Just Steve Hasty calling up Fagiani’s from his cell phone.
This place is filled with memories, he said. The past still lives. The future awaits.