After The Big Bang in Tempe makes its big swan song this weekend, the Mill Avenue space that houses the beloved piano joint isn't going to stay dark for very long. As a matter of fact, property co-owner Austin Walter says that work will start very soon after The Big Bang's closure to transform the basement-level bar into its new identity, RCK CTY, a drinkery and music that will retain a bit of the spirit and sound of its predecessor.
And in case the vowelless name for the spot is causing any consternation, Walter says it's properly pronounced "rock city," which should also spell out its musical bent.
"We're definitely going to have live music at RCK CTY," he says. "We're still keeping the stage but are renovating and totally changing concepts and the name."
That's right, Tempe isn't actually going to lose a live music venue, at least not for long.
While there isn't an exact schedule in place, Walter says the goal is to have RCK CTY open by the early fall.
As such, the renovation process will begin as soon as possible, Walter says, and will include new lighting, video, and sound systems, as well as cosmetic upgrades, a DJ booth, and improved seating like U-shaped booth being installed in all of space's secluded nooks. On the non-music end, a full kitchen will also be added and an entirely new menu is being planned.
"We're going really use it to its full potential. It's going to be done really tastefully and very nice," he says.
Walter claims that all of the improvements were "badly needed" to the property, which he and his father purchased earlier this year from the Tennessee-based Big Bang chain, due to a lack of cash flow by its former owners. While adored by thousands in the decade since it opened, The Big Bang in Tempe had apparently fallen on hard times in recent years.
"It was no secret that [Big Bang] wasn't doing very well," Walter says. "We're definitely getting started on upgrading and putting money into the place, which needed a complete overhaul," he says. "We're definitely upgrading and putting in money that, unfortunately, they weren't able to do. The place needs a complete overhaul and needs a lot of money and capital and we were fortunate to be able to come in and do that."
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But even with the new name and look, a portion of the Big Bang's vibe will remain. Walter says that rock 'n' roll dueling pianos will still be featured every Tuesday night, but will be just one part of RCK CTY's music offerings, which will also tentatively include karaoke with live musicians on Wednesday and different DJs during other evenings.
Besides its nightly dueling pianos, local bands occasionally had a home on the Big Bang's stage and Walter plans to make such performances a weekly occurrence every Thursday. (There's also the possibility of featuring bands on other nights at some point in the future.)
"Everything's not set in stone yet because we still have a lot of stuff we're doing and its kind of on the back burner as far as a set schedule," Walter says. "We have some different ideas of what to do with the place, like getting different bands down here, but Thursday nights are going to be our live music nights for now."
And he's definitely up for any sort of local groups paying a visit to RCK CTY for a performance, including regulars at such nearby venues as Yucca Tap Room, C.A.S.A. Sunba, and Tempe Tavern. Walter adds that he's already contacted a few bands and local promoters.
"I'm going to reach out to anyone who is interested. I'll listen and I'll approach some, and obviously once the word is out, people will approach us as well. I mean, I'll sit down with anyone and entertain the idea of booking them," Walter says. "If they have a following and we have an agreement, there's no reason that we can't get [a band] some of that in here because, ultimately, it's a multi-function entertainment venue."
"If people are like, 'You can't do the live music anymore,' then my response is, 'Well, we're going to do it, but we're going to do everything else too -- dueling pianos, live karaoke, and bands,'" he says. "So its a cool name, live music, rock 'n' roll, and a lot of fun."
UPDATE: Walter says that RCK CTY will seek all manner of staff (including bartenders, bottle servers, door staff, cocktail slingers, barbacks) via a "casting call" from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday, September 11, at the venue. More details can be found online.
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