The New Owners of Char's Has the Blues Hope to Reopen — But It's Complicated

Benjamin Leatherman
The exterior of Char's Has the Blues on Seventh Avenue.
Long-running R&B joint Char’s Has the Blues has new owners, and they’re hoping to relaunch the bar under its current name and identity — so long as issues with the property can be fixed for a reasonable price.

In mid-November, Valley businessman David Cameron and San Diego-based real estate broker Peter Valleau purchased the 2,245-square-foot bar and music venue, which is located on Seventh Avenue south of Camelback Road, from the previous owner, Peter Chedid, for an estimated $460,000.

Char's closed in mid-March after Arizona Governor Doug Ducey ordered shut all bars statewide except for to-go service and deliveries. The bar went up for sale over the summer.

Cameron tells Phoenix New Times that he and Valleau are interested in “keeping Char’s legacy” as a live music venue, which dates back to the mid-'80s, but the property has “significant issues” with its plumbing and electrical system that need to be repaired first.

“There's been a lot of neglect for many years,” he says. “The building is more than 70 years old and most of the infrastructural systems are outdated and/or failing. In one particular case, the plumbing is so old there’s a giant 4-inch hole in one of the lines.”

The property was built in 1944 as a residence. Cameron says it was converted into a ballet studio in the 1960s before being turned into a bar in the early '80s. Char’s opened in 1985.

Cameron, who owns the Campbell Plaza retail center nearby and several apartment complexes in the Valley, says the pair were aware of the building’s issues before the sale and had its price adjusted accordingly.

They’re still in the process of evaluating the building’s issues and estimating repair and replacement costs, he says. Cameron compares the process to “peeling the onion back one layer at a time.”

“We’re taking it slow, because ultimately our plan is to keep it as Char's Has the Blues, to relaunch it with a new management, and run it as a newer version of what it was,” he says.

click to enlarge An R&B ensemble performing at Char's Has the Blues. - NEW TIMES ARCHIVES
An R&B ensemble performing at Char's Has the Blues.
New Times archives
If repairs prove to be too expensive, though, Cameron says they’ll transform the property into another concept altogether. That doesn’t include demolishing the building, though.

“If we have to put a significant amount of financial facility into the property, it may preclude us from being able to keep it from what it was,” he says. “We would then have to pivot and change directions, but we're not interested in tearing it down. We think the character of the property is unique, and that's what we bought. We’re not some big, bad developers.”

They’ll only reconceptualize it if it’s absolutely necessary, Cameron says, since they “really want to preserve the bar if possible.”

Char’s has been a Phoenix music mainstay for the last 35 years, hosting live R&B, soul, funk, and blues from local bands and performers like Laydee Jai, Larry Bailey, and Soul Power. It’s been a popular destination for R&B fans, who've crowded into the darkened dive to soak up the retro vibe, watch shows, or mingle on the parquet dance floor.

“It’s been a blast from the past [where] drinks were inexpensive, you could get live music every day of the week and see talents like Laydee Jai and all these great acts,” Cameron says. “We appreciate the iconic and nostalgic [elements] of the property and we want to keep it if we can. We just don't know what's going to happen yet.”

Cameron says they’ll reach a decision about the bar’s future within the next 30 to 60 days.