Long Wong’s: By Musicians, for Musicians
Published: Friday, April 27, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 30, 2012 12:04
Long Wong’s at the Firehouse is perhaps the most passion-driven bar and venue in Tempe, and the local bands who have embraced it as their home are its driving force.
A rebuilt firehouse, this particular Long Wong’s recently celebrated its two-year anniversary. Slowly but surely, it has moved out of the shadow of Tempe’s previous Long Wong’s on Mill Avenue, but still carries on the tradition of fostering local music.
“When it first opened we had a smaller number of bands and we’ve just been expanding – more people have been coming in, more bands, different scenes,” said Kalen Lander, a bartender who graces the Long Wong’s stage with his psychedelic hip-hop band TKLB. “We’re trying to encapsulate all the scenes from around the Valley.”
There is live music seven nights a week and plenty of characters to meet. It might seem easy to dismiss the red and yellow building on the corner of Apache and McClintock, but you would be sorely missing out. Long Wong’s is the “Cheers” of local music, where everyone knows your name.
“It’s kind of like everyone’s home base [and] their home away from home,” Lander said. “You’re going to run into someone you know. Everyone is really friendly. You can talk to the bartenders about music or whatever.”
The walls are completely covered in posters, records, art, and it’s fairly normal for the ESPN on the televisions to go unnoticed. Long Wong’s is a place where creative and talented individuals come to have a drink, grab a bite and confide in one another.
“Here everyone is really pushing toward everyone else’s success and not only as friends,” Lander said. “If one person makes it will totally be good for all of us.”
The bartenders do it all (there are no servers) and they do it well. Cheap drinks fly fast and every time a fire truck drives by with its lights on, anything at the bar is $1. These charismatic barkeeps also all happen to be musicians who can be found on the other side of the bar on their nights off.
“I get to bop around the bar and make drinks and hear my favorite bands play,” Lander said. “I really couldn’t ask for anything else.”
Long Wong’s is also a hub for dozens of regulars who complete the community and make it a family. Friends are greeted with hugs and high-fives and their warmth makes Long Wong’s feel like someone’s home rather than a bar. It also helps that there is a couch and TVs connected to video games ready to be played.
There is no denying just how unique Tempe’s Long Wong’s is. A hole-in-the-wall with a devout following, it hardly need any press, but deserves all the praise it can get.
Bands set up on a small corner stage, facing the audience that on most nights is comprised of mostly musicians, and they play knowing there is nothing to be proved.
It’s common knowledge that you can’t just come in from out of nowhere and try to book a show. Eric Palmer, singer and guitarist for Future Loves Past, who also works the bar, said it takes more than a phone to book a show. Bands need to make an effort to hang out, meet the community, and find their place in the Long Wong’s schedule.
“There’s always new bands playing here,” Palmer said. “You’ve just got to come down and get to know the people here first.”
Palmer’s band was actually formed at Long Wong’s. Other bands, such as Sasquanaut, started off doing open mics.
“We’re nice to everyone because we want everyone to come back,” Palmer said. “I’ve never known a bar to hang out in that was this cool [and] where you could just go and everyone would be your friend.”
It works out in Long Wong’s favor, as crowds build and friendships are made, bands develop loyal fans and drinking buddies.
There is also a sense of stability, as bands are offered residencies. F.Bom Fridays (a Friday night residency that features a band for a month) is just one example the residency nights at Long Wong’s. Rather than having the venue book every show, Long Wong’s books a band for a month and the bands book their openers.
“As soon as you get done with the month, you’ve got a list of people you played with and it’s really neat,” said Japhy’s Descent singer and guitarist Travis [last name redacted]. Travis works the bar, hosts Thursday’s Open Mic nights, and plays with his band.
These nights only add to the camaraderie between musicians. It’s not uncommon to see Mikel Lander (Kalen’s brother) from the blues band the Sugar Thieves take the stage and bring up Brad B from hip-hop band The Insects.
There is clearly more to this place than chicken wings and dollar PBRs. No two nights are the same at Long Wong’s and its patrons seem to know that. Local bands know it’s the place to meet other musicians.
“[Long Wong’s at the Firehouse] is one of those things that you couldn’t know what it would turn into and now that it is what it is, you can’t even put your finger on it,” Travis said. “It’s not one thing, one band, one person, it’s a collective. It’s a good place to just relax and listen to music and meet people.”
Long Wong’s at the Firehouse, 1639 E. Apache Boulevard, Tempe, 480.967.0167, longwongstempe.com