In a 1998 story about the club, the Los Angeles Times called Fullerton’s downtown “a neighborhood that goes dark before the sky does.” Times changed soon enough with the adoption of a Restaurant Overlay District that removed the responsibility of new restaurants to provide parking for patrons. Suddenly it became easier to open a restaurant or a bar, and the rush was on. With a seemingly endless supply of liquor licenses, rents increased. Soon Steamer’s neighbors went from being pawn shops, antiquarian bookshops and sporting goods stores to delicatessens, bars, and other eateries, some of them featuring live bands themselves.
Steamers, however, went on being what it had always been, a cool, classy refuge where Poncho Sanchez, Diana Krall, and other luminaries could play in a venue dedicated to their art in front of fans who couldn’t believe they were seeing such acts in an intimate club setting anywhere, let alone in Fullerton. College ensembles and other young musicians were also welcome to play in front of its luxurious red curtain backdrop, enjoying the chance to hone their craft before live audiences. The club’s location had been chosen for its proximity to Fullerton College, where a strong jazz program existed, and owner Terence Love was supportive of young musicians throughout the club’s lifetime.Steamers was a host venue for Ragfest’s memorable productions by pianist and songster Brad Kay, who filled the stage with his Syncopating Songbirds. Everyone had their favorite band or singer, from Hedgehog Swing, to Nancy Sanchez, to Ron Eschete to Kristin Korb to Barbara Morrison to Gina Saputo. Strolling down Commonwealth Ave. at night, it was always tempting to drop into the doorway without thinking too much about it. No matter how much I got used to the slender room with the cafe chairs, the long bar and the high ceiling, the black and white photographs of jazz luminaries that lined the walls, I always felt lucky to be there.
Steamers eventually began serving alcohol—including fine craft cocktails—but it didn’t turn them into just another bar on the circuit downtown. They were always a music club that also served food and drinks, never just a bar with live bands. Now it is the fate of Steamers to itself become another beer hall, as owner Terence Love retires the business on July 30, and moves on from being the most unlikely of professions, the jazz impresario in North Orange County for a club that gained fame and respect far beyond the borders of our city.
Nothing lasts forever, but we can hope that the memory of Steamers will not fade away so fast, and that the legacy of inspiring musical experiences and the respect paid to those who create them will find a new home somewhere else in Downtown Fullerton someday soon…