Hooray for Hollywood Alley: Memories of the past two decades at the Mesa rock club
By Benjamin Leatherman
In this week’s issue of the Phoenix New Times, I wrote about tomorrow night’s “20 Years of Rock” party at Hollywood Alley in Mesa, celebrating the landmark local club’s two decades of existence.
Writing the piece was something of a challenge. Due to space restrictions, I only had like 200 words in which to encapsulate the past 20 years of history behind Hollywood Alley, which has become an institution in the local music scene. Every band that’s ever meant anything to our fair city has played there, not to mention all the touring bands who’ve performed at the Alley. Hell, even my former punk band Cancer of the Piss had a gig there in 2000 (not that I’m comparing my rinky-dink punk freak show to any of the big-name bands like Glass Heroes or the Gin Blossoms...far from it).
So as a form of complimenting my piece (and compensating for its tiny word length), I decided to pull together a compilation of quotes from some of the many musicians, bands, scenesters, and other important figures who’ve been involved with Hollywood Alley since it first opened to the public in the summer of 1988.
Most of those who were interviewed continuously spoke in reverent tones about the bar’s owner Ross Wincek (a.k.a. “Ross the Boss”), as well as the various members of his family who’ve helped tirelessly kept the place running over the years. Like Ross’ grandmother Rachel, who’s been serving up her delicious recipes and soups out of the joint’s kitchen ever since the beginning. His late mother Lucy (who sadly passed away in 2006) also helped out significantly both in the kitchen and behind the scenes, as did Ross’ brothers and sisters as well.
The Wincek clan has been like an extended family for the countless bands and musicians who’ve passed through the Alley over the years, and it shows in the quotes that they provided me for this post.
Have a look-see for yourself:
Robert Birmingham (a.k.a. “Fun Bobby”)
Former longtime bartender/booker at Hollywood Alley; currently manages and bartends at Porky’s Café and Lounge in Longview, Washington.
It all began with lunch: “I started going to Hollywood Alley during my ASU years [in the late 80s]. I remember hearing about the daily $2.95 lunch special and since I was poor at the time I was all over it. Ross’ mom and grandmother served this giant lasagna feast, and I thought, ‘Holy shit, that’s amazing.’”
Happy-but-fuzzy memories: “I just remember Hollywood Alley becoming this place to hangout and my favorite place to see shows. Back then my friends could go their every night of the week and find seven different bands playing, back when there was also the Mason Jar or Edsel’s Attic in the Valley. I have so many vague and fuzzy, but happy, memories. I remember making out with my now-wife in a corner while Major Lingo was playing there in 1989.”
How he got involved: “I was a regular and got a shot to fill in for the doorman in 1992 and it built from there. I’ve did security, booking bands, bartending, you name it. Ross forever didn’t take a day off until he figured out I could help him handle things. Ross and his family are priceless and they’re the glue that have kept the place going all these years.”
Mary McCann (a.k.a. “The Bone Mama”)
Longtime DJ on KZON and one of the original bookers at Hollywood Alley, currently living in Washington.
The first music at the club: “It started with Joe Myers [guitarist, Tribes] just doing an open mic night, that was their very first thing at the club. And Ross kinda wanted to do a little bit more, but Joe wasn’t the one to do stuff like that. So they got a hold of Laura Liewen [former manager of the Gin Blossoms], and she wanted to be a player in all that, she was a bartender at Long Wong’s and we’d been doing some promotions together, her and I. And so we went over there and met with Ross and [his sister] Mickey and everybody and started booking bands there. And to think that Hollywood Alley is still going is so tremendous.”
How Hollywood Alley was different: “It was so great because the bar was not on [Mill Avenue] or part of any of the club scenes that were going on then, it was not on the radar. It was completely new territory, a clean slate. We had a full run of bringing bands in, as long as we could make money at it. It was brand new venue. People were unfamiliar with going someplace new, so it was a lot of legwork to get people through the door. We brought the Sand Rubies [then known as the Sidewinders] up from Tucson and the usual suspects at the time, like 40 Years, Lime Green, Stevie J., and Major Lingo.”
Owner, Stinkweeds Record Exchange and Modified Arts
Welcome to the neighborhood: “My first thought was when Ross opened up that place [which was near Stinkweeds’ original location] it was like we were the only two cool places in Mesa. We were practically neighbors, so it was really nice to have somebody else there that was doing something cool. It’s funny, I’ve moved four times now and he’s still in the same place.”
Alt-rock remembrances: “My best memories of being there were definitely the Tortoise show on their first tour when I elbowed up to the front to watch those guys perform. And Built to Spill also played an amazing early show there too. In the early 90s I was also in a band called Half String that played there regularly and we organized a bunch of pop festivals there. And Ross was always very supportive of that, the whole shoegaze movement.”
Drummer/vocalist for Major Lingo (longtime regulars at Hollywood Alley).
Countless shows: We’ve played at Hollywood Alley so many damn times since 1989. I couldn’t even tell you how many sets we’ve done there, probably several hundred at least. In the early days we used to do play whole weekends. We’ve had some great crowds in there and it always been a pretty good party.
Up all night: “I remember some after-hours parties we’ve had there in the early days, just hanging out after the bar has closed. Even going there during the week I remember Ross used to open the doors to us, and we’d party late at night, just crazy people coming in.
Back in the day: “I played there even before Major Lingo was ever there….in a band called Poet’s Corner in the late 80s. It was a 10-piece band with a horn section. And we used to play there before the place was really became a full-on rock club. It was kind of a really kickback lounge in the early days, before it got into big rock stuff. Ross would have like jazz bands and stuff like that in there. And then it kinda morphed into what it is today.”
Chris Hansen Orf
Guitarist/Vocalist for the Zen Lunatics
On their debut gig: “With Zen Lunatics the first show we ever had was at Hollywood Alley [in November 1991], opening up for a band called Adulterous Woman. One of my memories is of Steve Metz, the doorman at the time. He looked like Jesus and he had really long curly hair and a beard. He busted one of my friends for bringing a beer outside the bar, before we even started playing. So I was like, ‘Oh my God, this isn’t gonna go well.’ We we’re a little intimidated because of Hollywood Alley’s reputation as great place to play, it was one of the biggies along with Sun Club and Long Wong’s. So we were just proud to get a gig there and I thought we weren’t gonna get to play because of the beer incident.”
Playing then: “A lot of great bands have gone through there: the Sand Rubies, the Beat Angels. It’s one of the premier place to play. It’s cool because they were kinda off the beaten path from the epicenter, which the people considered to be Mill. It was a place that bands would definitely seek out to play.”
Playing now: “I can’t say enough about Ross, who’s just done a tremendous job. I know a lot of bands who got their first gigs playing there. He doesn’t really care if you have a history with your band, he’ll book you. He’ll put you in there.”
Formerly of the Voice, The Beat Angels, and the Busted Hearts; currently serves as vocalist/guitarist for Glass Heroes.
In summary: “How does one sum up 20 years of accolades for a joint such as the Alley? Grandma’s recipes bringing warmth and down-home cooking to the likes of every starving musician from Tempe to Phoenix and beyond. Or the family’s genuine kindness towards bands and customers alike. Ross’ mellow and gentle way with the drunks. Or Lucy's (God rest her soul) personal guidance and understanding.”
The club that love built: “The place was built by love and laughter and heartaches and tears. That's what makes Hollywood Alley something very special to me personally. I moved to the valley from Detroit in 1991. I played there, I drank there, and more importantly, I made life long friends there.”
From painting to dating: “It wasn't like playing an impersonal venue; it was like playing in your family room. For local and touring musicians alike, the Alley was an oasis. You were treated well and when you met the family, you simply loved them. Period. I remember helping them paint the place. I remember when the bar was in the middle of the room, before they expanded next door. I also remember dating Kerry, their cocktail waitress of many years….they were not pleased. But the one thing I'll never forget is how their family's love runs through the place and touches everyone who steps through their door.”
Former Get Out music editor, currently working as global listings editor for Village Voice Media (full disclosure: our parent company).
The Hollywood Alley vibe: “The thing I'll always cherish about Hollywood Alley is how cool Ross and his staff are to the bands. My first combo, The Violet Hour, played our very first club show there in 1989 and Ross made us feel comfortable even though we were nervous as hell. I've been back to the Alley countless times since -- performing with various bands and watching others -- and the vibe is always the same: friendly, warm and welcoming. And that's a total rarity in the club scene.”
Guitarist, Beats the Hell Out of Me.
Ch-ch-changes: “The bars definitely taken a lot of different shapes. We played when there was just a corner stage, just a little triangle and the bar was in the center of the room. You barely had enough room to fit a drum kit up there [onstage], let alone amplifiers or anything.”
Those days: “It was pretty fun playing there, we played with the Meat Puppets. Probably our first show as a band was at Hollywood Alley and we just filled the place with friends, and were asked back pretty quickly.”
These days: “We reunited in 2004 and that was one of the only places left in town who actually remembered who were. It’s kinda strange how much the music scene’s changed. That’s one nice thing about that club is that Ross is still, there’s like this one continuing thread at least through the music industry.”
Vocalist, Beats the Hell Out of Me.
It’s all about the music: “Playing that place is like our home base, I’ve been playing in bands there since 1989: Big Shot All-Star, Beats the Hell Out of Me, and Fat Grey Cat. Anytime you tell someone you’re playing at the Alley, everybody knows where its at, they know what to expect. Even if there’s a small turnout, the crowd’s are always into the music.”
It just keeps on going: “If you really think about it, being a club for 20 years in this town in quite an accomplishment. It’s the only place still open that has been doing rock music regualry from the late 80s. I’ve seen Long Wong’s, Nita’s Hideaway, and the Mason Jar come and go. I just love that place and I tell you it’ll be a sad day in the Valley when it closes.”
Serene Dominic (a.k.a. “Vic Masters”)
Guitarist/vocalist (Full disclosure: Serene is a longtime freelancer for Phoenix New Times).
Wild times: “The great thing about Hollywood Alley -- besides Ross being the consummate nice guy -- is the lay of the club allows you to keep a crowd there for a few sets if you get a diverse enough of a bill, like ‘Night of a 1000 Props,’ which had Les Payne, Psycho Gypsies, Balls and myself on the same bill. They ran out of beer that night so there was none left to cry in when all the acts ambled onstage at the end of the night to sing ‘We Are the World.’ Some guy threw a bottle onstage and anyone who saw Psycho Gypsy's drummer Michael chasing that asshole with a prosthetic limb was glad they stayed the whole night.”
Shock and awe: “Most bars you have a lot of obstructed view, people standing in front of the stage or the stage isn't high enough. But the Alley's got a fair number of tables with a perfect view of the show so you get a well rounded reaction. I did a show two months after Princess Di died and I opened the show by stepping out of a coffin like Screaming Jay Hawkins. No one could see inside the coffin so when I opened it during a dramatic song later in the set and inside the coffin was one of those Halloween door hanging skeletons with Princess Di's head pasted on it. And a bunch of long stemmed dead roses also fell out. There was an audible gasp, a pregnant pause and then some well thought-out boos. I did that show two other Tempe clubs that week and didn't get that same reaction. And I maintain that three months wasn't too soon.”
Bassist, P.C. and the Badass Motherfuckers, and Chocolate Fountain
Booking the unknown: “I go in pretty often because they sell good food really cheap, they still have those five buck lunch specials, so I probably eat there at least weekly. There’s always something cool on the [upcoming bands] board. Some strange band from fricken Norway or other bands other people wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot-pole because nobody knows it is and who the hell is gonna gi see that? Ross has always taken chances like that.
Ross’ is Awesome: “The Alley is one of those places that, when we tour other cities, people always say, ‘Hey man, do you know Ross?’ And it’s always the same story. ‘Man it was raining, and we were broke as a joke, and he made us pizzas, and nobody came to the gig, but it was still really fun.’ You always hear stories like that, which is what you wanna hear when you’re out of town, your town proceeds you. It’s better than people bitching about how the club owner was a dick or crap like that. Ross always takes care of bands. He’s just a good guy. He can’t let that little guy sit out in the rain without giving him a sandwich.”
Jamie Monistat VII
Former member of Dry Dive, Potato, and Blanche Davidian; Currently runs Chop and Wok restaurant in Scottsdale.
You should’ve slept there too: “I’ve watched so many great bands over the years at the Alley. It's definitely the coolest place. That was pretty much my band Blanche Davidian’s headquarters, like our manager and publicist worked there. It was our favorite place, the sound in the bar is the best around I think. I don't like big clubs at all."
Famous encounters: “I met Jeff Dahl at the Alley three years ago. We became close and for his 50th birthday he did a show there and requested that I sing the Alice Cooper song 18.’ That was like a wonderful experience because I love that guy to death and I have a lot of respect for him.”
Formerly of B. Strange, Undertow, and Blindside Panic; Currently serves as guitarist/keyboardist in Crushed
The early years: “In the time when the Sun Club was still around, we heard about this place called the Hollywood Alley and it was a little off the beaten track. And we were all pretty much Tempe-type people and it was like, ‘Wow we gotta go way over there to play?’ We definitely started playing there when they had the first wave of original bands that were playing the regular club circuit around town.”
Couldn’t have said it better ourselves: “I’ve had a ton of good times at the bar. No big fights or anything involving the police or anything like that, just a lot of over-indulging with friends. It’s been more of a place to mellow out than it is to try and wreak havoc, with a pretty wholesome family backdrop to engage in rock ‘n’ debauchery.”
Page Davis (a.k.a. Page the Village Idiot)
One-man comedy rock act and a mainstay of Monday nights at Hollywood Alley
If he can do it, so can I: "One of my earliest memories of the place is seeing Joe Myers, who used to play there every Thursday night years ago. And I remember thinking how great it’d be to have a weekly gig at the club, and I ended doing that for 10 years on Mondays from 1998 to a few months ago."
Monday night raw: "One of the cool things about having all those Monday nights is a lot of bands that are on tour get stuck in Phoenix on that day. So I got to open up for a lot of indie bands on their way up, which was kinda fun. Bands like Melt-Banana, Floater, Okra Pickles, Hemi Cuda, and -Itis, just to name a few. In a way, it was almost like being on tour and meeting people. I built some friendships I still have from that."
Pizza and pelvises: "I can remember one of my first times being there in like 1996, just going for the pizza and seeing Pelvic Meatloaf perform. It was cool having the best pizza in the world and seeing this amazing thrash metal band. I also remember seeing Gogol Bordello play there like four years ago and ripping up the place, literally, and having to pay for every microphone in the building. It was insane."