Downtown Phoenix: The Grand
A 24-hour coffee shop, restaurant, bar, event space, music venue, speakeasy, and soon-to-open food market - The Grand on N. Central Avenue in downtown Phoenix encompasses all this and more. I recently spent an afternoon touring this remarkable space with owner and designer Steven Rogers, PR maven Jane Gordon, and artistic collaborator Sean Lopez of Synergistic Studios, who does the social media including videography and photography, and also books The Grand's live performances.
"This whole block had always been clubs, and I wanted to do something much more communal," says Rogers, a succesful nightclub entrepreneur who has owned the block of businesses for 21 years. "As a nightclub owner, I'm all about the ambiance and the experience. The reason I did the train station motif in here is because a train station is always open; there are always people coming and going. I wanted to create a gathering place and then have everything available in that place."
He parlayed his business savvy into this new venture, recognizing the growth in the downtown Phoenix scene, The Grand's proximity to the ASU Phoenix campus, and current trends. "You can't just copy a trend" he notes. "You look very closely and see what the force is behind the trend so you can take it to the next level, and that's what I did here. I saw all the different trends. I saw the craft beer, the coffee trend, I saw how integral the internet is."
Thus, you'll find a spacious patio and large indoor-outdoor bar offering wine, cocktails, and 25 craft beers.
Inside The Grand, also known as The Grand Central Coffee Company, the coffee shop is open 24/7 and serves coffee, tea, espresso, lattes and a variety of baked goods. "We also have liqueurs for our coffee drinks," adds Lopez. "One I like is called Grind. You add that to your iced mocha and now you have a coffee cocktail. And when's the last time you've had a latte with a kick?" he asks with a chuckle.
The wi-fi password is conspiciously placed at the entrance, and upstairs is the Study where you'll find people settled in on cozy sofas and desks with plenty of outlets.
Rogers has transformed the site of what was once his Club Amsterdam into a convivial neighborhood spot inviting all to sip, dine and relax. It's strikingly unique with two floors decorated with items from Rogers' personal warehouse of collectables. "Sometimes things don't work, but sometimes things are surprising and those are the best things," he explains as he likens the process to set design. "I work with one guy, Brian, who's like a master constructioner and can build me anything I need. There was no crew, the design is just us, and when you see all this, it's coming from the mind of one person. I've gotten more and more quirky over the years and I design for comfort. So it's just like a movie. When you have a movie made by one person, it really is a personal statement."
"The more I do this, the less of a purist I am. I'm getting into things that are more fantasy and surreal. I’m almost stuck in Harry Potter land in a way. I love Charles Dickens. I love turn of the century. I love the old train stations. I love those old libraries with stuffed animals and freaky things. I love all that stuff."
His background is just as interesting as the decor. As the bar manager in the 1980s at New York's Mr. Chow's, he tells of meeting stars such as John Lennon, James Woods, Francis Ford Coppola, and Richard Gere. He shares stories of time spent frequenting Studio 54, attending Elizabeth Taylor's birthday party, visiting Andy Warhol's house, and spending an evening dancing with actor Debra Winger. He also attended film school. "That's why this place looks more like a set, because of Steve's background," points out Lopez.
His design skills can also be seen in the Grand Ballroom and connected patio, which is available for events such as weddings and concerts. "It's more set design than interior design," notes Rogers.
This attention to imaginative detail is displayed prominently in the speakeasy Sanctum which can also be rented for private parties. Tucked away in the back of the second floor, portholes lend a bird's-eye view of the bar and coffee shop. The clandestine atmosphere is bolstered with plush furniture, tapestries, intimate hightops with velveteen stools, a vintage sound system with tube amplifiers, and a bar complete with absinthe fountain.
When Sanctum is open, entry will be gained by pressing a hidden doorbell and uttering the secret word through the antique speakeasy door grill. It was a special treat to not only be among the first to see this inner Sanctum, but to also enjoy excellent cocktails made by Rogers served in gorgeous glassware - absinthe in a Belle Époque-era uranium glass, Calvados Sidecars, and one of my favorite absinthe cocktails, Death in the Afternoon.
We ended our tour on the shaded patio as Lopez showed us The Grand stage booked by Synergistics Studio where singers and artists who sign up on the website can perform. "We want people to come to The Grand and have a grand experience. Ideally, we would like to have live music every day. There are going to be open mic nights, we're going to have improv nights, there's Vintage Wednesday. It's a great indie space and stage. And once people get a big enough following to charge a ticket price, guess what? We have a home for that too in The Grand Ballroom."
"It's not just a coffee shop, it's not just a restaurant, it's not just a bar," emphasizes Lopez. "It's equal parts all those things, and a place where you can go to see a live band play. It's a beautiful spot where people can come in and interact. It's just..grand."
The Grand is located at 718 N Central Avenue, Phoenix, AZ, 85004 and is open 24/7.
Click the photo below for part two to learn more about the restaurant's menu, craft brews, and cocktails.