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Say good-bye to Sardines, hello '80s bar

Posted 5:22pm on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011

Sardines Ristorante Italiano, a Fort Worth institution since 1978, is getting more than just a facelift and a name change, as reported last month.

No more intimate date nights with Italian food, no more Sardines in the title, and, after Nov. 6, no more Johnny Case. (Patrons know him as the jazz musician who's tickled the ivories there since 1983.)

Though the building itself won't close down, Sardines as we know it will be leaving the Cultural District landscape. Its transformation will be drastic: it's turning into an '80s club called Studio Eighty. A grand opening is planned for late November or early December.

The new business will still technically be a supper club, and it will still be owned by Salvatore "Sal" Matarese, who now lives in Maui; and Louie Jacobini is still the landlord.

"Sardines has been a Fort Worth tradition, but it's time to make the change," Jacobini said Thursday. "Business has fallen off considerably. It's a function of the economy, and I think it's a function of so many other restaurants that have gone in in the area. This one is going to be an entirely different format. Studio Eighty is going to be a completely different than any other place in Fort Worth."

The new manager is Jeff Murtha, a Dallas nightclub veteran. During a Thursday tour of the ongoing renovations, Murtha was enthusiastic about the changes, and full of ideas.

He says Studio Eighty will have a dance floor, a DJ, theme nights, a large wine selection, and will still serve food -- albeit a more Continental menu. Murtha plans to emphasize happy hours, complete with 1980s cocktail prices, and the waitresses' uniforms will be Flashdance-inspired.

Also incoming: walls adorned with framed '80s movie posters, and 14 flat-screen TVs, which will air music videos from the '80s.

"But it won't be a sports bar. We're trying to be something totally different," say Murtha, who added that he has decades of experience in restaurants, bars and adult nightclubs in DFW.

Studio Eighty will also feature a small game room with old-school arcade games like Asteroids, Donkey Kong and Galaga.

Sardines' kitchen will be open for business through next week, Jacobini said, with plans to reopen as the Studio Eighty kitchen a few weeks later. However, the bar will stay open through all the revamping.

Jacobini had to make the call on Wednesday to Johnny Case, to tell him his last night playing Sardines will be Nov. 6.

"I'm disappointed that it won't continue," Case said. "I'd like to have made 30 years there -- I've made 28. It was the most satisfying gig I ever had. It was very casual and I got to play the type of music I like, and there are so many talented musicians here, that got to sit in with my trio. It was a blast."

At the same time, Case sounds like he's trying to roll with the punches. "I don’t feel bad about this," he says. "It's time for a change."

Still, he hates to see Sardines "bite the dust."

"As far as the art form of jazz is concerned, I think Sardine’s has the world’s record for the longest continuous jazz venue. There's been a continuous jazz policy there since 1979; that’s when Sal bought the place."

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