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Rodney Hu Expanding Yucca Tap Room, Launching All-Ages Venue

Rodney Hu has some big plans for the Yucca Tap Room. Walking through a vacant restaurant space adjacent to his Tempe bar and music venue, Hu eagerly gestures around the room while describing how he'll transform the place into a funky lounge area.

"There will be a doorway from the Yucca here and booths along the wall there," he says. "The bar is gonna come across this side and we'll have some old school video games probably here, pool tables there, and then my liquor cabinet too."

Currently, the room is a disheveled mess of shattered drywall, lumber scraps, and other remnants of the bygone pizza place Greasers, which closed last month due to a lack of business. Come December, however, the completed space is likely where Yucca's patrons will hang out when the bar gets too crowded or the music too loud. 

Hu continues rattling off all features he's planning for the speakeasy-style joint (which he might end up dubbing "Yucca Next Door"), including a smoking patio, Internet jukebox, closed-circuit TVs broadcasting whatever performance is taking place on Yucca's stage, and plenty of locally-produced artwork.

"I'm getting together with Dumperfoo from Blunt Club and he's gonna help me do the foundation of how the room is gonna look and we'll do a lot of local art stuff," Hu says. "When people talk about the local art, they always mention Phoenix first: Modified, First Fridays, stuff like that. So I told Dumper, 'Let's bring some of the art shit down here.' I don't think Tempe does a good job of supporting local art. I also don't think they do a good enough job of supporting local music."

Which is kinda why Hu's also in the process of creating 23 West, an all-ages music spot located in another vacant space at Danelle Plaza, the shopping center that houses Yucca and has been owned by his family since the '80s. Hu says the venue will be somewhat in the same vein as Neckbeard's (the now-defunct Tempe establishment that hosted underage hardcore and punk bands earlier this decade), featuring soda and other non-alcoholic beverages, as well as a slew of rock and indie shows that any age group can attend. 

Now if he can only keep his neighbors from throwing a monkey wrench in the works.

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There's a groundswell of local backing for 23 West, as evidenced by the cadre of Valley musicians and promoters in attendance at city of Tempe hearing this past Tuesday where Hu was granted a six month conditional use permit for the venue. Some of the notable names in attendance included Modified's Ami Johnson and fiancé Matthew Reveles, Flathead bassist Alex Otto, Luckyman's Will Anderson, Indie Music Phoenix creator Shane Matsumoto, and Dry River Yacht Club vocalist Garnet. (Hu's also partnering with the folks from the Mantooth Group to book plenty of bands after 23 West opens sometime before the end of the year.)

"I want to do a safe all ages venue that doesn't serve alcohol that can support music for all ages and doesn't have to have roped-off areas where everybody feels like they are segregated," he says. "There should be one on this side of town and there isn't. Everybody should be able to come in there, have a good time, feel safe, and listen to some good music."

At the same time, there were also a number of detractors at the meeting who don't want the venue to open, including the owners of a few nearby businesses. Hu claims both Samir Mirza, proprietor of Byblos Mediterranean Restaurant, and Chris Cervantes, who runs adjacent Mexican joint Cervantes Restaurant, are in opposition to 23 West due to such concerns as increased foot and vehicle traffic, potential parking conflicts, or a possible increase in criminal activity. (New Times was unable to reach either party for comment).

While Hu says he's gotten support from some of his neighbors, he doesn't quite understand the naysayers' point of view.

"Some of these business owners are probably a little old school and just don't understand what I am trying to do. In my mind, when you're trying to enhance business in an area, you have to bring energy and foot traffic there. So how is that a negative thing?" he says. "As far as parking, let's be honest here, Danelle Plaza is a concrete jungle of parking spaces. There are so many spaces that are never ever used. [It's an issue] they're making up in their heads."

When it comes to crime concerns, Hu refutes the impression that Danelle Plaza is a hotbed of illegal activity. Said perception was a major issue when he was denied a use permit for 23 West by the city last year. Officials from the Tempe Police Department's Crime Prevention Unit cited the fact there were more than 200 service calls to the plaza in 2007, which was a deciding factor.

He was prepared this time around, however, armed with facts and figures that helped trump the impression that an all-ages venue would result in an increase of crime. The protests of nearby business owners, however, necessitated the provisional status of 23 West's use permit, which will have to be reviewed by city officials every six months. Hu must also meet 14 different conditions prior to opening, such as ending all shows by midnight, submitting a security plan to Tempe P.D., and making sure patrons park in the proper spots.

t's not the only potential obstacle in his path, as Hu figures he might lose money running 23 West after it opens due to it being an alcohol-free establishment.

"It's gonna put me back a little bit, but I can say that I at least tried. It's one of those regrets that I know I'll have in my life that if I don't make an all out effort to do it. I'm not the smartest businessman in town but I at least want to try it," he says.

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