The Last Days of Gold Bar

The doors are closing on the Valley's most eclectic coffee house.

It seems that everyone at Gold Bar is either talking about making a short independent film, is making one, or has made one. Newton sat in the vault to write the screenplay for Phrases Lacking Tone, a 21-and-a-half-minute film he also directed and starred in. It's a "personal thing," Newton says, explaining that he used some Dylan songs, so he could never go public with the film.

Maass' film is called Universal Remote, about a guy who can control his neighbor's television set with his own remote control. Maass has the unedited tapes at his house. Creative differences halted production.

"It was one of those terrible Hollywood things — I'm at his throat, he's at mine," Maass says of the unemployed photo imager, who no longer hangs out at Gold Bar.

Jeff Newton (left) and Dave Maass in their natural habitat.
Irvin Serrano
Jeff Newton (left) and Dave Maass in their natural habitat.
Aspiring comic book artist Josh Schicker hangs with St. Lucia, Gold Bar's unofficial mascot.
Irvin Serrano
Aspiring comic book artist Josh Schicker hangs with St. Lucia, Gold Bar's unofficial mascot.

Maass does have hope for a project he's got in the works with Josh Schicker, another Gold Bar regular and aspiring comic book artist. Maass envisions a dark comic based on an opera written at Terezin, the Nazi concentration camp that housed musicians and artists. First, however, Schicker intends to launch his own comic book series, "Naked Chicks With Jetpacks."

Schicker is a low talker, a problem possibly exacerbated by the large metal ring through his bottom lip. He's 25, and typically wears baggy shorts, striped sport socks and low tops. The ID to his day job as a credit analyst at FACS West, some sort of financial company, as he describes it, hangs around his neck. His black nail polish is chipped; Schicker smokes Camels, and he, too, plans to quit May 2.

He calls the comic "Naked Chicks With Jetpacks" because naked chicks and jetpacks are Schicker's two favorite things. The main characters are actually the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, living in a "semi-functional anarchistic society," Schicker says. "They pretty much gave up on good and they're doing their own thing now." They do wear jetpacks.

Schicker is hesitant to share too much, fearing someone will rip off his idea. He says it's written like an independent comic — crass and violent — but with art he hopes meets the standards of a mainstream company like Marvel.

"It's going to be hyperviolent with a lot of meaning. It's going to be misunderstood a lot," he says.

"Parents will hate it," he adds, smiling. His own parents don't want him to be an artist. "They're like, 'Why don't you be a police officer?'"

He's not in it for the money, Schicker says. It's just about getting his artwork out there. And it would be nice if one day there were some really cool "Naked Chicks With Jetpacks" tee shirts.

Friday, April 26, 9:45 a.m.

At night, Gold Bar is loud and clubby, with a coffee line out the door and an influx of hipsters taking a break from Lucky Dragon, the art gallery/Chinese restaurant/nightclub a few storefronts away.

Mornings are different, although equally busy. More like a highly caffeinated version of Cheers. Mel and Chelsea (Mel's the girl, Chelsea's the boy) are the baristas on duty today. It's Chelsea's birthday, according to a small sign posted on the counter alongside the glass tip bowl; someone has taped Scrabble tiles spelling out the word SPIT along the rim of the bowl. There's a constant line at the counter, the drive-through buzzer keeps ringing, and the drink orders are rarely simple: a triple-shot skinny iced mocha or a schizo double caramel latte.

Mel and Chelsea are deft, and over the noise of the coffee grinder and milk steamer they keep up a banter with the customers, all of whom they seem to know.

A tall blonde in heels and a chiffon skirt walks in.

"You look so cute!" Mel tells her. "What's going on?"

"I'm going to some interviews. And I have my period," the woman answers, running down current pertinent life happenings.

"Me too!" Mel squeals. After some discussion of cramps, the blonde walks out to the patio with an iced coffee. A few minutes later, she's back, hungry. She eyes the oversize pastries. Would it be possible to buy just half a banana nut muffin? Sure, Mel says, then changes her mind and gives her the entire muffin free, for luck.

John Summers wanders in, buys a cup of coffee and sits for a while, then heads for the piano. The baby grand — an antique, ornately painted with gold flock and angels — is off limits to most customers. But Summers is invited to perform whenever the mood hits. He plays "Happy Birthday" and everyone sings to Chelsea.

A couple years back, Summers started playing jazz piano at Gold Bar on the weekends. He hadn't played professionally in 14 years.

"I stopped because I was intent on being Joe Productive Citizen, something I thought my family would accept," he says. "I never had the courage to say I was a musician."

His career path took him from law school in Chicago to a law practice in the Valley, but running a small business was too much for Summers, who wound up clinically depressed. "I'm one of those lawyers who was definitely not a good businessman," he says.

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