An All-Encompassing Experience: Art meets lounge at High Street’s Gallery Bar

By Connor Dziawura

Upon stepping foot into North Phoenix’s Gallery Bar, the newest addition to the growing High Street district, a laid-back, upscale vibe is immediately apparent.

Situated at the northeast corner of High and 54th streets, the combination art space and bar is a low-lit, classy lounge. Local art lines the walls, while the gallery floor is filled with couches of varying shades and styles, adorned with pillows featuring the likes of Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt, Benicio del Toro, Bill Murray, Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. A piano sits in the corner.

Then there’s the bar, front and center and accented with blue lighting, behind which are shelves stocked with a variety of wines and spirits.

The new nightlife spot puts a twist on a passion of local artist and business owner Jamie Almaraz, who has long held ties to High Street.

Also the owner of Cast Salon & Spa just a few businesses down, Almaraz calls art her first love. She was involved in founding the area’s Everything Beautiful Art Walk in recent years, but then the pandemic happened and it “fizzled.”

When things began to turn around and she had an idea to reopen the shuttered gallery that previously occupied Gallery Bar’s space, she was told it was no longer viable with the area’s growth.

So, she came up with a solution.

“I just thought, well, what if I made a lounge?” she says. “High Street doesn’t have a lounge. We can also double it as an art gallery, because a lot of people did miss that post the COVID stuff.”

After months of preparation, Gallery Bar finally opened in May.

The space features a full bar but no tap. This includes a selection of beers by bottle and can, as well as spirits and wines. Almaraz says it took manager Genna Preston a year to work out the wine selections, many of which she adds can’t be found elsewhere.

“The wine list is ever-changing as well, so we’ll have our staples, but we’re always trying to bring in new stuff,” Preston notes.

Wine is sold by the glass or bottle, which is also notable as Gallery Bar doubles as a market, according to Almaraz.

“The wonderful bottles of wine that we actually have on our menu are available to go, so we actually carry a to-go license,” she says. “So the residents can come down or if you’re here out at night and you want to grab a bottle to go, you have, what, Circle K as your option? We have a market. So we sell all of the bottles that we carry here at our market, and you can take them.”

As for food, Gallery Bar’s menu is minimal, focused on snackable items. Central to its selections are the charcuterie boards, of which there are several sizes of varying prices. Other additions, priced at $15, include zucchini bites, fried pickles, fancy truffle fries and white Wisconsin cheese curds. The Trio, also $15, is a pairing of olives, chips and almonds.

“I grew up in Europe, and if you’d ever go to a lounge or have a pre-dinner drink, they would always bring the nuts, the olives and the chips,” Preston recalls.

Almaraz says there’s no specific flow to the food menu; rather, she just wants to feature an interesting variety of choices. Fried pickles, for example, are a favorite of hers.

“I just want to bring like the greatest bitey food from all aspects, from all different cultures, and stuff most people love to snack on,” she explains.

The charcuterie boards are served on Provence Platters, which Gallery Bar has also partnered with for retail. Patrons will notice a selection of platters, which Almaraz says are recycled and restored from bourbon and wine barrels in France and California, hanging on the walls.

Pieces on display at Gallery Bar are also for sale. Preston curates with resident artist Joe Holdren, who also worked with her at the previous gallery that occupied the space. A new artist will be featured every 30 days, though Holdren will continue to display some of his work.

“During the time of the art walk, we did get into that culture a little bit, so we did find some really awesome artists,” Almaraz says. “We’d like to do a lot of local stuff. We’re very much about supporting local art.”

Gallery Bar’s ambiance is aided by live music several nights a week — a pianist performs Wednesdays through Saturdays. When the pianist isn’t on-site, music plays through the speakers.

“We wanted to encompass everything that has to do with art, from our food all the way up to music,” Almaraz says.

Events are also a possibility for the future.

“Eventually we’ll grow into opening nights for artists, so when we do bring them in, we’ll have an opening night kind of a celebration that our galleries typically do. … We’re open to hosting events for private parties and big groups,” Almaraz says.

From its bar and bites to the art on the walls and the music setting the tone of the evening, Gallery Bar aims for an all-encompassing experience.

“For me, I just want people to come in here and feel almost like they’re in their living room. I just want them to be relaxed, enjoy a great glass of wine, conversation, great art,” Preston says.

With the addition of Gallery Bar to the mixed-use district, Almaraz views High Street as being an up-and-coming area.

“High Street having had such a hard go at it, I think everybody — everybody, I would say — is rooting for it,” she says, describing it as “a really, really cool concept” and “a very swanky, cool street.”

“I think that everybody’s wishes for High Street are going to really come true, because it’s just been a struggle,” she continues.

“So, I think Gallery Bar brings something to High Street that is a very different concept. It allows you to go and have dinner and then come and have some cocktails before or after dinner and just kind of hang out in a nice, soothing atmosphere.”

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