Behind the Bar: "Evil" Jeannie Thein at Rips Ales & Cocktails

Being a Phoenician ain't easy; you have to know about every under-the-radar spot in the Valley, remember the names of everyone you meet, financially support every new local business that springs up, mourn the loss of every local business that goes under, and try not to pick up a bad reputation along the way.

There are few who succeed in filling all the requirements, which is why the reincarnated Rips Ales & Cocktails in central Phoenix gets major props for choosing "Evil" Jeannie Thein as its almighty tendress of bar.

Born and raised in east Phoenix, Jeannie describes herself as an "Arcadia Rat." Having spent the last 10 years bartending on and off at neighborhood watering holes like Jugheads, Roxy's Great Escape, JT's Bar & Grill, and Blackforest Mill; Jeannie personifies the loyal, down-to-earth, friendly but feisty atmosphere of a successful neighborhood bar. Her long history with the Arcadia scene also provides Jeannie with a lengthy contact list of friends and customers who follow her to any bar she's tending.

"We have a huge gaggle of friends and whenever someone has a new venue, we send out text messages to each other," she says. "We've all grown up with each other... It's just one of those things."

It's now 10:30pm on the bar's second night of business. Every bar stool is filled, and Jeannie's only made it to the "B"s on her text messages.

Its opening night may have been December 4, but Rips bar on 16th Street and Osborn isn't exactly new. According to the current owners, Rips originally opened in the 1950s and thrived for nearly 30 years as a popular nightspot where outlaw country legends like Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson would pop in unannounced to play a few tunes with old friends.

The building housed several bars afterward, most recently the dance dive Paco Paco. When its lease ran out several months ago and the building became available, original Rips patron David Tanberg, Sr. couldn't pass up the opportunity to reopen his favorite bar and bring back its decades-old ambiance. Tanberg, Sr. and his two sons run a contracting company that has built and renovated bars and clubs around the valley for years including The Dirty Drummer, Amsterdam and Palazzo. Rips, however, is the first project they have owned and run themselves.

There's scarcely a trace of Paco Paco inside the new Rips. The crimped metal bar is replaced with custom wood trim; the dark walled are covered with maroon paint and wood paneling. What was once 80s strip club decor is now more of a country lodge, furnished with recycled booths and materials from Habitat for Humanity.

The outside of the bar, however, has remained the same curious, mid-century architectural wonder it's always been. The new owners have tried, with no avail, to find out the name of the original architect. It was the bar's sharp angles and towering light-up sign that sparked Jeannie's curiosity.

"I have an amazing eye for dive bars or neighborhood bars," she says. "I originally came in here, I can't tell you how many years ago; I wanted to come in because of the building alone, and then that sign is amazing! I knew it would be a good place when I walked in."

Jeannie believes the best bars are the ones that rely on word-of-mouth rather than advertising. She says the bar already gets a day crowd of older folks, many of whom work construction in the area or live in the neighborhood. She's excited to see how the night crowd will develop with the venue's live music potential and dance floor.

Ideally, Jeannie would like to see the nightlife entertainment include a mix of local bands and DJs that could accommodate a variety of musical palates. Her personal taste in local music ranges from bands like Kinch and Quixote to DJs like MJMD and Sean Watson; and she's very open-minded, overall. In fact, Jeannie has just one objection:

"I won't work on nights with country [music]," she says. "It's not my cup of tea."

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Adriane Goetz