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ODD COMBINATIONTHE IMPROBABLE STORY OF NITA'S HIDEAWAY, THE VALLEY'S NEWEST MODERN MUSIC VENUE

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Growing up in New Orleans made it easy for Levy to develop a keen interest in live music, even as a young teenager. "New Orleans is different than anywhere else because we were 13 when we started to go to bars. Around here, every high school has their McDonald's or something. In New Orleans, every high school had their own bar. We had the Boston Street Pub, where we'd see the Neville Brothers and Dr. John."

When Levy started calling around to area bands, his experience booking shows for Evening Star and ASU enabled him to quickly attract A-list acts. "It wasn't like Joe Blow calling. They knew I wouldn't stiff them for the money, and that I wouldn't have a PA system worth 100 dollars or a karaoke machine."

As to why bands who regularly do shows at large venues play Nita's, Levy says, "It's a small place. They can't make a lot of money, but it's a fun place to play. I can get big bands like Satellite and One, who would usually never play together, and they're like, 'Let's have a fun night. It's a Wednesday, what else do we have to do?'"

Another reason local acts are drawn to Nita's is the sound. A minimal sound board, much like the one found at Long Wong's, sits onstage. A simple, short sound check will usually suffice, and with the bar's generous amount of carpet and paneling, acoustics are excellent. The sound stays hot, without echoing, sounding tinny or going flat.

"Everybody sounds good at Nita's," says Russell Sepulveda, front man for the Grievious Angels. Sepulveda and crew have played Nita's every week since it opened, either as the Angels or the band's alter ego, Ned Beatty and the Inbreds. The first time Sepulveda's band played Nita's, the musicians came in to do a sound check early in the evening, inadvertently getting the attention of the regulars. The Inbreds' bluegrass stylings appealed to the patrons, who began howling out requests. Sepulveda tried to explain that they were only getting the sound levels right for a gig later that night, to no avail. "This guy Hank walks up and drops a $50 bill in my guitar case and requests some Hank Sr. songs," Sepulveda says. "People are screaming songs at us and we realized that we were going straight from sound check to playing."
At one point, Hank joined the Inbreds onstage to play spoons and sing back-up. When the band took a break, he entertained the crowd by doing Hank Williams Sr. songs on Sepulveda's guitar.

Some of Nita's longtime regulars are suffering from territorial culture shock, but the owner says most of them never stayed later than nine at night, anyway. Like many pubs in England, Nita's is now home to two distinct crowds that are as different as, well, night and day.

Going on 70 years old, Walt McGraw is the bar's official mascot. He goes to Nita's almost every morning when it opens at 9 a.m. "'Cause I live right down the street. It's the closest bar to me." Asked about the music, McGraw simply says, "Past my bedtime."

Nita herself was initially suspicious of bringing "the music crowd" into her bar. "When it first started," Levy says, "Nita was kinda worried that we were gonna have fights, that kids would be unruly, but I was like, 'No, people are pretty mellow, good people.'" Unassured, Nita checked out an early version of the nighttime shenanigans. The Chimeras were playing, and she was pleasantly surprised, if a little disappointed. "My boyfriend and I, we wanted to dance, and nobody's up there dancin'! They just sit and listen and watch. When I hear good music, I want to dance to it!" Nevertheless, her worries about belligerent youth were assuaged, and so far there's been little trouble.

Of course, to every rule there's an exception. A few weeks back, a drunken patron and his female accomplice made off with Nita's treasured stool, slid past the doorman and sped off into the Tempe night. Nita was distraught when she discovered the theft the next day, but a potentially disastrous rift in her relationship with the Tempe music crowd was averted when the stool mysteriously reappeared less than 24 hours after it was stolen.

While Nita's bears little physical resemblance to the defunct Sun Club, references to the former Tempe staple are inevitable because of the burgeoning number of modern music fans who've discovered in Nita's Hideaway a new nucleus for their community--a casual meeting place with a good sound system, relatively cheap drinks and (unlike the Sun Club) pool cues that actually have tips. "They ain't much to it," says Levy. "It's a bar. It has music. People come to it, people drink, they have a good time."

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Jonathan Bond