It used to be easy to tell Harry Denton's Starlight Room from Bruno's. One club served up fancy cocktails and Top 40 DJs; the other, despite a parade of ownership changes, was consistently an intimate, nationally renowned live music lounge that hosted the likes of Ledisi, Sam Rivers, and Norah Jones. But Bruno's has lately done its best to blur those lines. When Rick Howard and George Karas took over in 2006, they immediately put their stamp on the Mission District club. A remodel snuffed out the charming retro decor, while the schedule banished live music to midweek in favor of DJs on the weekends.
Earlier this month, Bruno's canceled one of the last links to its live music past, "Jazz Mafia Tuesdays," a weekly showcase led by trombonist and bandleader Adam Theis since 2002. General manager Anna Gaebe says Jazz Mafia was canceled because of low attendance, although many regulars insist the tiny room routinely overflowed on Tuesdays. After she told the band its run would end in December, Theis wrote to his 2,000-plus-member mailing list a couple of weeks ago pointing fingers at the management: "It's easy to see that our vibe does not at all fit with the Top 40 DJ thing that they have been tirelessly banking on since reopening [in 2006]," he wrote.
Unsurprisingly, this didn't go over well; Howard and Karas canceled Jazz Mafia Tuesdays immediately (which Theis found out only after arriving for one of his final gigs). Gaebe refused to discuss the abrupt cancellation, calling it a "private matter." Theis expressed regret, saying that whatever he had needed to say about the situation wasn't worth "not getting to play music for three weeks and have a real last show at Bruno's."
With Jazz Mafia Tuesdays gone, Bruno's now offers only the Latin-themed live bands on Thursdays, a far cry from the full weekly platter it served up just a few years ago (and which the club still trumpets on its Web site). But Theis says fans shouldn't worry - he's confident of finding another venue in the New Year. Meanwhile, those who need their fix of Top 40 DJs and overpriced cocktails but who can't stand the interminable elevator ride up to the Starlight Room can head to Bruno's.