Local country music history rests on Main Street in east Mesa.
Seated next to an automotive repair shop, Roosters Country has been one of the Valley’s premier honky-tonks since 1972 — complete with motorcycles parked out front, pool tables, American beer, and zero interior lights.
"The whole bar was black when we bought it," says co-owner Cherié Dunn. "It looked more like a metal bar." Adds husband/co-owner Steve Dunn, "It's like they say, 'A real honky-tonk has no windows.'"
The Dunns bought the bar in 2014 from the original owners, the Luge family. They reopened it just 11 days after entering escrow. Cherié Dunn originally went to school for fashion merchandising but says her dad owned several bars in her native Michigan. In 1999, after finding herself "so sick" of the rat race, she started bartending at another country bar down the road, The Duchess. She'd later buy Roosters after a chance opportunity.
"I've known them since I was in my 20s," she says of Harry Luge and his family. "We were at an event seeing Harry Jr. play, and he just said, 'You should buy the bar.' Steve Dunn adds they insisted on making only minor renovations, adding more lights to make it "nice, and relaxed, and bright, and inviting. It's a whole different generation, but it's still Roosters."
A few lights made all the difference, opening up the bar without impacting the aesthetic. Other changes were similarly superficial, like the row of portraits of country legends or kitschy back patio decorations. But the biggest change of all was the music. Cherié Dunn says while Roosters once featured a roster of house bands, they've worked hard to become a hotspot for the Ameripolitan movement.
"It gets real old," Steve Dunn says of the house-band model. Cherié Dunn describes Ameripolitan as the modern-day progeny of '70s outlaw music, so-called "road warriors" like Tucson's own Drew Cooper, Dallas Moore, and Tommy Townsend operating in the vein of Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard. She adds, "It's this huge family of people, and they all play the same festivals."
The Dunns consider themselves part of this tight-knit group, attending an annual "outlaw cruise" and traveling to gigs in Phoenix and beyond. Part of that commitment is preserving Arizona's outlaw heritage as a counter to the "pop country" that dominates venues like Dierks Bentley's Whiskey Row. But it's also about trying to do something new for all their country brethren.
"We help [artists] get other gigs while they're in town," says Cherié Dunn. "We'd joined this honky-tonk association because we wanted something fresher than just the same six local bands rotating within 60 miles. There was no urgency for someone to come out as they can see him next week here, next week over there."
As such, Roosters has done its part to grow local talent. Case in point: Paul "Tall Paul" Mastin. The Mesa native says he's been going to Roosters for 15-20 years, mostly as a fan, before being persuaded to perform.
"I'm just a father and a husband," he says. "But I performed at home, and a buddy of mine pushed me into going on stage during open mics. Eventually, Cherié started giving me gigs, and it's actually sprung into other things. But I still do Thursdays and sometimes Sundays on the patio."
As he's gotten closer with the Dunns, Mastin now helps out around Roosters however he can.
"If I hear a 100-pound keg pop, I'll run and help," he says. "This is one of the last standing honky-tonks in Arizona, and I'll do anything to keep it open. It's the glue holding this guy together."
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Mastin's attitude rests at the core of Roosters: a drama-free place for people to kick back, have a few
"They leased this building out to a couple of different people a couple of different times [before us]," says Steve Dunn. "Once for a year and a half and then for eight months; they both just flopped. It's gotta be Roosters."
Roosters Country. 3731 East Main Street, Mesa; 480-985-4088; facebook.com/Roosters-Country.
Editor's note: A previous version of this article identified Ameripolitan as countrypolitan.