Change, as they say, is inevitable. And in Phoenix’s live music and nightlife scenes, it’s practically a fact of life.
Every single year will always include any number of both arrivals and departures of venues and clubs as places open to much fanfare or regrettably close their doors. Such was the case with 2015, which included the debut of two popular and significant music venues to the Phoenix scene (Valley Bar and The Rebel Lounge) and the shuttering of several beloved bars.
Here’s a look back at the venue and nightspot comings and goings of the past year.
The Openings of 2015:
Local concert guru Charlie Levy added another feather to his cap and furthered the resurgence of the downtown Phoenix music landscape when he opened underground bar and venue Valley Bar in May. The 8,000 square-foot space will include a stage for performances, a billiards room with games like pool and pinball, a kitchen run by Short Leash hot dogs, and a separate lounge called the "Rose Room" named for onetime Arizona Governor Rose Mofford. And just like Levy’s other venue Crescent Ballroom, Valley Bar quickly became a hotspot for both live music and nightlife.
The Rebel Lounge
The spot that once housed legendary Phoenix rock joint The Mason Jar got a stylish transformation when it became The Rebel Lounge last May and once again hosted live music. Local indie concert promoter Stephen Chilton (a.k.a. Psyko Steve) and a few partners were behind the reboot and purchased the building, which is located at Indian School Road and 23rd Street, from its longtime owner Franco Gagliano in late 2014. And one of the reasons they chose the property was due to is iconic stint as The Mason Jar. "Everybody in Phoenix is a little sentimental [about the] place,” Chilton told us last year. That said, The Rebel Lounge’s proprietors have been busy since it opened establishing a legacy of its own, including hosting great shows of the punk, metal, indie, and hard rock variety.
It was a bit of a tumultuous year for this 3,500-square-foot danceteria in downtown Phoenix. It opened to much fanfare in early July and added another lively spot to Washington Street’s already busy strip of nightclubs and bars. Less than a month later, Luxx was shuttered, albeit temporarily, as a part of an investigation by the Phoenix Police Department into illegal liquor sales. The situation was resolved during the fall, however, allowing Luxx to reopen in October.
Dierks Bentley's namesake bar chain Whiskey Row opened its second location in downtown Tempe last September and started giving the Mill Avenue scene a taste of old-fashioned country comforts. Like its sister spot in Scottsdale, the combination honky-tonk, down-home restaurant, whiskey joint, and country music haven offers a similar vibe, food and drink selection, and upscale rustic bent, as well as nights filled with live bands and DJs who help keep things moving on its large dance floor.
Fans of the old Big Bang in Tempe were likely jazzed when Low Key, a similarly themed dueling piano bar, opened in the same location along Mill Avenue in February 2015. As we reported at the time, the owners of the property decided to bring back the pianos and the nightly rock and pop revues to the basement bar (and give it a new name in the process) after nightclub RCK CTY, which replaced the Big Bang in 2014, was kind of a bust. It was a wise choice, since Low Key has brought in a slew of people eager to engage in rowdy and raucous sing-alongs as the pianists perform.
The Closings of 2015:
Phoenix's LGBT scene lost one of its landmark bars over the summer when the esteemed Apollo's Lounge on Seventh Avenue closed its doors in August after more than three decades in operation. The spot, which was the oldest continually operated gay bar in the Valley, had a long and storied history stretching back to 1967 when it first opened as Mr. Fat Fingers and later transforming into Tommy and Clyde's. In 1984, the place became Apollo's Lounge and was a mainstay of the LGBT community, especially after being taken over two decades later by its most recent proprietors Ron Lindblad and Lee Revelle. Like many other iconic nightspots around the Valley, however, Apollo's was a victim of progress when the property was purchased by developers.
The Scottsdale nightspot, which launched in late 2014 by local nightlife impresarios Jonathan Wechsler and G.R. Boone just south of Camelback Road along Indian Plaza, quietly closed its doors in December after about a year in operation. A darkened den of dance with neo-industrial décor, a retinue of go-go girls (dubbed “BLUR Bombshells”) typically dressed in satin and leather, and had an emphasis on big beats via its Dynacord sound system. In addition to featuring a slew of DJs during its yearlong lifespan (including onetime Beastie Boys turntablist Mixmaster Mike), BLUR also played host to Beacher’s Madhouse, one of the nuttiest nightlife events we’ve ever witnessed, during Super Bowl Weekend in January.
Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar
Both locations of Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar, which were part of the once-nationwide chain of country music-themed hybrid bar/restaurant/performance venues endorsed by the chart-topping superstar, headed for the last roundup in 2015. The one in Peoria was the first to go, closing in early July, followed by the North Phoenix version at the High Street retail center, which vamoosed a few months later in September. Other Toby Keith spots across the country suffered the same fate over the last couple of years, reportedly due to a variety of financial woes.
Dos Gringos Scottsdale
The long-running Scottsdale version of Dos Gringos served up its last cerveza towards the end of 2015 after the colorful Mexican-themed bar and cantina, a mainstay of Old Town’s nightlife scene since the mid-‘90s, closed its doors in November after being sold to new owners. According to a spokesperson from the Dos Gringos chain, which still operates three locations in the East Valley, the property was remodeled and (slightly) rebranded to become the similarly themed Old Town Gringos.
Buffalo Chip Saloon
One of the Valley’s most iconic country bars, which dated back to 1961, became a pile of smoldering rubble and debris after it was destroyed by a devastating fire on Thanksgiving Day. The Buffalo Chip Saloon in Cave Creek — a spot that was big on country kitsch and offered live music and dancing inside, as well as bull-riding in its outdoor corral — burned to the ground due to what local authorities suspect was arson. (The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is reportedly still investigating the matter.) No one was seriously injured in the fire and Buffalo Chip owner Larry Wendt reportedly is planning to rebuild the joint to exactly like it was before the blaze.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.