Long-running midtown Phoenix bar and music venue Char’s is set to reopen sometime this fall, though it will undergo a variety of changes and have more than just the blues.
Co-owner David Cameron tells Phoenix New Times that the 2,245-square-foot business along Seventh Avenue south of Camelback Road, which operated as R&B/soul/funk juke joint Char’s Has the Blues for 35 years, is getting a renovated interior, as well as a new outdoor patio space and neighboring building with a food and beverage concept offering walk-up service and pizza and coffee on the menu.
He’s hoping to open Char’s at the end of September, with the outdoor patio debuting in early 2022.
According to Cameron, the exterior of the property, a former residence built in 1944, will remain largely the same (save for being cleaned up and possibly getting a new coat of paint) while the interior will keep “a few key elements” and from its previous stint as an R&B spot, including its signature parquet dance floor.
“We’re morphing it into something different that we hope both the neighborhood and community will enjoy. It will still feel like Char's from the outside, but when you walk in, a lot will be updated with new fixtures and finishes we’re bringing in,” Cameron says. “We kept the dance floor, since it very unique to the space, and other parts of Char’s old decor that we intend to distribute throughout [the interior].”
Cameron says the business will also get a slightly new name, owing to the fact it will feature a wider variety of local musicians and not just blues and R&B artists. (It will retain the “Char’s” part of its moniker, though.)
“We're not coming back as Char's Has the Blues; we're coming back as maybe ‘Char's Live Music Bar’ or something similar,” he says. “We'll have an opportunity to test different types of music along with blues and jazz, and see what the community wants in terms of entertainment; something like bluegrass, acoustic rock, or reggae.”
Char’s served as a hub for the Valley’s R&B scene dating back to 1985. Owned by local businessman Peter Chedid, it regularly featured soul, funk, jazz, and blues from performers like Laydee Jai, Larry Bailey, and Soul Power.
In recent years, it offered shows seven nights a week up until its closure in March 2020 during the early days of the pandemic. (It went up for sale a few months later and was purchased by Cameron and business partner Peter Valleau, a San Diego-based real estate broker, in November 2020.)
Cameron says he’s open to bringing in many of the same musicians and bands who played Char’s during its 35-year run.
“We’re going to engage with them and, ideally, we’ll continue to showcase R&B and jazz, because it was a staple of Char’s, and we're not going to take that away,” he says.
Most performances will take place inside with occasional gigs taking place within Char’s new outdoor patio behind the main building. Cameron says it will be similar to the patio at nearby Seventh Avenue bar Thunderbird Lounge and offer an “urban garden/lounge-type vibe” and include seating, an additional bar, and a large wall along the exterior to keep the ambient noise level down.
“We know we can have music outside until 10:30 p.m. at a certain decibel level,” Cameron says. “It might be either music from the indoor performances being piped out to the patio or an outdoor live performance from time to time.”
Walk-up food and beverage service will be available at an adjacent 1,100-square-foot building on Coolidge Street next door to Char’s that is also being renovated. According to Cameron, fast-casual options like pizza, breakfast sandwiches, and coffee will be sold.
Cameron says all of the changes they’re making to Char’s were “very much needed,” both to repair “significant issues” with the building’s infrastructure and to keep it commercially viable as a nightspot.
“There was so much neglect with the plumbing, electrical systems, and [flooring] over the years that needed to be fixed,” Cameron says. “We realized it would involve a complete renovation, but we see it as investing in a significant and historic part of the neighborhood and Phoenix culture.”
When it comes to diversifying Char’s music offerings, Cameron says it's necessary in order to stand out amid the Valley’s glut of competing bars and music venues.
“It's difficult to formulate a modern business plan where we have one genre of music. I think if Char's is going to be successful in the next 20 to 30 years, it has to have a variety. We want to honor its legacy, but also cultivate an atmosphere where anything can be played,” he says. “We’re making it a place where anyone can come in for a cocktail and enjoy a performance of all kinds of music."
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