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The strip mall charm of Tempe's favorite lounge.EXPAND
The strip mall charm of Tempe's favorite lounge.
Lauren Cusimano

Time Out Lounge Is Like Cheers for the Valley's Punk and Metal Set

For whatever reason, the dive bar concept’s now wildly popular, with people deriving semi-ironic delight from sticky floors and bad lighting. Tempe's Time Out Lounge certainly fits that mold — cheap beer, darts, and a prime strip mall setting. But if you ask co-owner Laura Kelly-Phillips, they're not just another trendy hole in the wall.

"It’s just a really nice neighborhood bar," says Kelly-Phillips. "It used to be a base for a little of everything, like engineers from Intel. It’s a place you want to support."

Time Out first opened its doors in 1982 as this multifaceted watering hole. Phillips and her husband, Ed, purchased the bar in 1988 from co-owner/local bar magnate Sandy Sundstrom, whom Kelly-Phillips says acted as "mentor" while she was working at Gabby's Bar & Grill in Mesa.

"I had gone to school, and I supported myself by bartending," she says. "We were just young enough to think we could do this." At first, Kelly-Phillips kept everything "almost the same," save for the added pool tables. But a decade ago, after the public smoking ordinance was enacted Valleywide in 2007, Kelly-Phillips started organizing semi-regular concerts.

A raucous evening at Time Out Lounge in this undated photo.EXPAND
A raucous evening at Time Out Lounge in this undated photo.
New Times archive.

"We had an employee who was a member of (local punk act) The Plainfield Butchers," she says. "It used to be that people would just come out and drink; when the whole (bar) genre changed, people needed a reason to go out."

Time Out books mostly punk, metal, and indie rock bands, through Kelly-Phillips admits they’ve dabbled with an "acoustic Saturday night." Regardless of the genre, management’s always placed the promotional onus on the bands.

"Things like finding their support and creating the Facebook event pages," Kelly-Phillips adds. "We want them to present themselves as they are. It’s a good place to be without worrying about playing for 5 million people, or whether they’ll bomb or not. They can be what they are without any fear."

Given that dynamic, a slew of local bands have come through over the years, including Manic Monkeys, Birth of Monsters, and The Banter, among others. Celebration Guns are also frequent guests, and vocalist/guitarist Justin Weir says the venue was among their first shows in December 2013. In the time since, Weir says the owners have been extra accommodating, including holding a 2014 tribute/charity show for a friend who died of cancer.

"Laura has a certain motherly presence," Weir says. "They’re happy to support bands, even touring acts, and even if it’s not super financially beneficial. They’re constantly posting pics of bands — Laura’s even posted about outside shows we’ve played. I went over (to their house) for Thanksgiving a couple years back."

Weir adds that Time Out is important because it’s like "the 21-and-over Trunk Space," with plenty of opportunities for new or abstract artists to perform. That’s especially important now, he says, as other venues move away from booking local acts for more dance nights and themed events.

To further support local artists, Kelly-Phillips says they offer a percentage of the bar and always ask for donations, adding, "Sometimes people throw money like candy, and others they’re silly cheap." Regardless, Kelly-Phillips says she hopes the bar can be "a place for bands to build that groundswell."

Part of that is just good business sense; Kelly-Phillips says the shows do solid business for the bar most weekends. However, that commitment to music is also born out of genuine admiration for the groups that make this "dive" their regular home.

"I really enjoy how brave they (the bands) are," she says. "To just come out and present themselves like this. We want to have a place that’s for local people to come and enjoy good music that’s affordable. You always hope that each band will become the next billionaire band of the century."

Time Out Lounge. 3129 South Mill Avenue, Tempe; 480-968-6491; facebook.com/timeoutlounge.

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