The Big Fish Pub in Tempe Is Closing on June 30

A local rocker performs onstage at the Big Fish Pub.
A local rocker performs onstage at the Big Fish Pub.

Tempe's increasingly barren live music scene is about to get even more desolate as another landmark venue is about to go out of business.

The Big Fish Pub, the infamous University Drive rock bar that's been featuring local and touring bands for nearly 20 years, will close its doors and unplug its amps for good on June 30.

And the closure is apparently the result of money-related drama between The Big Fish's proprietors and the owners of the Tempe strip mall where it's been located since first opening in the mid-1990s.

On Wednesday, the venue's closing was announced -- more or less -- via a Facebook event page for its final night in business that was posted online and gives a lengthy explanation about why The Big Fish is going belly up.

Essentially, it all boils down to money.

According to essay-length diatribe, which we're fairly certain was written by Big Fish Pub's current owner Victor Boiseau, the owners of the Fort Knox Plaza upped the venue's rent after making a significant exterior renovation to the shopping center's building within the past year. And, apparently, Boiseau couldn't afford the increase.

If you have stopped by the Pub in the past few months, I am sure you have noticed the many improvements to the outside of the building. The property was sold to a greedy businessman who decided that the cosmetic improvements to the exterior of the building commanded a ridiculously elevated rent. We were given an ultimatum to sign a five year lease at two and half times our current rent or to move out. As many of you know, there is not a lot of money in local music and the increase in rent would make it impossible to pay bills. At this point we have exhausted all of our efforts to continue at our current location.

The message also states that Boiseau may possibly move the bar to another location but, sadly, won't keep The Big Fish name.

If we find a new location, it will take a few months to get the doors open. Either way, the Big Fish Pub name will be retired, as it should be. The Pub has been in the same place for decades and to relocate it, changes what it is and what it has been. Who could have guessed, nearly 20 years ago, that a grungy music venue would have survived this long?

New Times was unable to speak with Boiseau for further information about the situation.

In a stroke of tragic synchronicity, Big Fish Pub will close a day after the equally long-running Tempe venue The Sail Inn shuts down its original location.

Shows are booked through the end of the month, with the final performances taking place on Saturday, June 28.

It makes last next weekend a depressing one when it comes to live music in Tempe, a city that was once widely renowned as Arizona's unofficial rock capital and was overflowing with bars and joints where bands were performing night in and night out.

By the end of this month, however, you can pretty much count Tempe's music venues on one hand.  

It's a far cry from when The Big Fish Pub first opened in 1995 by Donny Johnson, the bar's original owner (who now serves as general manager for Lucky Man Concerts), and was one of a slew of rock bars in and around Tempe, including legendary spots along Mill Avenue like Long Wong's and Gibson's, as well as other nearby venues as Boston's, the original Electric Ballroom, Minder Binder's, and Hollywood Alley.

Johnson booked hundreds of notable local rock and pop bands from the last two decades (from Dead Hot Workshop and The Pistoleros to Jimmy Eat World and Authority Zero), as well as hordes of up-and-coming touring acts that would later go on to later fame, such as A Perfect Circle, Sevendust, Eagles of Death Metal, Hoobastank, 30 Seconds to Mars, and both Chester Bennington's first band Grey Daze and later Linkin Park. Even John Mayer performed at the Big Fish in 2001.

Johnson, who owned the bar from 1995 to 2005, told New Times that he was definitely saddened to hear of The Big Fish Pub's imminent closure.

"Man, it's just sad. It's just really sad. That place has hosted so many great concerts," he says. "It was a big part of me for 10 years. There's been so many bands that came through and went on to greatness. I really loved going there; it's still one of my favorite bars to go to. When I go out, I always try to stop by if I'm in the neighborhood and hang out just because I've got so many fond memories there. So my reaction to the news is really sad."

In 2005, Johnson sold Big Fish Pub to an entrepreneur named Mark DeCarlo, who transformed the Big Fish into more of blues/R&B club concept with the occasional hip-hop act that ultimately didn't pan out. Boiseau wound up buying the place in 2008 and restored it to its rock club status, renovated its digs, and upgraded its sound system in an attempt to recapture its former glory.

"I actually tried to bring it back to what the original owner had, which was more of an underground rock scene," Boiseau states in the above YouTube video. Over the past six years or so, it's featured a mix of rock and hip-hop, with an emphasis on metal.

Big Fish, however, sadly never reached the sort grandeur it had back in its glory days, although it wasn't for a lack of trying on Boiseau's part, Johnson says.

"It's hard, hard work to keep a venue going and you're constantly trying to book acts and book shows and find the right bands," Johnson says. "It's a full-time job trying to book that place on top of trying to run it. And Victor really did his best with the bar."

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