‘The Venue’ takes over former Fresno Twist location

The Venue in Fresno is scheduled to open in the next few weeks offering a unique Mediterranean-inspired menu.The Venue in Fresno is scheduled to open in the next few weeks offering a unique Mediterranean-inspired menu.Pounding music and sweaty bodies are a thing of the past at the former Twist Restaurant and Lounge in North Fresno, according to a pair of restaurateurs looking to bring a taste of the Mediterranean to the controversial spot.

The Venue restaurant and bar has taken over the 5,320 square-foot space Twist occupied until last August at the Park Place at Palm Bluffs shopping center at Palm and Nees avenues.  Partners Sevag Jierian and Vahan Panossian have been working since mid-December to open the new restaurant. Persian rugs adorn its walls to complement the menu offering 33 different appetizers, or small-dish mezzas, as well as red mullet imported from the Mediterranean Sea and Branzino sea bass from Italy.

Both Fresnans, Jierian comes from a background in finance, while Panossian has 20 years of experience in the restaurant industry. The pair expects a friends-and-family opening followed by a soft opening in a couple of weeks. A website and social media presence is in the works.

Jierian and Panossian say food quality and ambience will make The Venue stand out. They insist that the building’s nightclub days — which drew the scrutiny of the Fresno Police Department and state liquor board — are in the past.

“We don’t need the headache,” Panossian said.

In April 2010, the city of Fresno granted Twist a one-year permit allowing dancing at the restaurant until 2 a.m. Twist closed last August — the club’s liquor license threatened by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control over fights and other violent incidents.

Developer Cliff Tutelian, who owns the shopping center, said the city of Fresno would have to approve dancing at The Venue should there be a change of heart. But he said he’s in agreement with the owners that it will be a restaurant only. Tutelian said the problems surrounding Twist are in the past, and he’s excited about the new venture.

“I’m very optimistic about their success,” Tutelian said.

Jierian said The Venue will be open every day for lunch and dinner, with a slated closing time of 2 a.m. It will feature a dining area as well as a bar and lounge, with an area for smoking flavored tobacco from hookah pipes on the patio. Jierian said The Venue will carry an extensive wine list, and diners will have the choice of family-style meals appetizers and specialties including the imported fish, kebab meat entrees, frog legs, quail and lamb shank from Australia.

“We will feature items that are unique to Fresno,” Jierian said.

Appetizers range in price from $6 for hummus to $9 for pan-fried smelt served with tahini sauce and fresh lemon. Dinner specialties range in price from $19 for chicken kebab to $35 for the Sultan Ibrahim, or red mullet prepared the Lebanese way. The specialties at lunch are generally about $5 less, according to the menu.

Panossian, himself a chef, said The Venue’s chefs hail from Jordan and Lebanon.

So far, about 72 people have been hired to staff the restaurant, out of a whopping 4,000 applicants and 1,200 interviews, Panossian said.

While Tutelian and The Venue’s owners insist dancing will not be part of the equation, local entertainment promoter Rick Mirigian said it’s hard for some Fresno restaurant owners to resist adding a nightclub element. He said local residents tend to flock to new restaurant nightspots, but that business tends to wane after a while. Then restaurateurs are left looking at their options, he said.

In addition, the city of Fresno has introduced new rules meant to streamline the process for restaurants to become nightclubs. But once a nightclub starts in Fresno, it tends to fall into the same pattern of fights, public intoxication and underage activity, Mirigian said.

“Nightclubs have a shelf life of a year in the Valley,” Mirigian said.

“I wish them the best,” he added about The Venue.