Billy Bob will keep Fishmarket name New operators hope to reopen by Jan. 1

November 16, 1990|By Michelle Singletary | Michelle Singletary,Evening Sun Staff

One thing the new operators of Baltimore's Fishmarket are not going to do is change its name.

Despite published reports that the Fishmarket would be renamed "Billy Bob's Baltimore," a kissing cousin to the famous Billy Bob's Texas in Fort Worth, Billy Bob Barnett and Spencer Taylor, say they want to keep the historical name value of the Baltimore's Fishmarket.

"I'm flattered that people associated my name with the Fishmarket but it won't be a honky tonk and it won't be Billy Bob's Baltimore," Barnett said yesterday as he and Taylor gave reporters and local businessmen and women a tour of the Fishmarket.

However, the two 43-year-old Texans, the Fishmarket's new operators, have big plans for the 110,000-square-foot entertainment complex.

First, they are hope to reopen the Fishmarket by the first of the year.

Second, the two want the Fishmarket to be a bargain basement of entertainment.

"We want it to be a Wal-Mart of entertainment," said Barnett who along with Taylor will run a tag-team management operation. Barnett will handle the business end and Taylor will focus on the entertainment.

The $25 million Fishmarket complex closed in July 1989, due to financial problems after just nine months of operation. The Nashville-based Opryland USA Inc. had been the original operator, but the company left after a dispute with McCourt over money.

"We are not saying we are smarter than anyone else who tried to run this place, but we think there is reason to believe this place can be successful," Barnett said.

Patrons will be able to get in free before 8 p.m. and pay $5 after that. When the complex closed last year, admission was $7. The two are also negotiating with the city and parking lot operators in the area to arrange free parking for customers.

"We are working with the city to get as close to free parking as we can," Barnett said.

"The customers were paying too much to get in and too much to park," Taylor said.

When all renovations are done, Barnett said the Fishmarket will have seven distinctive musical concepts and a host of other attractions to keep customers busy and spending money on things other than alcohol.

In all, 500 people will work at the Fishmarket. Taylor said there will be a 15-member management team, made up mostly of Baltimore-based managers and promoters.

As plans stand now the Fishmarket will provide the following attractions:

* A Rock & Roll and Top 40 club. This will replace the Fishmarket Grill, an upscale restaurant that specialized in steak and seafood. "We are not in the food business," Taylor said. Customers will be able to get light food and some food on line with a ballpark menu, he said.

* Eubie's will keep its jazz theme with live bands but customers will stand, not sit, and have the opportunity to dance. Nearby, a retail outlet will sell clothing and other items with the Fishmarket logo. There will also be a boutique where more expensive items will be sold.

* The Officer's Club, which offered a USO theme, is out. It's being replaced with the Cat's Meow, modeled after Barnett and Taylor's New Orleans club by the same name. It will feature a "Karaoke" theme in which customers choose from a list of songs and get up on stage and sing along. It's the latest nightclub rage in Japan.

Taylor said they have also teamed up with Pioneer which has promised to provide the Fishmarket with high-tech video and musical equipment. Surrounding the Cat's Meow will be a carnival area with arcade games and chances for customers to win stuffed animals. The Charm City Diner, which was a 1950s-style eatery at the Fishmarket, will be renovated to allow people to sit and watch video monitors tuned into the rest of the complex.

* Liberty Hall will remain the center meeting place in the complex. It will continue to feature local bands and top artists. However, the stage will be dark on Mondays and Tuesday. "You can't fill a big facility like this every night of the week," Taylor said. To help draw crowds on off nights, Taylor said they are planning a college night, celebrity night and happy hour on Fridays. And, of course, Barnett couldn't resist offering a country and western night on Sunday.

* Rooftops, a three-level disco will keep its flashing lights, lasers and mirrored ball.

* Edgar Allan Pub will be replaced with a New Orleans, Bourbon Street flavor. The club will feature live rhythm and blues bands. For the most part, local and regional talent will be used in all the clubs. In addition, Taylor said they hope to introduce local groups to their other facilities in New Orleans.

* The Library, which was a sedate wood-paneled pub, will become the official VIP club. People with VIP status will be privy to valet parking and have a private entry.

Barnett said he and Taylor have spent the last seven months in Baltimore piecing together the new plans for the Fishmarket.

They said they want to take the most successful concepts of Billy Bob's Texas and another nightclub they once owned, Dallas Alley, and transplant them to the Fishmarket.

Billy Bob's Texas is a 100,000-square-foot club that opened in Fort Worth in 1981. The club could hold up to 8,000 people and had four restaurants, 42 bars and shops and a rodeo arena for live bull-riding all under one roof. The honky-tonk bar was closed briefly in 1988 after Barnett, stung by the downturn in the Texas economy, declared bankruptcy because of real estate deals that went sour. The club has since reopened under new ownership.

Neither Barnett nor Taylor would discuss the financial arrangement between them and Frank McCourt Jr., the developer of the Fishmarket. They also would not disclose how much it would cost to renovate the Fishmarket.

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