Phoenix Music Venue The Lunchbox Is Likely Gone for Good

The Lunchbox's sign prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Lunchbox's sign prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Benjamin Leatherman
At a time when concert spots across the Valley have begun hosting shows again, one notable local venue remains dormant — and unlikely to return.

The Lunchbox, the small east Phoenix DIY/underground venue situated in a strip mall near 40th Street and McDowell Road, has been closed for more than a year. Owner Danny Levie says it's “most likely done” as a functioning live music spot.

“I think the Lunchbox, at least the name and location, is probably gone,” Levie says. “At the very least, it's going to be on hold for a long time, if not completely done.”

The venue has struggled financially over the past five years, but Levie says COVID-19 dealt it a crippling blow. According to Levie, The Lunchbox last hosted a show in March 2020 before the pandemic caused its shutdown. Like other local venues, it attempted to make ends meet, selling beer and wine to go.

click to enlarge The Lunchbox space is now occupied by Levie's print shop. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
The Lunchbox space is now occupied by Levie's print shop.
Benjamin Leatherman
A month or two into the pandemic, Levie moved his small print shop, LBX Printing & Design, which was located a few doors away in the same strip mall, into The Lunchbox's space.

“It just made sense [to consolidate] everything into one space,” he says. “People were still coming and picking up [beer and wine] to go, but after a couple of months, I decided to move everything in here, and we're now a full-service print shop.”

Levie tells Phoenix New Times there’s still “a small chance” that The Lunchbox may live again. He’s also considering opening another DIY/underground venue in the future.

“We're talking with some friends and hopefully in the future, we're going to try to do something else,” Levie says. “But right now, I'm focusing on building one business at a time.”

The Lunchbox started out in 2016 as a tiny BYOB space off 16th Street and Catalina Drive where Levie could record local bands and put on shows. Operating as an underground spot without permits, complaints from neighbors and intervention by city of Phoenix officials forced its eventual shutdown a few months later.

After securing some “low-key” investors, Levie moved The Lunchbox to its most recent strip mall location on 40th Street and McDowell Road in 2017, later acquiring a Series 6 liquor license to serve beer and wine. (He also taught himself screen-printing to supplement his income and eventually opened the print shop.)

Willetta during an undated show at Lunchbox. - RIS MAREK
Willetta during an undated show at Lunchbox.
Ris Marek
The Lunchbox became one of the Valley’s leading underground music venues, a thriving spot that hosted a mix of indie, experimental, avant-garde, punk, and noise shows, as well as an eclectic collection of DJ nights ranging from industrial to junglist.

But Levie accumulated significant debts operating the venue. “You just need a lot of money for that first two years before you're making money,” he told New Times in 2019. The Lunchbox came perilously close to closing a few different times in 2018 and 2019, but found salvation through benefit shows and new investors.

“It was such a great place and we were so close to actually making it work, but it just wasn’t sustainable after COVID,” Levie says. “There's no way that we would've made it. And after all that, I was just so tired of going up and down that I just needed a break.”
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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.