Downtown Phoenix is getting a new live music venue early next year and it's one that should be recognizable to many Valley bands and their fans.
Bygone Tempe rock bar Last Exit is being resurrected by its original proprietor Brannon Kleinlein and will once again host the exploits of local acts and musicians --ranging from rock and indie to Americana and reggae -- after it reopens sometime in March. And here's the kicker: Its new home is the old Ruby Room.
According to Kleinlein, who spoke with Up on the Sun via Facebook chat, the venue will now be known as Last Exit Live and is returning from the dead in order to give both bands and music fans another option for live music in downtown.
Kleinlein says there were many reasons why he wanted to pull a Lazarus with Last Exit, which he originally opened in Tempe back in 2003 but wound up selling six years later. One of which, he explains, was his desire to run a music venue again. He also wasn't happy about the fact that the rock bar closed shortly after he parted ways with it.
"I had hoped the [Last Exit] I built for six years would continue to be successful even after selling the place, so I never really liked the abrupt closing and always wanted to secretly re-establish it as a top venue," he says.
Kleinlein, who's been promoting local concerts independently over the last three years (including the annual Apache Lake Music Festival and gigs at such joints as Rockbar in Scottsdale), also says that he wanted to be his own boss again.
"I basically decided if I was going to continue to work in this line of work and stay in Arizona, then I needed to open my own place again," he says. "It's very tough to work for other owners venues when I did it for myself for so many years."
Unlike Last Exit's original incarnation, which he ran with co-owner Devin Schulte, Kleinlein will be the only one calling the shots this time around. That includes deciding to install a new stage, sound system, sound booth, and load-in doors, as well as sprucing up other aspects of the property that formerly housed the Ruby Room, which closed in 2009.
He's keeping much of the cool décor of the bygone dive lounge and music venue, which is located on Central Avenue just south of downtown, including its antique bar and vintage fixtures. In fact, the old Ruby Room's funky, retro aura was one of the reasons he chose the building.
"The bar is still intact and will basically be the same," he says. "Part of the appeal for me was the cool set up and vibe it had, so I'm hoping to keep a lot of the same feel but with much better show production."
Kleinlein adds that the look of the place will also be a bit of a departure from the almost dorm-room feel of the old Last Exit, which was adorned with rock 'n' roll ephemera and posters of icons like Jim Morrison. He plans on mixing the vibe of the two places into a new entity.
"I liked the lounge feel the old RR had so hope to incorporate some of that into the new [Last Exit]," he says.
In addition to being bequeathed the Ruby Room's vibe and amenities, however, Kleinlein will also inherit its problems.
Despite the fact that Ruby Room was one of the cooler live music joints in Phoenix, it inevitably suffered from being a little out of the way in a dodgy portion of downtown. Plus, it was sometimes difficult for patrons who'd never been there before to locate, given that it had a tiny sign and was perched amid a few confusing one-way streets.
Kleinlein says he will take steps to help counteract such problems, including more visible signage.
"If you remember, the old signage for [the Ruby Room] was on the north side of the building which had no visibility," he says. "There is a bunch of new signage planned for the south end of the building, along with a new parking lot on that side as well."
Better info on how to get to the venue will also be provided when promoting Last Exit Live and its concerts for those eager to beat a path to the front door, including detailed maps and directions from all over the Valley or for light rail riders.
"Having a venue on a one-way street is not a new concept for a major downtown area. The Casbah in San Diego is the best example I could give," Kleinlein says.
"To me, [being] downtown was the best opportunity to open and make a big impact actually. The Crescent Ballroom holds 550 people and is on a whole different level when it comes to booking touring acts so I don't see them as competition. I would never try to compete with them anyways," Kleinlein says. "What I am going for is a small intimate downtown venue that has top notch production and really I don't see any other places downtown that are in the 200-person range and do that."
Last Exit Live is scheduled to open sometime in March. For more details, visit its website.
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