Hollywood Alley: An Oral History of "Arizona's Only Ultra-Chic Pissant Hip Dive Bar"

Categories: Hollywood Alley

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Jamie Peachey
Rock 'n' roll, to paraphrase punk icon Poison Ivy, is for misfits. A refuge for outsiders, oddballs, or anyone else even a little bit strange. The description is apt for the recently closed Hollywood Alley and much of its patronage. Over its 25-year lifespan, the Mesa rock joint and restaurant, which closed August 2, offered shelter to a colorful and fiercely devoted tribe of regulars, neighborhood folk, and musicians who came to drink and dine.
And they did so in a darkly lit milieu that was a mix of show-club swank and rock-club verve, with offbeat characters to spare.

Laden with a low-brow aura and thrift-store décor (old LPs, secondhand furnishings, scores of vinyl band stickers, and countless kitschy movie posters), its name and slogan -- "Arizona's only ultra-chic pissant hip dive bar" -- were fitting.

Hollywood Alley flowers
Jamie Peachey
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Jamie Peachey
Hollywood Alley co-owners "Grandma" Rachel Hrutkay and Ross Wincek.
But its overwhelming claim to fame was as a legendary Arizona music venue -- based on its longevity and the sheer number of bands and performers who slouched in its signature high-backed black leather banquettes, bent elbows at the bar, or hit the stage after the establishment first opened in 1988.

The musical repast of what was the Valley's longest-running rock bar was diverse (ranging from blues and funk to indie and Americana), and its history includes visits and gigs by some of the biggest names in Arizona music. Gin Blossoms and other famous Tempe jangle-poppers performed and partied there, as did Meat Puppets, Jimmy Eat World, and JFA. And punk rock royalty passed through, such as Wayne Kramer of the MC5, Greg Sage, and Jeff Dahl. Hell, even Chuck D. and Flavor Flav of Public Enemy spent a night.

In an ironic juxtaposition to Hollywood Alley's notorious status is the amiable Wincek family, who owned it and welcomed everyone into their place and into their extended family. Headed by the late Lucy and Roger Wincek, the extensive clan (which includes son Ross and "Grandma" Rachel Hrutkay) took a tacky old Italian restaurant and transformed it into a local music-scene landmark.

Many regulars spun yarns of the Winceks' famously homemade food, friendly attitudes, and generosity for an oral history compiled in honor of this weekend's three-day Tribute to Hollywood Alley at Scottsdale's Chop and Wok, which will star many of the bands who called it home for decades.

[Some interviews have been condensed and edited.]

Ross Wincek, co-owner: My brother John came up with the name, and it was me and my mom's idea. Because it was gonna have a back-alley look and layout and design. And then my brother said, "Let's give it some character from Hollywood." So we combined the two.

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courtesy of Ross Wincek
Hrutkay with her late daughter Lucy Wincek and son-in-law Roger Wincek.
"Grandma" Rachel Hrutkay, co-owner and longtime cook: It's always been a family operation. My grandchildren built everything, and we all worked there. John did the murals. And Aaron, the youngest, helped with construction. His sister, Mickey, tended bar, and his younger sister, Sara, worked with me and Lucy in the kitchen. I cooked from day one. Just recipes I'd find and add my own touches. The pizzas were Ross' idea.

Wincek: I'd been working at pizza joints, so we had those right away. And Grandma always had her notorious lunch specials.

Robert "Fun Bobby" Birmingham, longtime bartender/booker: I was attempting the poor ASU student thing when I got clued in to Hollywood Alley and these super-inexpensive lunch specials. Grandma created all this fantastic food from scratch. Her pot roast and Swedish meatballs were to die for. That cheeseburger soup was decadent.

Paul "PC" Cardone, bassist and longtime patron: The place popped up, and I lived almost across the street for the first 15 years. I'd be over there, day or night, for a big-ass meal for cheap and then later to drink. It was my closest bar and an up-and-coming live bar, a dream scenario for any musician. They'd always have movies playing, and there was always some member of the family working, like Roger fixing up stuff or putting up crazy art or old records everywhere. It was just like some rock 'n' roll Amish family. Loved it. Even if it were only a restaurant and never had music, I would've steered people there.

Wincek: It was a bar and restaurant first. The music started a couple of months into it. We had cover bands, but it wasn't really bringing in anything, so we started booking live, original music with Mary McCann helping out.

Mary McCann, former KZON/KUKQ DJ: Joe Myers was doing open mics there, which was one of the first things at the club. He pulled me aside and said, "Can you do anything for these people? They really want music but don't know what they're doing." They had this corner triangle stage and didn't know much about the scene.

Wincek: It was this small stage built at an angle for an acoustic player.
McCann: We wound up doing the usual suspects like Joe Myers and Hans Olson there first. [The owners] wanted bands but had no idea what it cost. Laura Liewen, who bartended at Long Wong's, and I started with some low-dose things. They were completely unfamiliar with booking. So it was a massive public education project.

Wincek: Mary booked us for maybe 12 to 14 months and was really helpful. She booked Lime Green, Stevie J., and Major Lingo.

McCann: I think Stevie J. [Steve Larson] was in Lime Green, who may have been the first band.

In 1989, Tempe icons Gin Blossoms and Dead Hot Workshop began performing the first of many gigs at Hollywood Alley.

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9 comments
ericbeltran252
ericbeltran252

Loving how Fun Bobby seems to be recalling those early days. Working there funny are the ones that follow Jim Monarchs recalling time when worked there and woooo the drinking did after shows. Funny cause he really cant recall l

drewbylockwood
drewbylockwood

Some of my best memories are at The Alley, both onstage and in the audience. And in the secondary restroom with the locking door. Ross is just absolutely one of the best. Sigh.

Sara Sturz
Sara Sturz

I remember Roger taking care of me when I could not take care of myself! He would let me groom his beautiful Collies when I had no one and nothing! I think Hollywood Alley and those collies are part of the reason why I am still alive today!!! Thank You Roger!!!

Alexis Boyle
Alexis Boyle

My band had the distinct pleasure of playing there just about a month ago - a first time for all of us. We were struck by the genuine hospitality of everyone there. Great piece, Mr. Leatherman. Thank you.

Murs
Murs

Thank you for putting this together and sharing it with us all, Benjamin. And thank you Ross (and countless others) for creating such a wonderful place here in the Valley. -Mercedes

Dfactor
Dfactor

Cool stories and pics! Glad I was able to play there a few times for International Pop Overthrow and other shows. Keith Jackson still has the best hair in PHX rock scene.

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