It's kinda hard to believe that a music venue with an 850-person capacity, a full bar and a stage catering to local talent has the ability to fly under the radar in our little music scene. Especially considering the slump artists and fans are experiencing with the recent closure of Detroit Bar and the Crosby. But since it opened quietly late last year, Diego's–a new live music spot adjacent to the Yost Theater in downtown Santa Ana–has done just that. Of course, looks can be a bit deceiving when you first walk into the space located at 224 E. 3rd St. At first glance past the giant "D" logo painted on the outside wall, it looks the way any quiet, minimalist hipster bar in Santa Ana might look–they serve reasonably priced imported beers and craft spirits and tout a rotating menu of inventive, affordable dishes that shouldn't cost you more than $7. All well and good.
But the wow factor for local bands looking for a gig doesn't come until you make your way to the back of the bar through a black door to the main hall that instantly becomes a sprawl of space and potential. In fact, the venue-known as Festival Bar to the cadena-wearing public, has to be pretty intimidating for plenty of local acts who see it for the first time. For the last 35 years, the dance hall has housed countless weekend norteño, tejano, and banda concerts, booking acts like Oringinales, Karlos Quintero and Los Hermanos Arellano (no relation to our editor-in-chief…well, maybe). Now, chef and former gallery owner Richard Espinachio has opened Diego's as a bar that shares the venue with Festival Monday through Thursday, booking everything from free form art shows, to local theater to psychedelic rock lineups.
Espinachio, 48, approached the owners of the building last year about throwing shows and they said yes and allowed him to have the place to himself during the week. Since then, Diego's has had a few concerts and are now getting some buzz from local bands and started working with Detroit Bar's former local talent buyer Eric Keilman to bring bands in.
"We're starting to really partner with the local art community and we're staying in line with what the downtown area is supposed to be," Espinachio says. "We're really fortunate, we have a restaurant, a space to book art and music all under one roof."
It's also a well placed live music foil to the Yost Theater, which is still bigger than Diego's but is mostly concentrated on EDM. Now that plenty of bands are looking for decent rooms to play other than the Observatory, Diego's could offer a much needed option. But for the average psych rock tribe looking to douse you with reverb anyway, it should work out fine.
"The space has a lot of potential, the sound is pretty good," says Brennan Roach, half of Santa Ana art rock duo Time and Energy. The band played there recently with fellow Santa Ana acts The Flying Hand and Evan Geesman. "You could tell its not like every other bar with super expensive drinks, seems like it's more there for the community."
That's exactly how Espinachio wants it to feel. Prior to opening Diego's and partnering with Festival, the Santa Ana native owned and operated an art gallery for 25 years near Yost owner Dennis Lluy's legendary Koo's Cafe. He says the venue side of Diego's, which runs various events through the week, will be managed similarly as an all-encompassing space for creative types to host nights and parties around their work, whether its bands, dancers, painters or acting troupes.
"It's almost like a big blank canvas and we're basically just waiting for musicians to come in and do what thy want with it."
According to Espinachio, he also doesn't require bands or promoters to pay him for ticket sales, and he only makes his money off of the bar and restaurant. That alone aught to make at least a few bands happy to work with him. At the same time, Espinachio says Diego's is happy to work with them, as well as the banda crowd to make sure the partnership with them is mutually beneficial and not just another stab at gentrification.
"We're trying to show everybody that we're actually part of what Santa Ana was before with the Latin community and also with the future, so we're able to accommodate both sides of that community."
The next big show happens this Thursday, March 27 (i.e. tomorrow) with Jeramiah Red, The Record Company, Moonsville Collective and the Janks starting at 8 p.m. For full details, click here.
25 Greatest OC Bands of All Time: The Complete List
20 Greatest OC Albums of All Time
Best OC Musicians By Genre
Follow us on Twitter at @OCWeeklyMusic and like us on Facebook at Heard Mentality.