They say “stick to what you know.” If there’s one thing Charlie Levy knows, it’s the music business.
He has been a stalwart of the local scene since the mid-’90s, when he founded the promotion company Stateside Presents and booked musicians at now-defunct venue Nita’s Hideaway. Levy’s recent projects include Valley Bar and Crescent Ballroom, concert halls that have quickly become the backbone of the downtown Phoenix music scene.
Besides booking some of the most sought-after bands in the biz, Crescent and Valley Bar boast diverse drink menus, inventive fare and an all-inclusive atmosphere. Now downtown Phoenix’s venue virtuoso is using that same formula for his latest venture, The Van Buren. The 20,000-square-foot structure will offer the same hospitality and vibe as his other venues, but with a larger capacity. The repurposed car dealership, located on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Van Buren, can host nearly 1,900 people—more than Crescent and Valley Bar combined.
“I think it’s going to carry a lot of the same mindset, but the difference is the capacity, that it’s so much bigger,” Levy says.
“We’ll be able to do more special events and bigger concerts and have larger bands and crazier parties. The reason we did it in such close proximity of Crescent and Valley Bar is so you can go to Crescent for dinner, maybe see an acoustic show and then go over to The Van Buren and see a great concert and maybe end the night at Valley Bar.”
Built in 1930, the former Ford dealership was recently added to the Phoenix Historic Property Registry. Levy wanted to preserve the building’s wooden trusses and brick walls while enhancing it with state-of-the-art lighting and sound, a VIP lounge, indoor and outdoor dining bars and a special events space. The stage was built in the onetime car showroom.
“We’re calling it The Showroom because it was a showroom in 1930 and it’s a showroom now,” Levy explains. “Instead of seeing Ford Mustangs, you’re seeing Death Cab for Cutie.”
The venue’s name is a tribute to Van Buren Street’s status as the gateway to Phoenix in the ’40s.
“I think now it’s coming back to what it originally was,” Levy says.
Levy recently teamed up with entertainment company Live Nation and local impresario Tucker Woodbury, who is behind hip hotspots like The Vig and The Little Woody.
“A team is always better than one individual or one entity,” Levy says of the partnership.
The Van Buren will open its doors on Wednesday, August 23; the first show will feature California rockers Cold War Kids, with support act Joywave. A portion of ticket sales will go to local nonprofit Rosie’s House, which provides music lessons and instruments to underserved youth. The show is sold out.
The first few months will observe an eclectic musical calendar, including The Growlers, Future Islands, Against Me!, Bonobo and Portugal the Man.
“We’re really fortunate that we opened with such a strong and diverse calendar,” Levy says. “One of the things that will be the key to the success of The Van Buren is to have a really diverse musical lineup and have all genres of music in there every month. We want something for everybody, and we’re going to keep grinding away until hopefully everyone looks on the website and there are at least one or two things that are right up their alley.”
Levy has also been working closely with contractors, architects and engineers to renovate the building while preserving its past.
“Anytime you take an older building that wasn’t built from the ground up to be a venue, there are a lot of challenges,” Levy says. “From ceiling to roof to insulation to electricity, it’s a big jigsaw puzzle, but at the end of the day, that’s what makes it special.”
Levy contends that repurposed historical buildings possess a magic that doesn’t exist in modern structures.
“If you have a blank canvas and you build a brand new venue and everything is perfect, there’s something that’s lacking,” he explains.
Ultimately, Levy hopes that The Van Buren will represent the renaissance that is developing in downtown Phoenix.
“It feels like every day there’s a new building going up or someone’s opening up a new shop or a new gallery,” he says. “It’s exciting to be a part of that.”
The Van Buren, 401 W. Van Buren Street, Phoenix, thevanburenphx.com, @thevanburenphx.