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Tempe's Gringo Star Street Bar Opens Today -- Here's a Sneak Peek at its Art and Arcade Games

The neon sign inside Gringo Star Street Bar in Tempe during its soft opening Wednesday night.
The neon sign inside Gringo Star Street Bar in Tempe during its soft opening Wednesday night.
Photos by Benjamin Leatherman

When members of the college-aged party brigade or recent ASU grads looking to celebrate their milestone stroll into Gringo Star Street Bar this evening (and in all likelihood they will), they'll encounter a few things that are a bit foreign to the Mill Avenue nightlife scene. Namely, arcade games, skeeball, and street art.

Gringo Star, which officially opens to public consumption today and tonight, boasts all three of these in abundance, and Jackalope Ranch was allowed a sneak peek at the place on Wednesday during its soft opening.

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Four different artists, all of which are either local residents or Valley natives, created murals and other large pieces that cover most of its wall space inside the 6,500-square-foot bar/restaurant/nightspot, and anyone familiar with metro Phoenix's arts milieu will undoubtedly recognize some of the names involved.

JB Snyder's mural inside Gringo Star.
JB Snyder's mural inside Gringo Star.

To wit: Painter and muralist JB Snyder transformed a cinder block wall behind seating near Gringo Star's rear bar with one of his signature stained glass-like multicolored creations crisscrossed with kinky black outlines.

And much like at exhibitions like the Artcade Show this past February or on buildings like The Dressing Room along Roosevelt Row, Snyder's efforts are in close proximity to cohort Sierra Joy.

Overlooking a pair of communal sinks outside the restrooms, toward the front of the establishment, is a tall rectangular piece by the female painter that -- like many of her works scene in downtown Phoenix -- depicts craggy mountain peaks and glowing orbs hanging in the sky above, which in this case, uses a palette of blue, orange, and white.

She also created an irreverent and colorful hopscotch path in blue and yellow that's right next to Gringo Star's collection of arcade games, in case any patrons want to re-enact the childhood game between drinking and Mortal Kombat 3.

Hartley Rodie, one of the bar's managing partners, told Jackalope Ranch that when Gringo Star's proprietors decided to include street art as a part of its décor, both Snyder and Joy were on their short list of locals to feature.

"We definitely wanted a local touch in here so those are the two artists we immediately thought of when we started to do some research," Roadie says.

The Sierra Joy-created hopscotch pattern at Gringo Star.
The Sierra Joy-created hopscotch pattern at Gringo Star.

 

Artist Steve Hickok in front of his Dream Wall piece at Gringo Star.
Artist Steve Hickok in front of his Dream Wall piece at Gringo Star.

Joy isn't the only one with multiple pieces inside Gringo Star, as Arizona native and painter Steve Hickok created more than a half-dozen different murals decorating the walls, including the art featured in either of its restrooms.

The 54-year-old artist, who was born and raised in the Valley before moving to Atlanta in 2005, was on hand for the soft opening on Wednesday and says that a lot of thought, countless cans of spraypaint, and numerous stencils were involved with creating the murals at Gringo Star.

A Steve Hickok stenciled buffalo at Gringo Star, which he says is an homage to his ancestor Wild Bill Hickok.
A Steve Hickok stenciled buffalo at Gringo Star, which he says is an homage to his ancestor Wild Bill Hickok.

Hickok -- who's previous exhibited his paintings at such Arizona art venues as the old Suzanne Brown Gallery in Scottsdale for more than a decade, as well as in such cities as London, New York, Rome, and Seoul -- says it was a change of pace from his previous work.

"I usually do gallery shows and what excited me about this project is that I'm kind of at the point in my life where I want to do art that meets the general public instead of just my hoity-toity gallery pieces," he says. "They wanted a sort of Banksy feel to the art but with southwestern influence, and I wanted to do an international juxtaposition of elements as well."

Steve Hickok's Steer on the Highway at Gringo Star.
Steve Hickok's Steer on the Highway at Gringo Star.

Hickok says there was a definite Banksy influence on his mural Steer on the Highway, which features a male bovine against the backdrop of the Chicago skyline.

"That came from the idea that we're moving so quickly in our technology and cities that we're finding nature in a juxtaposition with civilization," he says.

Other instances of bucolic livestock that Hickok created with stencils and spraypaint are found throughout Gringo Star, including depictions of cattle skulls and buffalo. It's partly because of the quasi-southwestern bent of the place, he explains, as well as a nod to him being a distant descendant of Wild West folk hero and gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok. (Steve says the legendary 19th century figure is his "great great great uncle.")

Steve Hickok's Bloom at Gringo Star.
Steve Hickok's Bloom at Gringo Star.

The intertwined relationship of past and present also plays a role in Steve Hickok's largest mural in Gringo Star, Bloom, featuring two flower-like growths sprouting from a hill contained such stenciled words as "hope" and "love."

"The idea behind Bloom is tied into the circle of life where death breeds life, like in different seasons, leaves fall to the ground and bring nourishment," Hickok says. "And this sort of has some spiritual symbolism involved with the fact there's redemption in all aspects of life."

The stencil and spraypaint work of Tom Stephens at Gringo Star.
The stencil and spraypaint work of Tom Stephens at Gringo Star.

It's kind of heady stuff for a Mill Avenue bar, no? If the usual heavy-duty party monsters that typically flock to downtown Tempe nightlife joint's aren't up for pondering the nature of redemption and rebirth while tying one on, they'll probably be more into Tom Stephens' wall-size spraypaint and stenciled rendition of a B-52 bomber dropping an airlift of parachuting champagne bottles, which is located near the rear bar.

 

Some Gringo Star patrons out on the patio during its soft opening on Wednesday night.
Some Gringo Star patrons out on the patio during its soft opening on Wednesday night.

The local artist also created some cutesy vinyl cutouts of male and female electrical plugs, each of which are adorn the outer doors of Gringo Star's respective bathrooms.

Adjacent to Gringo Star's restrooms are its collection of close to a dozen arcade games and quarter-powered distractions, which includes such famous titles as Ms. Pacman, Galaga, Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting, The Simpsons, and Area 51.

The arcade games of Gringo Star in Tempe.
The arcade games of Gringo Star in Tempe.

Many of such retro games saw plenty of use on Wednesday night, as did the bar's pair of "Beer Ball" skeeball units nearby. Not every game that was originally planned for Gringo Star was in place for the soft opening, however, including a few more regular skeeball games that have yet to be installed.

A pair of Gringo Star patrons play skeeball during Wednesday's soft opening.
A pair of Gringo Star patrons play skeeball during Wednesday's soft opening.

According local restaurateur Julian Wright, one of the many folks behind the scenes at Gringo Star who was on hand for Wednesday's soft opening, its proprietors decided to debut the new arrival despite a few things left on their to-do list.

"Normally I'd rather have another week of preparation before opening, but we ambitiously opened [this week] because of ASU graduation going on. But hey, it's bound to be imperfect, but that's okay," Wright says. "I wouldn't even call [tonight] the opening. The real opening's tomorrow. But so far, so good."

Gringo Star Street Bar's grand opening takes place today. DJ Circle is scheduled to perform at 9 p.m. Admission is free.

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