Steel Horse Saloon Is in Danger of Closing at the End of the Month

Christopher Montano of rock band Absolute Threshold performs at Steel Horse Saloon in 2018.
Christopher Montano of rock band Absolute Threshold performs at Steel Horse Saloon in 2018. Shelby James Photography
click to enlarge Christopher Montano of rock band Absolute Threshold performs at Steel Horse Saloon in 2018. - SHELBY JAMES PHOTOGRAPHY
Christopher Montano of rock band Absolute Threshold performs at Steel Horse Saloon in 2018.
A popular Valley biker bar and rock venue might end up crashing and burning by month’s end unless it raises enough money to survive.

North Phoenix’s Steel Horse Saloon, which has been a destination for local drinkers, musicians, and hawg-lovers for three decades, is in danger of closing on May 31 due to financial hardship caused by the pandemic.

Owner Rick Cortez says a two-month shutdown because of COVID-19 drained the bar’s bank account and “made it very likely that we’ll go out of business in the next couple weeks.” He’s hoping a one-night benefit on May 30 and some potential new investors might save Steel Horse Saloon.

“There’s a slim possibility of being able to stay open by some other means,” Cortez says. “We're hoping to get enough money to get us through, but you can never count on that for sure.”

Like other local bars and restaurants, Steel Horse Saloon, which is located near 19th Avenue and Bell Road, went dark in mid-March except for to-go orders. Cortez says its bottom line was devastated.

Since opening in 1990, Steel Horse Saloon has been a go-to spot for motorcycle lovers and music fans. Every April, its annual Trifecta party (named for its mix of “bikes, bands, and babes”) draws thousands and serves as a kick-off for Arizona Bike Week. Multiple gigs each week by a variety of local rock and blues bands – including such favorites as Friendly Jesture, Krimson Chord, and Pat Roberts and the Heymakers – tend to pack the spot.

Without such revenue sources, Cortez says Steel Horse was sunk.

click to enlarge Inside Steel Horse Saloon in north Phoenix. - NEW TIMES ARCHIVES
Inside Steel Horse Saloon in north Phoenix.
New Times Archives
“Our income was down to nil. We served food and drinks to go and tried drive-in movies outside for customers, which all helped, but it hasn’t been enough,” he says. “It wasn’t like having one of our regular Friday or Saturday nights with bands or our weekly dart leagues or pool leagues that fill the place up. It was just too big of a hit.”

On May 2, On May 2, Cortez (a longtime regular who purchased the bar in 2013) announced plans to close Steel Horse Saloon at the end of the month. The news got more than 300 comments on Facebook, ranging from heartfelt tributes to offers of organizing fundraisers, causing him to reconsider. (He also was contacted by several potential investors this week.)

“I never expected this kind of reaction when I posted [the news],” Cortez says. “It’s just been overwhelming, all these different stories from people; I've cried my eyes out. This place has been a part of my life for years. I realized I’ve spent too many long hours trying to make everything work and just couldn’t walk away yet.”

While he’s cautiously optimistic that the fundraiser on May 31 – which will feature games, raffles, a bike wash, and performances by bands like Backstage Crew and Unchained – could help save the Steel Horse, he admits nothing’s guaranteed.

“It's not 100 percent certain that we’re closing yet but everyone’s going to help try and save the place,” Cortez says.

Steel Horse Saloon Fundraiser. With Vintage Rocket Band, Unchained, Dirrect Connection, Backstage Crew, Big Daddy D, and more. 7 a.m. to 2 a.m., Saturday, May 30. Steel Horse Saloon, 1818 West Bell Road, Phoenix, 602-942-8778.
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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.