Music Features

Drunk History: Valley Musicians Name Their Favorite Watering Holes

Bjues guitarist Carvin Jones.
Bjues guitarist Carvin Jones. Courtesy of Carvin Jones

Musicians and bars (oftentimes with a stage) go famously together. With so many of both in Phoenix’s present and past, we’ve asked some familiar names about their current and former haunts — many of which are still going strong. Here are some of them:

Carvin Jones

Guitarist Magazine-recognized blues guitarist and local lyricist Carvin Jones has played area bars like Lucky Break, The Rhythm Room, Roadrunnner Lounge in Scottsdale, and The Roadhouse in Cave Creek — and international watering holes, too — since 1990.

Though Jones says he’s not often found ordering at the bar, he definitely likes hanging out in them. “I’m not much of a drinking man,” he says, “but just tell them Yucca Tap Room [in Tempe].”

click to enlarge Beauty queen, actress, and singer CeCe Peniston. - COURTESY OF CECE PENISTON
Beauty queen, actress, and singer CeCe Peniston.
Courtesy of CeCe Peniston

CeCe Peniston
Former Miss Black Arizona and Miss Galaxy spent her influential years in Phoenix as an actress, lyricist, and backup singer. She became best known for the 1991 dance banger “Finally.”

According to a spokesperson via email, Peniston’s favorite watering hole was Michael’s at Park Central — an upscale bar and small music venue. Peniston still visits occasionally.

Cris Kirkwood
Meat Puppets guitarist and lyricist Cris Kirkwood, ever with a sense of humor, has tales of what he calls dank, booze emporiums. “We were never big hang-out-in-bars-and-drink kind of guys,” he says.

Part of his musical upbringing, bar-wise, was Dooley’s in Tempe — or After the Gold Rush or Electric Ballroom. “It was a bar, but it had concerts,” he says. “I was definitely not old enough to drink.” One of the first bars Meat Puppets played was Tempe’s Star System — now Q & Brew — which had been a light-up-floor disco club till punk shows started popping up.

“You have to cite The Mason Jar,” Kirkwood says of the first bar he visited when actually old enough in the late ’70s. The band members were close with owner Franco Gagliano, who was gifted a platinum Meat Puppets album. “The Sun Club was a fucking riot,” he says of the former Tempe spot. “That place always seemed kind of unhinged in a cool way. We just had outrageously fun shows there.”

Kirkwood could go on. “We’ve played in a lot of bars all over the world,” he says. “The stories, they’re just unending.”

click to enlarge Local rock stars Jimmy Eat World. - JIMI GIANNATTI
Local rock stars Jimmy Eat World.
Jimi Giannatti
Jimmy Eat World
Though singer Jim Adkins is spotted at Crescent Ballroom, Mesa’s Jimmy Eat World used to hang in Tempe’s Time Out Lounge. Owner Ed Phillips recalls a story published [in Phoenix New Times] about the band shooting pool, and hanging in his establishment.

“When that article about Boy Meets World was released, we had a line out the door,” says Phillips. “We had to get two bartenders and two doormen. We just blew up.” Bartender Josh Garcilaso perked up to remind him the band are Jimmy Eat World.

The Maine.
Courtesy of 8123 Records
John O’Callaghan
The Maine formed before anyone was 21, but they’d later meet at Tempe’s The Vine near ASU. “It was a super-recurring spot because it was just cheap,” says singer John O’Callaghan. “Before that, it was any place that would allow a bunch of rowdy dudes.”

The Maine started at since-gone bar venues like The Sets, The Clubhouse, and The Real Bar in Tempe — the site of their first show. Further back, O’Callaghan attended shows at The Nile in Mesa and The Mason Jar.
Today, it’s scenes like Valley Bar, Crescent Ballroom, and The Van Buren. “Those places we frequent now,” he says, “but back then it was like, ‘Yo, what place is going to let us in?’”

Meredith Moore.
Benjamin Leatherman
Meridith Moore
The Sugar Thieves can be seen sipping a whiskey at Tempe-staple Casey Moore’s, according to singer Meridith Moore via email. “The patio is a favorite spot for drinking, and slurping oysters,” she says. “You know — Irish breakfast.” It’s a favorite because the cast is ever changing. “New and old faces are always around,” she says.

For now-shuttered haunts, Moore says they’ll always miss The Sail Inn in Tempe. “We were the last band, literally, to play on that outdoor stage before they closed,” she says. “It wasn’t just a neat Tempe venue, but a community space as well.”
Other favorites are The Rhythm Room (their second home), Crescent Ballroom, and Yucca Tap Room — “the best dive bar in town.”

click to enlarge Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers. - TICKETFLY
Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers.
Roger Clyne
The Refreshments and Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers frontman — yes, Roger Clyne —has “haunted many a stage.” To follow the theme, many stages were bar-adjacent.

Clyne says music and venues had a good mix from 1988 to ’97, including Tempe’s Long Wong’s: “There was a real soul there.” Nearby Sun Club had staff that were “totally indifferent but still cool.” Hollywood Alley was important, as The Refreshments played the hit “Banditos” there for the first time. And he loves Yucca Tap Room, describing the venue as a classic, always booking the edgier acts.

Today, Clyne likes places like 300-seater Scottsdale haunt Rockbar. Honorable mentions go to Valley Bar, Crescent Ballroom, Celebrity Theatre (where he shared the stage with Alice Cooper for the first time) and Talking Stick Showroom in Scottsdale — which has “really good access to the bar.”

The Format's Sam Means. - LAURA PALMER
The Format's Sam Means.
Laura Palmer
Sam Means
The Format guitarist Sam Means recalls some favorite bars-meet-music venues. Though the band were mostly eating burritos in The Format days (shout out to Eriberto’s), Means says he misses more intimate venues.

“I really loved the smaller shows at Modified and the original Nita’s Hideaway [in Tempe],” he says via email. “Nothing better than a room where you can really feel the crowd’s energy.” One of the last venues he’s played was Crescent Ballroom.

“Definitely one of the best-sounding clubs around,” he says. “Everything [Crescent owner] Charlie Levy does is awesome.”

He’ll now do a weeknight at Gracie’s Tax Bar, but still eats tons of burritos.

Scott “Scotty” Johnson
Gin Blossoms guitarist since 1994, Scott Johnson immediately lists former Mill Avenue blues-turned-rock club Long Wong’s. Johnson was giving guitar lessons at Beck’s Guitars when Long Wong’s bartender Laura Liewen called about joining the group — which he of course did.

There was also the original Nita’s Hideaway. “So those are both gone,” he says, laughing. Johnson says he loved these places because friends were always around. “I could go by myself and would run into people I know,” he says. “I didn’t have to call; didn’t have to plan.”

He now digs Little Woody — “the place for late-night drinks and cocktails,” and mentions other Arcadia haunts like Dilly Dally.

click to enlarge Drummer Vince Ramirez, guitarist Greg Swanholm, and bassist Alex Otto. - COURTESY OF FLATHEAD
Drummer Vince Ramirez, guitarist Greg Swanholm, and bassist Alex Otto.
Courtesy of Flathead
Vince Ramirez
The two original members of the 1992-born roots outfit Flathead, Greg Swanholm (guitar/vocals) and Vince Ramirez (drums/vocals) were spotted in the old days at Long Wong’s, The Sail Inn, and other venues with original bassist Ruth Wilson. But the guys also went out sans set list just to drink — specifically, at the east-facing inside bar at Casey Moore’s Oyster House.

“I spent years sitting right here at Casey’s in this spot,” says Ramirez. “We’d come here every day and do 2:30 [p.m.] car bombs. I got a million stories from this joint.”

click to enlarge Charlie Pride and Waylon Jennings, separately, at Rips. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
Charlie Pride and Waylon Jennings, separately, at Rips.
Lauren Cusimano
Waylon Jennings
Country legend Waylon Jennings is known to have put away some drinks at Rips Ales & Cocktails. In the back room there are photos of Jennings, who died in 2002, and Charley Pride arm-in-arm with former bar owner Jim Ames, according to current owner Davey Tanberg.
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Lauren Cusimano was the Phoenix New Times food editor from 2018 to 2021. Joys include eating wings, riding bikes, knowing everyone at the bar, talking too much about The Simpsons, and falling asleep while reading.