When Michael Withey was conceptualizing his Midwest-themed pub, The Bar, he had three words in mind: neighborhood, comfortable and soulful.
“We were doing an identity study before we started the thing, and I discussed all sorts of adjectives we wanted the bar to be,” says Withey, an Ann Arbor, Michigan, native. “I thought if I had to pick three words, that is what I would choose.”
The Bar, which opened in mid-December at the northwest corner of 32nd Street and Indian School Road in Arcadia-Biltmore area, has a distinct Michigan feel. Motown music fills the 1,400-square-foot room. Stroh’s and Detroit Tigers signs illuminate the space. He’s waiting for a frame shop to return an autographed Detroit Red Wings jersey.
“We’ve had people here from all walks of life,” he adds. “But, I’m very gratified to see a number of Midwestern people and a lot of neighborhood people. They walk here. They bike here. They say, ‘Thanks. We finally have a neighborhood bar that we can get behind.’
“There are a lot of Chicago bars in town, but there isn’t a Michigan kind of hangout.”
While there are no Coney dogs or Greek salads here, the food is revered. The Stand, a well-regarded locally based hamburger place, opened Neatly’s in The Bar. Modeled after a ’60s laundry, management says the food is “ironed, pressed and folded.”
“It is food that’s made to share, like wings and sliders—the sliders are ridiculous—Italian sandwiches and Cubano,” Withey says.
The Bar is the fruition of a longtime dream. Withey, a real estate lawyer and partner in Withey Morris PLC, worked as a bartender after graduating with “a worthless degree.”
“I figured that when I had a little more money and a little more time, I would open a bar,” Withey says.
He’s heard from plenty of folks that The Bar reminds them of hometown gems like Gusoline Alley in Royal Oak, Michigan.
“That’s the biggest compliment I can get,” he says. “It reminds me of home, too.
“When you’re in Michigan, there are lots of neighborhood bars like this. People know each other. People feel comfortable. There are nice places to watch the game, have a bit to eat and hang with friends. They’re just very comfortable for all ages. They’re supposed to be all-purpose bars that do not appeal to one person. Here in Arizona—nothing against Arizona, I love it—the tendency is to have more chains, more corporate bars and restaurants.”
To create that comfortable vibe, Withey added a painting of The Dude, from “The Big Lebowski” and the aforementioned Motown music.
“I spent an inordinate amount of time with the music, getting it to be the way I wanted,” Withey says. “I play almost exclusively Motown. I feel like Motown music is timeless, ageless. If you play music just for young people, then people of our generation aren’t necessarily happy. If you play music for old people, the young people aren’t very happy. Motown speaks to all generations. It has a great vibe to it. The vibe of the music sets the vibe of The Bar itself. That’s why we love it.”
The Bar, 3174 E. Indian School Road, Phoenix, 602.957.3686, thebarphx.com.