True to form, the company’s latest project, the soon-to-open retro lounge The Womack, is also taking its cues from the past, particularly from one of Phoenix’s most legendary cocktail joints.
More specifically, the famed Chez Nous.
Woodbury says The Womack, which will open in late August along Seventh Street near Bethany Home Road, aims to recapture the swanky spirit of Phoenix’s cocktail lounges of yesteryear as well as recreate the vibe and ambiance of the old Chez Nous.
A fixture of Phoenix nightlife for 44 years, the bygone lounge was the epitome of old-school cool, where the lights were kept low, R&B acts and soul artists were the norm, and its deep vinyl booths and tiny dance floor were constantly occupied.
Steeped in '60s style, Chez Nous' original location at Seventh Avenue and Indian School Road was unique among local nightspots and earned a devoted and diverse following for decades, ranging from R&B devotees and scenesters to power brokers and daydrinkers. These same cats were devastated when the lounge was demolished in 2007 to make way for a grocery store and are probably still mourning its loss to this day.
Woodbury hopes many Chez Nous fans will embrace The Womack, especially since it pays homage to the bygone lounge by replicating its layout and look. The name itself is a reference to Chez Nous' original owners, Andy and Maureen Womack.
“There are a lot of people kicking around the Valley who went to Chez Nous. It was such a beloved and iconic place from a different era," Woodbury says. "And for us, we'd love to celebrate that and resurrect some of Phoenix's old history and are trying to recreate it with the Womack."
So why did Genuine Concepts decide to create an homage to Chez Nous? According to Woodbury, it had a lot to do with the history of the particular building that will house the project, which was built as a lounge back in the 1960s by the Womacks a few years after they opened Chez Nous. In fact, it was almost identical to its sister spot.
"This building was one of three lounges that the Womacks opened in the '60s along with Chez Nous and the old Copper Queen,” Woodbury says. “They all had the same footprint, the same layout, and the exact same dimensions.”
The property was sold by the Womacks in the 1970s and became a series of gay bars over the ensuing decades, including its 30-year stint as Apollo’s Lounge. When the building became available last summer, Woodbury says they leapt at the chance to purchase it.
“We were trying to figure out what to do with it. Should we do something in the vein of a neighborhood bar or a Little Woody or Linger Longer Lounge or that kind of thing,” he says. “After talking about it, we went, ‘Why don't we do an homage to Chez Nous?’ So that was the impetus behind it.”
According to Woodbury, almost everything about The Womack will be an homage to Chez Nous, right down to the black and gold flocked wallpaper. The 1,500 square-foot building, which housed longtime local gay bar Apollo’s Lounge up until its closure last summer, will also boast vintage-inspired fixtures, tuck and roll-style vinyl booths, and a similar-looking bar. More importantly, the interior will be dimly lighted in order to offer the same sort of shadowy ambience as Chez Nous.
“There are no windows in the place whatsoever,” Woodbury says, “So it will be dimly lit, sexy, and very cool.”
A small parquet dance floor will be available for those eager to cut a rug during performances by musicians and bands of the funk, soul, and R&B persuasion, including such Chez Nous regulars as Roscoe Taylor and Jimmy McElroy.
"They're going to be doing all the R&B, funk, and soul and all the danceable stuff they used to play at Chez Nous back when,” Woodbury says. “So it's kind of a homecoming for them as well.”
Old-school sounds will also fill the place even when there aren’t any performers in the house, thanks to the playlists put together by Woodbury and DJ Dana Armstrong of Valley Fever fame that favor retro tunes of the groovy variety.
“Dana and I have worked hard on curating playlists that are like vintage cocktail jazz and samba, old R&B, funk, and soul,” he says.
Overall, Woodbury says, their goal has been to stick as closely to the source material as possible.
“It's heavily influenced by the design, look, feel, and experience of what Chez Nous used to be,” he says. “Just in terms of picking finishes, booth designs, barstools, all those elements that were there in the past, we referenced as best we could and tried to recreate as best we could."
Unfortunately, Woodbury says that won’t include Chez Nous' most iconic amenity, the small fountain made from lava rock that sat behind the bar.
“We didn't have room for the lava rock on the back bar sadly because there's not a lot of space,” he says. “But other than that, you're going to walk in there and feel like you're in the old Chez Nous.”
Editor's note: This story has been corrected since its original publication.