A vital cog in the Arizona music industry for two decades, Charlie Levy is the owner of the promotions company Stateside Presents, which books acts for various venues throughout the valley and Tucson.
And more recently, he’s the owner of the downtown Phoenix venues Crescent Ballroom and Valley Bar – the latter a popular spot for Arizona politicos, who can sip on cocktails named after some of the state’s famous elected officials, past and present alike.
Where did the idea for the political themes at Valley Bar come from?
We really wanted to make it Arizona-centric, and came up with the Rose Room, for [former Arizona governor] Rose Mofford. We thought, ‘What are we going to call the bar?’ and I don’t know who came up with it but someone said, we were thinking about different iconic Arizonans, people from here, and Rose Mofford came up. It just sort of clicked, and we went with it. We had someone commission a Rose Mofford portrait and we started to call it the Rose Room, and she sent us a nice care package… We were going over drink names, and I believe it was my partner Tucker who said something about politicians, and we just sort of, one thing leads to another, and yeah, let’s go in that direction. It’s been really fun.
Have any of the politicians with drinks named after them been down to drink their own drink?
It’s always fun when you’re down there and you see Rep. [Ruben] Gallego and Councilwoman [Kate] Gallego having a Kate + Ruben. I’ve seen the mayor have a Stanton. The Big Nowakowski, which is basically a White Russian, I’ve seen Councilman [Michael] Nowakowski drink a White Russian. I’m still waiting for A. Biggs Old Fashioned to show up, I’m still waiting for the governor to show up. All the Republicans don’t show up! All the Democrats have been there drinking. So, I don’t know what that has to say.
Senate President Andy Biggs is Mormon, I don’t think he’s allowed to drink an old fashioned.
I know, but we’ll make it without the alcohol. Come on. You’ll see a lot of people, councilmen, and representatives from both sides of the aisle, show up, which is great.
Does everyone who’s tasted their own drink like it?
Kate definitely likes the Kate. It’s a little sweet, and I think Ruben’s more of a beer guy. I never asked [the mayor.]
When Valley Bar first opened, there was a cocktail named after Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpiao. Why’d it go away?
Some people got offended, and at Valley Bar what we do is fun. We’re not taking ourselves too seriously, and the last thing we want to do is offend anyone. So, we took it off the menu.
How’d you get involved in politics in Arizona?
I think I’m one of those people who’ve always been interested in politics. I’m from Louisiana, and politics, especially local politics, is a big deal there compared to here. Everyone knows who the mayor is and who the governor is, and here, I think 90 percent of the people have no idea who the mayor of Phoenix is.
What was some of the first volunteer work you did in Arizona politics?
When I came here, I put up some flyers here or there for some friends of mine, I did some canvassing, And then I had a friend of a friend who was working for Harry Mitchell, and I was like, ‘Hey, what can I do to help?’ I was like, well I can put on a concert, we can do something like that to get the ASU community excited. So, we put on a concert for Harry Mitchell in 2006. It was Jimmy Eat World, the Format which became Fun, and it sold out and the news came and it was a great event, and that’s sort of how I got a little more into politics.
And then you got to know former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
I moved to Tucson, and I didn’t really know anyone, and if you work on a campaign, you meet a lot of people and you’ll get to see the city. And I basically just called up Gabby Giffords’ campaign office and said, ‘Hey, I want to come help.’
I’ve been told that you’re Gabby Giffords’ personal photographer. How’d you get that job?
I’m probably the worst campaign volunteer ever, because when I called I was like, well I don’t like to canvass, knock on doors, make phone calls or stuff envelopes. Which are basically the things that someone volunteers… Now, thinking back, what a horrible prima donna I was! They asked the question, are you a photographer by any chance? I would consider myself an amateur photographer, I definitely have a strong interest and have some cameras and such, and they said, ‘We need someone to photograph representative Giffords at events for the website and to have pictures of all the events. Would you be interested?’ And I said absolutely. So, the first thing I did was go to Best Buy and go, I need to buy a camera.
So you were a pro.
I took so many photos because I was such a terrible photographer, that, after a couple of events, she came up to me and she’s like, who are you? Because I take hundreds of pictures to get one good one, she thought I was a stalker.
What’s the better city for the intersect of music and politics: Phoenix or Tucson?
Tucson for sure, because I think the musicians in Tucson are a little more politically active than they are in Phoenix. I think people in Phoenix care and are politically active, but there’s a lot of elder statesmen in Tucson, you would say in the music scene, that are very passionate about causes. So, it makes it, in that sense, a little more engaged. Tucson itself, I think people are a little more engaged in politics than they are in Phoenix.
When SB1070 was approved in 2010, a few bands actually boycotted Arizona. How’d that affect you?
It affected, I think more than me, the venues in town. I lost some shows, but I’m small and I can kind of absorb that better than if you’re a venue. And it affected a lot of my friends who work in venues. If bands and artists didn’t come, then they don’t have a job. And I thought it was stupid and not a really good way to make changes, to not show up. So, I spoke out and kicked and screamed as much as I could. I do believe that Arizona doesn’t have the best perception nationally, and so I think it goes with bands, I think it goes with when you’re dealing with booking agents. It doesn’t help to have that reputation that I think we might have a little bit, which I think is unfair. Once you get down here, Arizona has some great people and I just think sometimes people don’t think about the bigger picture.
Are there any new drinks in the works?
We’re always thinking of something new. About every six months, we’ll change our cocktail list. We’ll definitely add some more cocktails and some more politicians. If you have any ideas for names, I’m the first person to take them. Some person came up to me with the Janet Napolotini name – that didn’t come from us, just a customer – and we made that, which is a great drink. And we’re always open. And I really want the governor to come have a drink with me.
Why isn’t there a cocktail named after Sen. Don Shooter?
He was there! He’s been at Valley Bar before. He’s a taller guy right? Maybe next time. Look in January. There might be a Don Shooter cocktail.