At the front of the swanky W Hotel, sits Sushi Roku (7277 E. Camelback Rd., 480-970-2121). Soft jazz plays over the speakers while fishing net-style ceiling pieces, wood floors and walls decorated with rope combine to make the place look like an ultra-modern Japanese fishing boat.
Behind the bar is Jake Dean, who, with his scruffy face, spiky dark hair and cool attitude, has the laid-back look of a rock star. As well he should -- Dean has been performing for years, filling venues with the sounds of soulful folk-rock he calls "a cross between Dave Matthews and Pearl Jam -- kind of Black Crows-esque." He's been tending bar at Sushi Roku for more than six months now and performs every Thursday at Roku's upstairs rooftop lounge to a crowd that gets bigger every week. Dean and his band, The Granting, will be heading off on a ten-city tour across the east coast on January 22, so stop in and get him to make a drink for you before he gets famous -- because he's not too shabby at that, either.
How did you get your start in bartending?
I've been bartending for about 10 years. I started out moving my way up through the corporate chain in Nashville -- I started at Ruby Tuesday's. When I came to Arizona, I got a job at Devil's Martini, but they basically do a personnel flush every once in a while, and I was part of one. I saw about three staff turnovers at that place before they finally sent me on my way.
How did you find your way to Roku?
It took a little bit of work. I think I interviewed quite a few times, until it almost got to the point when I was like, "Hey, what's up, Dohl (Roku's bar manager)!" You don't want to sell yourself short on a good opportunity. I came back in again and again to check on my status, and they finally caved. What I wanted at the end of the day was a job I could be happy to work at, promote and take pride in, because there's nothing worse than taking a step back, hating the spot you're in and not wanting to tell anybody about it until you find something better. I also bartend at a couple clubs around town; one of them is Disco. I'll do a couple nights of club bartending, but this is really my home. This is kind of the foundation. I'm actually one of the head bartenders here now, and it's become a great family for me. It's a close-knit group that I take a lot of pride in.
When did you start with music?
I've been doing music for about 10 years as well. I've been touring nationwide for about five or six years, and I'm about to go on a 13-city tour at the end of January. It's one of the perks of this job, to hustle and be able to do the music as well. I do solo stuff, but I have a full band as well. I've been really blessed; we've played about every bar in Scottsdale and Tempe, some in Tucson, Sedona and Flagstaff, and now we're going on this east coast tour.
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I heard you've actually been performing here at Roku as well.
Yeah. This is the first time Sushi Roku has done live music. Dohl and I were brainstorming some fresh ideas to bring in new business and generate a new hot spot for people to come to. They knew from the interview process that I had been performing around town. As these ideas were going around, that maybe we'd get a DJ or some light music, I kind of stuck my hand up. Put me in, coach! I don't know if they really thought I was going to be any good, but it's been growing every week. It's an amazing vibe out there. It's candlelit, it's intimate, it's one of my favorite venues to play, actually.
Your band's name is Jake Dean and the Granting. Where did that name come from?
Oddly enough, in this industry we're always trying to give back our coworkers and guests' it's the same idea. I grew up in love with live music, and there was no better feeling in the world for me than to see my favorite bands play live. It was like this gift. It gives you this feeling that you can't even put a price on. These musicians have spent their lives doing this thing just so you can have the best time of your life. I bought thegranting.com five years ago -- three years before I even had a band! But I knew that was what I wanted to call it. The idea is that the music is like a gift that you give back to the people who helped support you, to give them that night of fun.
It seems like that idea carries over into bartending as well.
It's funny; people will always ask me what the two things I love are, and I'll always say bartending and music. I love talking to people, I love making drinks here because they're interesting and in-depth. I can take a lot of pride in making this intricate drink, and when I hand it to a guest, they're like, "Whoa! That's amazing!" I'm like, yeah, that is pretty cool!
So what happens when you get rich and famous? You going to come back here?
That's right! I'll be a guest bartender. Celebrity night!