345 B Street, Downtown San Diego
(Has gone out of business since this article was published.)
A superior-court ruling handed down on December 24 paves the way for the reopening of 4th&B, probably as a venue that would concentrate on electronic dance music.
Ali Nilforushan, a North County–based horse breeder, owned the downtown nightspot from 2005 through 2009, when he sold it to Vince and Judy Puma, who agreed to pay $1,797,500. According to Nilforushan’s attorney Sean Foldenauer, the Pumas agreed to pay that amount with a combination of a down payment, monthly payments, and a transfer of three properties the Pumas owned.
But Foldenauer says that not only did the Pumas stop paying their $29,000 rent to the landlord, they also stopped making payments to Nilforushan. The judgment says that the Pumas must now return the shares in the company that owns the 4th&B business and liquor license (Speth Brothers, Inc.) to Nilforushan and that the Pumas must pay Nilforushan $1.5 million plus legal costs. The lawsuit took two years.
While a November decision by a separate judge forced the Pumas to be evicted from the premises, the Pumas’ ownership of Speth Brothers, Inc., crippled a reopening of 4th&B. It would be hard for the building’s landlord, Crown Investments, to rent out the 1500-capacity downtown space unless the previous liquor license could be reactivated with a new owner who would operate it as a music venue.
Attorney Foldenauer says Nilforushan has no desire to return to the nightclub business and that it his sole intent to sell the business, cut his losses, and focus on horses.
Local Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) administrator Jennifer Hill says the Pumas did the right thing by surrendering the license to her department. She says that the license could legally sit dormant for 12 months while a new owner is found. After that, the ABC could dissolve the license. Foldenauer says the landlord and Nilforushan are working together on the sale of the license but that the landlord must approve the new owner.
Insiders say 4th&B’s license is particularly valuable because it is a so-called 48 license, which means that the establishment does not have to sell food — it can just sell alcohol. The next largest venue in the greater Gaslamp area with a 48 license is the Onyx Room. Law enforcement and zoning officials are not apt to sign off on new 48 licenses. The House of Blues, for instance, has a 47 license, which means 50 percent of its sales must be food, which greatly increases its expenses (servers, cooks, food).
Foldenauer says that 4th&B landlord Crown Investments is in discussions with potential 4th&B operators but would not go into detail. Insiders say that there are two principal suitors, including L.A.-based EDM impresario Pasquale Rotella and Belo nightclub proprietor Richard Kelly. Rotella’s Insomniac Inc. is known for promoting the Electric Daisy Carnival rave events at the Los Angeles Coliseum that drew up to 160,000 people. The 2010 EDC rave was responsible for 200 medical emergencies, 60 arrests, and the death of a 15-year-old girl who reportedly took the drug ecstasy. Rotella was arrested in March 2012 in connection with corruption charges involving coliseum management. Rotella has since moved the EDC rave to Las Vegas.
Insiders say that even if the venue does make a turn toward electronica, it would not prevent outside promoters from using 4th&B as an occasional live-music venue.
Attempts to contact the Pumas, Rotella, Kelly, and the landlord’s attorney, Ken Lange, were unsuccessful.