Chow Bella

Tempe Restaurateur Julian Wright to Open Cool, Concept-y New Bar on Mill in March

Fork and Dagger CEO Julian Wright -- the Mill Avenue mini-mogul who keeps Tempe fed and watered at La Bocca Urban Pizzeria + Wine Bar, Canteen Modern Tequila Bar and The Handlebar -- has big plans for a venue that's near and dear to his heart.

See also: -- Margaritas Exclusively for the North Valley Coming to CityCenter of CityNorth -- The Handlebar and Grill: Happy Hour Report Card

The cavernous 6,500-square-foot space on the southeast corner of Fifth Street and Mill, former home to Wright's infamous Library Bar & Grill, then Blondie's Sports Bar (a Las Vegas-based concept with waitresses dressed in cheerleader outfits -GACK!) and most recently Fifth Street Bar (which was owned and operated by Wright) is re-opening this spring as Gringo Star Street Bar and his plans for it sound trendy in a good way.

Wright shut down Fifth Street Bar, an interim operation that never really took hold, late last November, and he's in the process of revamping and re-concepting the space, anticipating a late March opening, if all goes well.

Although his three most recent Mill Avenue restaurants have earned Wright a reputation as the guy who brought a touch of grown-up sophistication to Mill, Gringo Star promises to be youthful, edgy and just plain fun.

He's bringing in young local artists to paint street art (an artistic step above good old graffiti) on the walls, and he's rigging one wall to look like a food truck, which will usher forth 15-20 dishes representing the greatest hits of the food truck world. There will be DJs and dancing (this is Julian Wright, after all), as well as kitschy 80's games such as Pac-Man, Asteroids, Galaga and Skee-Ball.

Because he's an ASU grad, Wright plans to throw parties for ASU events. He also envisions large format (i.e., shareable) drinks and a chain link fence on the back patio, where customers can clip locks (bring your own or buy one at Gringo Star), which the bar will inscribe to commemorate whatever needs commemorating: birthdays, anniversaries, Girls Night Out or just He Loves She.

Meanwhile, his other venture -- Modern Margarita in CityNorth -- and his first away from Mill Avenue is slated for a March 7 opening. We can expect what Wright calls a "killer patio" and a larger margarita (but smaller tequila) selection. Although the space will be smaller and much more compact than Canteen Modern Tequila Bar, both design elements (wood, glass) and the menu will be similar to it. Wright calls Modern Margarita Canteen's "baby sis," but adds that the menu will change as they get to know their North Phoenix clientele. "We'll tweak it to be more reflective of our audience," he explains.

Although CityNorth has struggled since opening, Wright says the mixed-use space is finally on the upswing. More and more leases have been signed, and he sees a rosy future, given the restaurant's proximity to huge events like Barrett Jackson and the Phoenix Open. Wright says, "We're excited to meet new people and create a new community, just as we have on Mill."

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Nikki Buchanan