Wong in the Tooth

Written by Colin Lecher Category: Valley News Issue: January 2012
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Hot Workshop. Thus, a grease-splattered wings bar became ground zero for the so-called “Tempe sound” that swept the nation.

Devotees have yearned for the bar’s resurrection since the old building, located at Mill Avenue and Seventh Street, was bulldozed in 2005. And they’re getting their wish – after a fashion. A couple of miles away from the original location, Long Wong’s at the Firehouse is resurrecting some of that bygone rock-dive buzz. 

“I called it Zombie Wong’s,” manager Jack Maverik says, recalling the day in 2010 when the bar opened for business in a converted firehouse on Apache Boulevard. “It was like [Long Wong’s on Mill] was back from the dead.”

Of course, the DNA of the new Wong’s is slightly different from the old. In 1979, restaurateur Ron Goldstein – with the help of his brother, Andy, the guy behind the Two Hippies cheap-eats empire – launched the iconic Long Wong’s chain with his first location in south Scottsdale. Years of expansion and franchising followed, and in the early ’90s, Goldstein sold Long Wong’s on Mill to local promoter Scott Magill, who turned it into the live-music hotbed that inspires so much nostalgia today.

Long Wong’s at the Firehouse is owned by local investor Avi Sadote, who licensed the trademark from Goldstein. So it has a different owner than Long Wong’s on Mill. Considering the famously laissez-faire Goldstein licensing policies, it might have different wings, too. But the new location – unlike the dozen or so other Long Wong’s franchises that continue to exist in the Valley – features local music seven nights a week and the same grassroots vibe as the old place.

“We created a community-based dive bar for musicians and artists [on Mill],” says Sadote, a Long Wong’s on Mill habitué who considered himself part of the scene. “That’s what we had there, and that’s what we have here.”

Some of the old Long Wong’s brain trust concur. “It’s similar because they have a really good, young new music scene going on over there,’’ says former Long Wong’s on Mill music booker Sara Cina, who now books bands for Teakwoods in Phoenix. “All the bands are excited, the fans are excited, it’s a little community – and that’s just like the old Long Wong’s.”

Unlike Tempe’s most high-profile music venues – including the Marquee Theatre and the Sail Inn – Long Wong’s rarely features out-of-town bands. Rising Valley rockers like Future Loves Past and Banana Gun (see sidebar) are regulars. Patrons also might catch longtime local acts like Page the Village Idiot or Ghetto Cowgirl, a staple at the old Long Wong’s on Mill.

“Long Wong’s has become a great platform for up-and-coming talent to get some exposure and stage experience,” says Meridith Moore, lead singer for Valley-based roots and blues band The Sugar Thieves. “On any given night you are guaranteed to see great talent on the stage.’’

Though longtime fans are happy to entertain the old-Wong’s/new-Wong’s resurrection fantasy, some current scenesters prefer to keep their eyes forward. Between gulps of PBR, Sugar Thieves guitarist Mikel Lander brushes aside the notion of a “Tempe sound” second coming before picking up his dobro and launching into a few bars of driving Delta blues. It’s Monday night, and that means “Funked Up” – an acoustic blues hour, followed by someone spinning old school funk records. Lander finishes his lick and strikes a contemplative pose. “But it is nice to keep the name going,” he adds. “Everyone respects what Long Wong’s was.”

The New “Tempe Sound”?
See these established and up-and-coming Valley bands at Long Wong’s at the Firehouse in Tempe.
Darkness Dear Boy: This “bro rock” power-trio recalls an early-to-mid-’90s college radio hit machine, à la Red Hot Chili Peppers, 311, Cake, etc. (Wednesdays)

Banana Gun: Using banjos and farfisa keyboards, this eclectic folk-rock outfit creates porch-stomping psychedelia with strong whiffs of country and blues. (TBA)

Future Loves Past: “I see about 15 acts a week... and never have I gotten quite the reaction I do when they play,” Maverik says of this dreamy Tempe-based soul-pop group. (TBA)

The Dellinger Feist: Having parted sonic ways with Kirkwood Dellinger bandmate Elmo Kirkwood – son of Meat Puppets founder Curt Kirkwood – Brian Dellinger launched this electro-pop project with sister Chelsea. (TBA)