Phoenix New Times
(December 24, 1998)
Originally Published: December 24, 1998
Author: Brian Smith
Friday night downtown, between the decades-old warehouses and America West Arena, where old trolley tracks remain visible under streets paved over years ago, the dust and car exhaust blended with pithy scents of perfume and floated on a warm December breeze.
Like carnival barkers, the lanky parking-space hawkers with chutzpah in their pitch waved flashlights, directing the Lexi and Mercedi to empty spots in the throngs of shining cars lotted for the night's only events: the Amy Grant concert and the invite-only party for downtown's newest splash: Cooper'stown restaurant and bar.
Fronting Jackson at First Street, Cooper'stown sits with the blithe optimism of a big cash affair in a white, glazed brick edifice with giant polished windows. The interior is sage toned and bilevel with colonial leanings; the atmo is low-key, laid-back, even, but a bit upscale for true down and dirty rock 'n' roll.
Suspended television monitors run videos of Alice Cooper as the trash brat; various sporting events à la jock bar are also screened. That incongruous combination is magnified tenfold on three giant screens behind the bar on the west wall; it's an image that is almost surreal, as if glammy Alice, armed with a snake and various backing bands, could be dueling the padded action heroes with their sticks and balls.
The walls are bric-a-brac with Alice Cooper memorabilia and autographed photos of star sportsmen. On the east side of the building, an outdoor patio doubles as a rock venue with club lighting, a PA and stage setup for live bands; plus a separate bar, outdoor heaters that resemble actual fires, and tables with high-backed chairs.
The idea here, and the overall theme of the club, is to embrace both rock 'n' roll and sports, thus blurring the lines of their mutual exclusivity. And given that rock 'n' roll is now about as dangerous as a side salad at Burger King, and professional sports in downtown Phoenix is spurting forth gold, Alice Cooper and company have assembled a venue that is, shall we say, profit-margin ready.
"This place is great," says rock star Alice, looking healthy but still sticking out like a vampire in a shopping mall; he's wearing black shoes, black jeans, black button-down shirt, black leather jacket and shoulder length, jet-black hair. "I love it down here," he adds.
Under the high ceiling and thick aluminum air ducts, Friday night's private posh bash for Cooper'stown's investors and friends was an oddly unrock 'n' roll soiree: Lots of stiff suits, doctor/lawyer types with sound-bite greetings and cell-phoned ears nodding along to the bar band strains of "Route 66"; many were accompanied by wives or younger girlfriends. Some were down-dressed, middle-aged Scottsdale types with underage club-kid daughters, wide-eyed for star sightings.
Lovely Evening Star mouthpiece Mary Passarella offered the correct introductions with her pal, blond KDKB sales gal and all-around sweetheart Julie Herm, in tow. Also lurking about were pro jocks representing every major sport in the Valley, including the nearly seven-foot Diamondbacks' superstar-to-be Randy Johnson and fellow hurler Greg Swindell. Tempe scenester and Pharoahs bassist G. Brian Scott (appearing comfy in a not-quite-up-to-the-moment leisure ensemble and suspenders, a get-up that was more activist lawyer than ersatz rock star) demonstrated ample PR skills, hilariously pushing himself into a photo op with Channel 3's newscast crew of media hams. "I gotta get a picture with what's her name," he said.
The entertainment was a trio led by Michael Nitro, who paraded a sequence of somewhat worthy classic rock faves that upheld the honor of biker bars everywhere. Later, Nitro was joined by the Coop and ex-Icon guit shredder Danny Wexler to bravely attempt Coop classics like "Under My Wheels," "School's Out," and "Be My Lover," as well as standards such as "Jailhouse Rock." Even in this subdued setting, the Coop still commanded attention like the perennial rock 'n' roll star that he is; his voice rich, his presence cool.
Nubiles in short skirts moved to the front of the stage, prompting standup comic and Alice golf buddy Mark Cordes to say, "It doesn't matter how old, you gotta love Alice."
Local concert promoter and a Cooper'stown partner Danny Zelisko -- not regarded for his singing ability or stage demeanor -- offered back-up vox and even tackled lead on a grin-filled torturing of the Doors' crusted "Roadhouse Blues." Valley residents such as Creedence Clearwater Revival drummer Doug Clifford and erstwhile Springsteen sideman Nils Lofgren joined in for classics like "Honky Tonk Woman"; Megadeth's Dave Mustaine jumped up just toward the end.
The ethnically diverse crew of bartenders, barmaids and club employees all donned the patented Alice Cooper eye makeup, and as the night wore on, their cosmetics smeared, producing more of a Cabaret-era Joel Grey effect. The drinks, though, were on the house, as was the extensive buffet that offered various pastas, rib tips, salads and pizza briquettes. (The food, a taste of the restaurant's fare, simply rocked.)
At Cooper'stown, the vibe was this: Rock 'n' roll is for grown-ups with season tickets, and requires things like credit cards and the need to leave early and get to bed. But, and what really matters, the babe count was high.
(Originally published in the Phoenix New Times, December 24-30th, 1998)