Au revoir, Chez Nous...
The Chez's beauties: Gyana (left); Naima (right); and Amina Uben (center), mother of both.
It's been such a hectic week with the Fourth and all, that I haven't had a chance to blog about the last night at Chez Nous, the 40-plus year-old drinking parlor at Indian School Rd. and 7th Ave. that closed its doors this past Saturday. Fortunately, the Chez's looking to reopen in downtown PHX around the last two weeks of August. I know where it's going to be, but I'm sworn to secrecy by the Chez's beautiful muse/proprietor Amina Uben. So my lips are sealed until the Chez's ready to make its big announcement.
Last Saturday was a blast, as you might imagine, a bittersweet blowout blessed with the knowledge that the transition might in the end be a good thing for Chez fans. The new spot will be bigger, closer to the heart of the city, and will be owned outright by Uben and her family, which means no dumb Brit supermarket chain will ever be able to make this epicenter of cool relocate again.
Uben played hostess as her alluring daughters Naima and Gyana tended bar, helping patrons drain as much of the alcohol on the premises as possible before close. By the end of the night, the beer was all gone, and the liquor shelves had been seriously depleted. But there were still plenty of bottles left, and when Naima and Gyana ran out of something, they improvised. At one point, they made me a delicious coconutty potion that nearly blew my BVDs off it was so strong, even when chased with a big Diet Coke on ice.
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Phoenix band Soul Power belted out bumpin' covers of Motown classics, as well as hits from James Brown, The O'Jays, Lou Rawls, Prince, and others. You couldn't have picked a better act for the Chez's farewell.
Streamers and balloons were strung across the ceiling, as if New Year's Eve. Indeed, the whole night had a sort of New Year's Eve feel, minus the countdown and the crazy hats. I spotted professional man-about-town, Senor Gatsby, and he reminisced about making the scene at the Chez back in the day and how the Chez revival began after that indie flick Swingers hit it big at the box office. I also said hello to DJ Al Page, who had come over from his wildly popular evening at Hidden House called "The Shop" to bid the Chez adieu. New school paying respect to old school. I like that.
On the dance floor, I bumped into Robert Sentinery, publisher of Java magazine, grindin' to the beat with a chestnut-skinned honey. And when I stepped outside for some air, I struck up a confab with this German chick Erika, who was hangin' with this cat Walter Nicholson. Erika said she was from near Cologne, Germany, but that she's made the PHX her home for some time now.
"It’s the atmosphere," she answered, when asked what makes the Chez special. "So many places, even with live bands, are stiff, pretentious. Here you meet all kinds of people."
"I like the fact that it’s multiracial," offered Nicholson, who hit on one of the aspects of the club that I love."Everybody gets along. I think everybody's finally coming to the conclusion that everybody’s just people. That other stuff is just tired."
I guess one of the many reasons the Chez is dear to me is that it reminds me of growing up in the mid-to-late '70s, when it seemed Americans of all races were making an effort to get along with each other socially. There was a lot of positive interaction amongst black, white and brown. I'm probably romanticizing it, but there's truth to what I say beyond my rose-tinted rearview mirror. Visiting the Chez always heartened me, and made me hope those days weren't gone forever.
At the end of the eve, the crowd gone, and the Chez hushed, Uben, her daughters, and the remaining employees came outside with all of the helium filled balloons in the club, releasing them into the nighttime sky. It was as if the spirit of the Chez was floating away. And funny enough, the lot of them seemed to be floating swiftly in the direction of the Chez's new home.
RELATED: Lights out at Chez Nous.
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