The Duce defies what you might imagine about the downtown Phoenix experience.
Where am I again?
To set foot in The Duce — a quirky mix of retail and dining in a cavernous, circa 1928 brick warehouse at Central and Lincoln south of downtown — is to experience a delighted sort of bewilderment, as if you’d stumbled into a funhouse-meets-time-machine, or at least somewhere very, very far from Phoenix.
Part all-American diner, part old-timey cocktail joint, and part soda fountain — not to mention boxing ring, clothing shop, and antiques dealer — it’s an alternate vision of what a downtown hangout should be. And named after the neighborhood’s old moniker, The Deuce, it references the gritty decades before revitalization became a buzzword.
Truly, The Duce is unexpected. For one thing, people don’t take advantage of historic properties here the way they do in some cities, where preserved buildings bring unique character to the urban fabric.
The proposed entertainment district in this part of town — in the orbit of the arena and the ballpark — never materialized, and the city’s set its sights instead on a very different vision, one embodied by the contemporary architecture and pristine walkways of CityScape, just a few blocks north of here.
And yet, here it is — a spot that pretty much defies what you think you might imagine about the downtown Phoenix experience.
The Duce is the brainchild of two Chicago transplants, husband-and-wife team Steve and Andi Rosenstein, who sold their vintage-inspired Fitigues clothing empire in 2006. In the meantime, they rounded up so many antiques that the dudes from American Pickers would drool if they saw the treasure trove in here. A highlight is the exquisite wood-and-glass Art Deco bar, plucked from a legendary Chicago jazz club called The Black Orchid. You can feel the history just oozing from it, as you sip a Cuba Libre and lean into its smooth wooden surfaces. It’s oddly glamorous.
While The Duce’s streetside façade is fortress-like (it was stripped to reveal original signage from the days when the building housed a metal forgery and bus body builder), the two rear entrances are huge and open — one reveals an incredible patio stocked with vintage bar seats, a gleaming silver Streamline trailer that serves as the restaurant’s kitchen, antique soda coolers, and a cheerful Hamm’s Beer bear statue holding a tray.
The other doorway leads to a retail space filled with racks of military surplus clothing and sportswear, vintage bicycles, soaps and lotions, antique kitchen accessories and ceramics, another impressive Art Deco bar, old bleachers, and a retro soda fountain. Just past the honest-to-goodness boxing ring at the far end (where you might see real action some nights of the week), there’s another entrance to the dining area, which is filled with communal tables and heat lamps.
By day, the surreal quality of The Duce seems exaggerated, if only because it’s largely deserted. The stereo blasts everything from Aerosmith’s “Dude Looks Like a Lady” to Elvis’ “Love Me Tender,” and one lone bartender will take your lunch order. There might be a handful of other people eating here, but in general, it feels like a place that time forgot. It’s a novelty that makes you wonder how it can exist and whether it will survive.
But things do rev up in the evening. There could be a DJ spinning an eclectic mix of oldies, and young dudes might be working up a sweat in the boxing ring. Twenty-somethings crowd around the bar for classic cocktails (think Moscow Mules or Greyhounds, served in Mason jars) or working-class beers like Schlitz or Pabst Blue Ribbon, while middle-aged couples with kids in tow gather around linoleum-covered communal tables scattered with baskets of ribs, rolls of paper towels, and bottles of sugary, old-fashioned soda pop. Conveniently, there’s a bunch of Hula Hoops on hand for kids (or adults, for that matter) to work off some steam.
And amazingly, despite the free-for-all atmosphere, the food is pretty decent…
525 South Central Avenue
Hours: 10 a.m. to midnight Wednesday through Saturday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.
French toast: $8
Brisket sliders: $8
Maple-roasted ribs: $14
Chicago-style hot dog: $4
[Source: Randy Cordova, Arizona Republic] — Steve and Andi Rosenstein have a photograph they like to keep close at hand. The young couple in the photo, taken 23 years ago on a vacation in Jamaica, are standing atop a 30-foot-high bridge, about to leap into the chilly waters below. The twosome seem to be equal parts excitement and nerves. “We had no money, no kids, no marriage, but we knew we were a good team,” Andi says now, examining the snapshot. “It was symbolic because we were jumping off at that point in our lives,” Steve says. “It was symbolic of a change that we were making in our lives.”
That “change” was the couple’s decision to open a business. The result: The clothing line Fitigues, a popular casual line of clothing that earned coverage on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and eventually grew into a national chain that the couple sold to Chico’s for just less than $10 million in 2006.
But the symbolism holds for the couple today. The Rosensteins are in their 40s, the parents of two healthy boys, ages 12 and 16. They live in Scottsdale’s posh D.C. Ranch neighborhood and spend summers at a waterfront home in Michigan. But the couple are not content to sit back and reap the rewards of a job well done. Instead, they’re embarking on an adventure that could change the face of downtown Phoenix. And although some people may think they’re crazy, the two are firmly committed to making this leap. “We believe in this project,” Andi says. “This is not a hunger driven by a financial motivation. This is driven by the passion to create something special.” [Note: To read the full article, visit Couple take chance on 1928 warehouse in downtown Phoenix.]
[Source: Jan Buchholz, Phoenix Business Journal] — The founders of a successful national retail chain are launching a new concept in the most unlikely of places: a 1928 warehouse at the corner of Central Avenue and Lincoln Street, on the southern fringe of downtown Phoenix. The building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has housed a variety of businesses, from a Ford dealership to the Hensley & Co. beer distributorship. “We fell in love with it the day we saw it,” said Steve Rosenstein.
He and his wife, Andi, are renovating the 14,000-square-foot building to house a restaurant, a farmer’s market and a retail store called R&R Surplus. Collectively, the project will be called The Duce in honor of the many produce markets that once defined the area. They expect the project eventually to employ 20 to 30 people.
The store concept centers on reclaimed and recycled fashion with a twist, including European-made thermal underwear embellished with Swarovski crystals, old-school collegiate sweats, bomber jackets, army duffel bags, cargo pants, PF Flyer gym shoes, and vintage Schwinn bicycles. The retail store, sandwiched between the future market and restaurant, is open by appointment only. The Rosensteins plan to open the store and the food market to the general public in October. The restaurant, which will focus on locally grown fresh produce and food products, will open when a partner is found, but the couple is in talks.