By Melissa Fossum
By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
Four months ago, Nita Craddock was fed up. After 23 years as the owner of Nita's Hideaway, she was only too glad to sell off the popular Tempe bar and wash her hands of the whole business. When a Nita's farewell show on July 12 resulted in patrons running off with chairs, stools and signage, Craddock (who said the damage amounted to $5,000) sounded positively bitter about the whole experience.
Fast forward to late November of this year. Robert Ross, co-owner of The Heat, the all-ages punk club that replaced Nita's, calls Craddock with an offer. Ross realizes that after a thumbs down from the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, The Heat is certain to lose its bid for a liquor license. He's ready to cut his losses.
"He just called, and said, 'Would you be interested in buying it back?,'" Craddock says. "I said, 'You bet.'"
Why the sudden change of heart? Well, in actual fact, Craddock's apparent about-face is not much of a change at all. The Heat was on the verge of shutting down anyway, and Craddock, as the owner of the land on which the club resides, was going to need a new occupant for the building. Without a liquor license, the site's value was sharply reduced; so Craddock could pick up the bar cheaply, restore its liquor license and commercial viability, and sell it for a healthy profit. The result of all these machinations is that, at least temporarily, Nita's Hideaway will be back in its old spot.
"I was just tired and ready to retire, but it [the bar] is probably going to have to come back to me anyway before anything can be done, so I'll just go ahead and do it this way and start over again," Craddock says. "It'll be back the way it was when it was the old Nita's and we'll try to have the same music again and everything."
Much as Nita's has been missed in the last few months, there are a couple of discordant notes in this latest series of events. One is that The Heat had emerged as a valuable punk-rock club, and its demise--coupled with the fragile financial state of Tempe Bowl--does nothing but harm to the local punk scene. Plus, it's hard not to be aggravated by the way this state conspires against clubs that deliver music that's on the edge. The county board of supervisors can recommend that a liquor license be refused, and then disingenuously claim that the recommendation has no real weight and shouldn't be taken seriously. The state liquor board can then deny the liquor license and claim that it's only following the county's lead. In this state, the buck stops anywhere but here.
The other concern is what shape Nita's will take in its new incarnation. Though Craddock says she wants to re-create the vibe of the beloved bar, right down to its paint job and carpeting, the new Nita's will be without Charlie Levy, whose booking savvy over the last three years elevated Nita's into a place where solid musical taste could be guaranteed. Craddock says, "He [Levy] is tired of it, and he didn't really want to do it anymore. So we've got Jimmy [Howard], who worked the soundboard, helping me."
Levy says that Craddock didn't contact him about returning to his old position at Nita's. Levy, who manages local bands Gloritone and the Revenants, describes himself as "happy to be retired" from the club business, but hesitates to say that he would have automatically rejected a chance to return to Nita's.
"If anyone calls with an offer, you'd have to take a look at it," Levy says diplomatically. "But I'm happy managing my three great bands."
Howard is a respected soundman and his experience at the old Nita's will be an asset for the club, but it remains to be seen how effectively Nita's can operate with everyone aware that the bar could be sold at any moment. Unfortunately, it's a return to the uncertainty that hovered like a dark cloud over the club from March until its July closing.
As Levy says, the ideal result would be for Tempe to be able to keep both The Heat and Nita's Hideaway. Certainly there's a need for both. But we're more likely to encounter a future with neither.
Of all the parties affected by The Heat's closing, probably the one best able to adjust is CAP Concerts. The promotions company, run by Corey Adams, had geared many of its shows toward The Heat, but as CAP rep Alexis Gilmore points out, CAP is hardly stuck for options.
"Before there was The Heat, we'd done shows at other clubs, so it's not gonna have as big an effect as people think," Gilmore says. "We have two levels at the Nile [Theater], so we can do two things at one time."
Gilmore says that a venue like the Nile, which doesn't serve alcohol, is easier to manage in this state's current restrictive climate than a bar like The Heat, which made alcohol available at all-ages shows (a combination that always frightens state authorities).