Heard a rumor lately about the Ice House Tavern and how it might be closing soon? Yeah, so have we. It turns out, however, that such gossip isn't true, which we confirmed after speaking with owner Daryl Chester.
Well, it used to be true, up until earlier this week, when certain circumstances involving the Thomas Road bar and music venue changed -- specifically, its ownership.
According to Chester, he's currently in the process of selling the Ice House Tavern to the attached Arcadia Ice Arena next door.
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He tells New Times that its new owners plan to keep it going as a tavern, at least for the foreseeable future. Chester, however, is stepping away from the bar that he's been involved with for the past 18 years, including serving as owner and booker since 2006.
"It blows my mind that I've been here for 18 years, which is a long time," he says, "It's a little bittersweet because I bartended there for 10 years before I bought it, and I've owned it for eight. So it's kind of a big era of my life that's coming to an end."
And it potentially could've meant the end of the Ice House Tavern as well. Had his deal with Arcadia Ice, which was brokered earlier this week and is in escrow, fallen through, Chester says he would've closed the place by month's end.
How come? Well, it's because the 51-year-old is trying to dramatically decrease his workload -- which he estimates is upwards of 100 hours per week due to owning both the Ice House and Jester's Billiards in Gilbert -- and increase time with his wife, Kenda, and the rest of their family. It's also the reason he's selling the bar to Arcadia Ice.
"I'm tired," Chester says. "I own two bars and my wife recently got another job that requires her to travel more. And two years ago, she and I adopted two girls and I realized that I'm not being a dad; all I'm doing is working. So, I'm simplifying my life."
As a result, Chester put the Ice House Tavern up for sale in September, in addition to trying to sell some rental properties he owned and stepping down from the executive boards of a few local charities.
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"This all kind of jumped on me recently. The last couple of months is when it all came to a head," he says. "Certain things happen in your life where you realize, 'Hey, I'm missing out on some important things.' And that made me realize I'm being a crappy dad, and that it was time to step up. So I had to choose. Do I be a dad and fulfill that commitment or be a bar owner and booker? And when you look at it that way, you have to choose being a father. You have to choose the right thing."
However, it wasn't an easy choice, he says, given that he's become friends with many of the local musicians and comedians who have performed at the Ice House Tavern over the past eight years.
"It was a very huge struggle for me to decide which bar that I would keep. A huge struggle. I really enjoyed working with the bands and comedians. I've actually made some quality friends that I believe will be lifetime friends," Chester says. "It's also been a good from the business end of it as a revenue stream."
Probably because both music and comedy have been a big part of the Ice House Tavern, which is unique among local bars as it looks out onto the rink at Arcadia Ice.
The bar has been around since the '60s, back when it was a part of the old Tower Plaza Mall and called Fireside Chalet, but has become a haven for bands and comedians since Chester took over in 2006.
A slew of local comics -- such as Sean McCarthy, who hosted the long-running "Sean on Ice" night on Mondays -- have performed inside the bar while rock, punk, indie, and acoustic bands and musicians regularly gigged on Friday and Saturday nights.
Guitarist Dana Stern, who has performed at Ice House Tavern numerous times with punk act JJCnV, says that Chester and his wife have always been good to bands.
"They have always treated us so well and its one if the most unique venues around. Our out of town friends always want to play there, 'cause there's nothing else like it," she says. "Darryl and Kenda have tried really hard to treat bands well and we have always appreciated that. They've been open to any crazy show we have booked and always made us feel welcome."
Guitarist Jim Dustan, another regular at Ice House Tavern with Psycho Square Dance and World Class Thugs says he's surprised to hear of the sale, but can understand the stress involved with owning two bars.
"It has to wear on [you] after a while, lots of pressure week in and week out," he says. "I know Daryl fought the good fight and did some wonderful things while he was the owner."
Chester reiterates the fact that he's heartbroken over his decision to sell the Ice House Tavern, but felt it had to happen.
"As sad as it is, and as much as I've enjoyed and really like the comedians and the people in people in the bands, my family has to be my priority," Chester says.
All that said, however, he told New Times that he's confident that live music and comedy will continue at the bar under its new owners. Chester says that he believes that Arcadia Ice will keep the Ice House Tavern going as a bar. As such, the current plan involves him training a new manager that will be hired to run the place after he leaves.
It's his belief, Chester says, that the bar will "continue on as it always has," including featuring live entertainment. At the very least, he adds, the current slate of shows that are booked at Ice House Tavern through early December will still take place.
"That is that they have led me to understand," he says. "Now, anything could potentially change down the road, but if I were to believe that they weren't going to keep having [shows], I would've called the bands and told them I'm selling the bar and canceled. But I truly believe that those nights will go on, the bands will be able to play there and I think they're going to continue with live music."
We reached out to Arcadia Ice co-owner Andy Mellen to see if that is indeed that case, but he declined to comment on the matter until the deal is finalized.
Chester, however, is hopeful that Ice House Tavern will continue to be a home for music and comedy.
"Its my understanding that they'll run it just like I have. That's what I've been told. So we'll see," he says.
In the meantime, Chester doesn't have any plans to feature live entertainment at Jester's.
"Probably not, just because pool halls don't make sense to be live music venues. Its just a whole different atmosphere," he says. "And you can't be everything to everybody."
Although he admits there's a possibility that he might own another place in the future.
"And it's not to rule out that I may not ever open another bar again, it's just that at this point in time I want to be a dad. And I've got another five or six years to go with my new daughters and then they'll be graduated high school and off on their own and then maybe I'll be looking for something to do then. But for now, I've got to be a dad."
Editor's Note: This blog has been updated since its original publication.
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