For the past decade or so, the unique-looking logo of Tempe live music venue The Sail Inn has depicted a jaunty little schooner gliding off into the sunset. And, in a cruel twist of irony, it's appropriately symbolic of what's about to happen to the popular dive bar and rock haven.
Gina Lombardi, longtime owner of The Sail Inn, has revealed to New Times that the venue will be closing at the end of June after more than 20 years of serving as a go-to venue for the Tempe music scene.
"My heart is bleeding about it," she says. "I've been really trying to keep my chin up and say to myself, 'We've had a really good run.' But inside, I'm saying to myself, 'This is my baby. I've put so much of myself into here.'"
Lombardi says that The Sail Inn will shutter on June 29 due to the new property owner, who purchased the 1.34-acre parcel and the building itself last year, wanting to redevelop the land. According to the City of Tempe's website, it will eventually host multiple restaurants (possibly either new locations of Culinary Dropout and/or The Lodge), as well as a coffee shop, fitness studio, and retail space.
"Big developers have taken over the Sail Inn and it's going to become a restaurant," she says. "If the developers hadn't bought it, The Sail Inn would keep on rolling."
The Sail Inn's impending closure, which will take place on June 29, will serve as the closing chapter in the venue's long, colorful, and unusual history. Lombardi originally opened the bar, which is located along Farmer Avenue a few blocks west of downtown Tempe, back in 1990 when the property was known as Last Chance Lounge.
She ran it for 15 years and hosted thousands of local and touring bands, particularly those of the rock, pop and jam band variety. While Grateful Dead tribute act The Noodles were practically synonymous with The Sail Inn, as they held weekly jam sessions at the bar on Sunday afternoon, it also regularly featured recognizable names from the Tempe music scene from 1990 onwards.
Lombardi wound up selling the property for $1.5 million in 2006 to a local investor, who remodeled it into a gaudy nightclub called Trax. It didn't last long, closing in 2008, which opened the door for her to revive The Sail Inn in 2009.
"Trax failed miserably and since I loved the old Sail Inn so much, I leased it and brought it back."
And it once again became a preferred destination for Tempe bands and musicians.
"The Noodles have been a mainstay at The Sail Inn, but so has The Sugar Thieves, Black Carl, Dry River Yacht Club, Banana Gun, Japhy's Descent, Future Loves Past," Lombardi says. "These are all what I call Sail Inn bands and together we've thrown some big parties. I've always believed in throwing the best party you can, every weekend."
Lombardi admits she's a fan of most of the bands that have played The Sail Inn over the decades.
"I literally handpicked every band I booked. I listen to every one of them, I know them, and if I don't like it, then I don't book it," Lombardi says. "That's why you hasn't been a lot of heavy metal or rap here. It doesn't matter if a thousands fans want to come out and hear it. So that's guaranteed that if you come to the Sail Inn you're going to hear something good."
Dry River Yacht Club drummer Henri Benard says that he and the rest of the band were "pretty bummed" when they heard news.
"It's pretty sad to see it close. We've played I don't know how many shows at The Sail Inn. We've released three records there. We've had some of our better shows there," he says. "Gina took a little chance on us, helped us build our following."
He adds that Sail Inn's closing is also a big loss for both local bands and the Tempe music scene in general.
"To see that place go is just rough, especially for the community of Tempe. I mean, it's just like Tempe is running out of good venues. It's just a shame," Benard says. "Where are peeps gonna go? Where are they gonna get music? Where are bands going to play when they come through to Tempe. I think this is going to hurt Tempe."
Lombardi, ever the booster for local music, plans on doing her part to help keep stoking the Tempe scene. After the Sail Inn fades into the sunset this summer, the 53-year-old says that she will continue to be an "entertainment coordinator" and show promoter at Tempe bars and music venues, although she declined to specify which ones.
"I could retire if I wanted to. I'm really happy to start slowing down, but I don't want to retire quite yet," she says. "My horses don't want to be ridden every day. And you could only remodel your house so many times. And so I have way too much energy to retire. "
While Lombardi doesn't rule out the possibility of someday opening or running another rock bar or music venue -- like when she helped run bygone Tempe spot The Loft during the three-year period when The Sail Inn was defunct -- she admits that it won't be a recreation of her most famous spot, however.
"I don't think it can be repeated. No matter how hard I try, The Sail Inn is a different animal, you know. It's just very hard to repeat something like that. It has a once-in-a-lifetime vibe there in my mind. But in the end, most of the customers, I think will follow me to my next adventure," Lombardi says. "And I'm going to find the closest thing I can that has the feeling of The Sail Inn and keep the music alive as long as I can in Tempe, because Tempe needs the live music scene."
Lombardi plans on throwing some big parties to send off The Sail Inn, including an enormous blowout on June 29 that will feature many regulars, including The Noodles.
"The calendar is so solidly booked right now that every show from now until closing is going to be pretty big," she says. "And how apropos to go out with The Noodles, who have been with me for 20 years. The Noodles were there at the start of the Sail Inn and The Noodles will be there at the end."
Editor's note: This post has been modified from its original version.
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