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Owners of former Strand nightclub seek to put past behind them

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WATERTOWN — New name, old owners.

But city officials are hoping that the former Strand Music Theater will not have the same kind of disturbances that plagued it before the nightclub closed in 2008.

On Friday night, Club Rio opened in the building that once housed a movie theater at 136 Franklin St.

Michael J. L’Huillier, the club’s maintenance manager, said owners David Garlock, who is on vacation, and Donald J. Meunier, who holds the state liquor license, want to wait a couple of weeks before talking to the press about the new club.

“They want to see how it’s going,” Mr. L’Huillier said.

Last week, city Fire Capt. Todd R. DeMar, an agent with the city’s code enforcement office, was inside the remodeled building to inspect it. He was impressed with what he saw.

“It’s really neat in there,” he said. “They did a really nice job with it.”

The owners cleaned out the interior and added a dance stage and new LED and decorative lighting on the first floor, where an under-21 crowd can dance. For the over-21 crowd, a tiki bar was installed on the second floor, he said.

The Strand lost its liquor license following a May 2008 incident in which a drunken driver speeding the wrong way on Goodale Street slammed into eight Fort Drum soldiers outside the bar. The driver, Kristopher B. Hendricks, also a Fort Drum soldier, was court-martialed and sent to prison for 18 months.

Fort Drum officials subsequently banned soldiers from the nightclub.

About a month later, the business opened as an all-ages club. It didn’t last long.

When it was still a nightclub, police often were called to the bar because of fights and other minor disturbances, Lt. Joseph R. Donoghue recalled.

“When you mix alcohol and large crowds, they can happen,” he said.

During its first weekend back as Club Rio, police made arrests in two separate incidents associated with the bar.

On Sunday morning, a city man was charged with disorderly conduct after police said he ignored orders to leave the area. Early Saturday, a local man was charged with disorderly conduct after he allegedly was involved in a fight outside the nightclub.

But Capt. DeMar said the owners told him they are trying to keep out of the nightclub troublemakers who had hung out there previously.

He said he hopes the effort can succeed.

“It’s just nice that somebody is back in there now,” he said.

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