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Mission: Minder Binders

As Tempe landmarks get an upgrade, memories of the place that once was

Published: Thursday, October 10, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, October 15, 2013 12:10

Minder Binders

Tiera Allen

The old red barn in transition to become The Mission at Minder Binders.

It might look like a stegosaurus now, but Tempe’s vacant urban barn will soon have a new occupant. And it won’t be a barn for long.

Current ASU students might know the old Minder Binders location as the “big red barn” on McClintock and University Drives, but for decades, the bar and restaurant, which opened in 1971, was a legendary Tempe watering hole that hosted countless celebrities and musicians.

Today, it’s a building in transition. The red barn exterior will slowly be transformed into a mission-style building and rebranded as The Mission at Minder Binders, swapping tired wood for a new stucco finish to be completed at a yet-to-be-determined date.

The building, which has stood vacant for eight years following Minder Binders sudden 2005 closure, was purchased by the owners of San Tan Flat in Queen Creek, who made headlines when they battled a decades-old Pinal County law that stated any unregistered establishment with outdoor dancing was an illegal dance hall and won.

The building had a history before it ever made an appearance in Tempe. The original barn building was meant to be a pre-fabricated church in Oregon, but instead was transported cross-country to the site it stands today.

While the exterior won’t be the same, 15-year Minder Binders bartender and manager Dave Cooper says the overall eclectic feel of the interior — bath tubs on the ceiling, oddities on the walls — will be maintained. It’s the sort of vibe TGI Fridays is going for and failing.

“The overall goal of Minder Binders is to bring back part of Tempe history and restore the original building, along with expanding on the design and upgrading the exterior elevations with a Santa Fe-style façade to bring part of Arizona history back to life,” reads a public development plan review by design firm Paramount Design & Consulting.

For Minder Binders’ loyal clientele, it was more than just a bar. It was a way of life. Former patrons can claim to have met their future spouses on Minder Binders’ grounds. Many-a-friendship was made outside on the volleyball courts, which (sorry) won’t be reappearing with the new design. As you might imagine, the new structure has made its share of friends and enemies among Minder Binders loyalists.

“I’m somewhat intrigued by [the new design],” Cooper, who spent time as a radio personality on 91.5 KJZZ and the former 95.5 KYOT, says. “It had to go in a new direction, I think.”

Still, there’s no erasing the past. It might have been “just a bar,” but it was also a gathering place for young people in the area, establishment regulars and local musicians, Cooper says. The Gin Blossoms can attribute part of their success to playing there. In fact, lead singer Robin Wilson worked in Minder Binders’ kitchen before the band saw a massive upswing of success in the ‘90s.

Movie star Mark Harmon had his bachelor party at the bar. Courtney Love and her band, Hole, made an appearance. Ultra-cheap beer and food fueled the entire operation.

Minder Binders wasn’t its own entity. It was part of a large chain of restaurants across the country owned by Grand American Fare, Inc., a partial investor of which was a young Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, the community feel of the bar outweighed the corporate atmosphere.

The Minder Binders experience ran deep for Cooper and many others, so when it shuttered its doors in 2005, it was a devastating blow to those who kept the place close.

“I cried [when the bar closed],” he says. “You know the expression — they say when you’re about to die, life flashes before you? I had something kind of similar to that. The idea that it was over just started sneaking in on me.”

New memories are sure to be made as freshly-stuccoed walls replace old wooden planks when The Misson at Minder Binders is completed. To stay up on the building’s construction, follow Cooper’s Facebook page at facebook.com/minder-binders. 

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