When previous Lost Leaf owner Eric Dahl announced February of 2022 that the bar would be closing permanently, a disappointed community that had grown to call the bar their home hadn’t realized it would be thriving just a week later with a new owner.
The Lost Leaf provides more than just a pint of beer for a night out. The bar, a historic 1920’s bungalow, is a haven for downtown Phoenix’s music and art scene, according to Lost Leaf clientele.
In one corner, customers can enjoy solitude and ambience, reading books or relaxing at their leisure. Across the room, one can jam out to the near-daily live music.
Bartender Tim Buchanan, who started as a customer in 2007, left his security job of 12 years to jump on the opportunity to work at the Lost Leaf upon its post-pandemic reopening.
“It’s a place where the music is always changing. The physical appearance is always adapting when the art changes,” Buchanan said. “I love that there's a constant stream of people finding this place and falling in love because they're looking for something that is outside of the ‘cookie-cutter’ corporate nightclubs that are popping up in our area.”
Downtown Phoenix, which many argue is undergoing gentrification, has had a considerable amount of bars ‘pop up.’ But for avid Lost Leaf goers, these ‘flashy’ locations aren’t ideal for how they’d enjoy a night out, Buchanan said.
“The Lost Leaf definitely has an organic or authentic feel to it. This is just a 100-year-old building they just stripped the walls off of and put up the bare brick,” he said. “Very little has been done to improve this place.”
Employees have circulated in and out of the bar for the past 16 years, but specific customers, known as ‘regulars’ by Lost Leaf staff, have had a legacy of attending the bar since its opening in 2006.
Loyal regular and tech consultant Art Rosales said he was charmed by the Lost Leaf’s authentic ambience and decided to buy a house in the neighborhood because of his passion for the creative outlet and community.
“They don’t judge anybody. No matter how different you are, you’re exceptional,” said Rosales on the Lost Leaf’s character. “I don’t feel like I’m at a Scottsdale bar where people are looking at my shoes and my clothing. Here, people are looking at warmth and human expression.”
Prior to his involvement in the Lost Leaf’s community, Rosales described himself as being a ‘workaholic’ with a lacking social life. It wasn’t until his therapist recommended the Lost Leaf to him that his life shifted.
“You can come here and you don’t have to drink,” Rosales said. “You can just come here and enjoy, take it in, and you don’t feel like they want you to leave because you’re not spending money.”
Bartender Jason DeWitt, who has worked at the Lost Leaf for nearly 10 years, has seen firsthand how the bar has changed from when it was first opened to the time it switched owners. Amid it all, he still finds an appreciation for the culture of the bar.
“I like the community. I think they’re great, and we play all different kinds of music,” DeWitt said.
But that community has been dwindling since the change in ownership despite the unique take on a welcoming community aspect the Lost Leaf has advertised.
“They haven’t been coming in and are more saying it now rather than showing up,” Dewitt said regarding the decrease in regulars.
Chris Banks, a comedian, has a unique tie to the Lost Leaf and its community due to his work as a host. For six months, he has not only been producing the Lost Leaf’s monthly comedy shows, but is in charge of booking all the comedians and promoting the event.
Even though Banks is able to pull a decent turnout at the shows, he still feels anxious.
“At nine, when the show starts, there'll be only be comics there. And then people will just start pouring in at like around like 9:10-9:15,” Banks said.
But as Banks begins the show, he quickly relaxes as laughter fills the small venue.
“It's weird because there's the stage area. We can fit maybe 12 to 15 seats there, which is alright. But then there's this big room in the back and then you'll have people to sign down the walls sitting in every tabletop that you got,” Banks said. “And that laughter mixed with the laughter up front. It really feels cool when you're doing comedy out there.”
Aside from being a host for the monthly comedy show, Banks also hosts an open mic every week to boost his shows.
“I put a lot of care into it and working with them is pretty seamless,” Banks said.
Amber Wells, a regular of nearly 10 years, provided a personal glimpse of her mental health challenges and said the bar’s inclusivity had allowed her to be heard.
“I think their commitment to keeping this subtle, inclusive, welcoming part of our community and our music scene alive is invaluable,” Wells said. “Nobody can match that. There’s very few other venues in the city that have that inclusivity and are on the same level.”
Though the Lost Leaf has become increasingly famous for its hallmark in local music, art galleries, and strong community ties, it wasn’t always this way. Wells said during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, the business nearly shut down permanently.
During that time, the Lost Leaf had closed its doors to indoor lounging and replaced their live music with speakers, and were casually serving tamales to customers out of the window in order to make money.
“It was so weird, because I’ve spent so many nights here and there’s always live music. 365 days a year was the tagline,” Wells said.
Despite the lack of personal touch the speakers had to offer, Wells said the sense of community managed to keep the Lost Leaf intact.
“It was so nice to see my longtime bartender and just have them serve me a drink, and a smile and a tamale,” Wells said.
And its style didn’t go unnoticed. For the past 16 years, The Lost Leaf has won several awards, which Buchanan says are thanks to the regulars’ persistence to keep the community alive.
“The community that was here made this place the place that won all those awards,” said Bucanan. “Those people are still coming around. Those people are still here and their participation supports this place and is still so greatly appreciated.”