Editorial: A normal Friday night in Melrose can be described as pretty much anything but deserted.
With more bars in a single square mile than any other in Phoenix, the only thing someone would not expect on a weekend here is silence.
But these are not normal times.
And what will be “normal” after this?
For nearly four years now, the staff at Restaurant Progress have been raising expectations for fine dining in Midtown.
Their bistro at 7th and Montecito Avenues infuses fresh and local with old world dedication, and there is almost always a line to get inside.
Progress is an intimate, urban storefront located next door to a city park, an independent pharmacy, and a classic-rock themed tavern.
It’s something you might expect in Soho (New York City) or North Beach (San Francisco).
An hour inside will offer cuisine and conversation unparalleled anywhere else in town.
The food is prepared at an island kitchen in plain view, and the wait staff are expected to participate in its preparation, while also engaging guests in genuine conversation.
Their standards are high, and to watch their craft is like watching a dance.
So when the unilateral command came down from Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego for all restaurants to stop providing places for social interaction March 17th, Progress owner T.J. Culp immediately adjusted to the music.
Progress is now one of three restaurants on Seventh Avenue between Indian School and Camelback staying open after sundown to offer take-out meals.
The other are the family owned Thai Long-an at Campbell Avenue, across from the Melrose Apartments, and the Phoenix Fry Bread House just north of the canal.
Copper Star Coffee at Heatherbrae Avenue has remained opened during the day for takeout coffee and baked goods, but has been closing at Five P.M. each night.
Despite the efforts of all three, the Melrose Mile has been nothing like what it normally is on weekends, harmoniously bustling with antique shoppers and bar-hoppers alike.
“I’m not making any noise,” Culp said last week. “I’ve got a business to protect.”
Merely a fraction of what Progress can do, Culp and his team are now selling one person meals-to-go for $25.00 a pop.
Each night hosts a different entree, mostly centered around comfort foods like fried chicken, pot roast, and pastas.
Each dish also includes one side.
Friday’s rations offered tender, blackened short ribs that were pink enough on the inside to keep you wondering, how do they do that?
The ribs came with buttered and chived mashed potatoes, sauteed pearl onions, and roasted brussels sprouts sprinkled with parmesan.
Where else but Melrose can you get that to go?
Requests for entrees must be phoned in ahead of time by calling 602-441-0553, or you can walk down without an appointment and get a brick-oven roasted pizza.
The latter privilege was once reserved for the scores of guests who used to fill the patios out back.
Even though peaceful gatherings are now frowned upon by the State, the pizza is no joke.
It will boast cheeses, veggies, and/or meats so fresh they will linger after you’ve swallowed.
…or you can buy some liquor, as Progress is selling its whiskeys, wines, and beers to go.
Amy is a server at another restaurant near 20th Street and Camelback, but she lives within walking distance.
She and her boyfriend Joey ordered a Negroni and a couple of Old-Fashions (cocktails) to take back home.
They stayed for a few minutes to chat with T.M.L. in the Lyceum, the park that Melrose built in partnership with the City of Phoenix and Clear Channel Outdoors.
“I work in the industry,” Amy said. “I came here and I want to help.”
Amy didn’t want to say where she works, but said her shift has been cut to three days a week.
Joey said they have both been impressed with Progress in the past.
“Every time we come here it’s been great,” he said. “It’s the right atmosphere, lighting, set-up, and the staff are all nice.”
Both Amy and Joey said they’re nervous about the state of Phoenix.
“It’s insane, it’s the craziest thing in our lifetime, and probably our parents’ lifetime,” Joey said. “Even this (interview) is a little sketchy now.”
While Amy said she was mostly afraid that everyone would get sick, Joey said he was concerned about individual freedoms.
“It would be worse if we were told we couldn’t leave,” he said. “Our country is getting hit pretty hard.”
Neighbors Robert and Angel live just off Seventh Avenue and frequented the Thunderbird Lounge next door to Progress.
They walked down to grab a pizza Friday night.
“We can’t drink inside with them,” Robert said. “But we can still spend some money here to help out.”
He said he and his wife used to go out in Melrose once or twice a week.
“We were so excited to have a pub to go to in the neighborhood,” Robert continued. “This is one of the best neighborhoods in Phoenix.”
Robert said he was a police officer for 29 years.
“We miss Short Leash Hot Dogs, Joe’s Diner, and Melrose Kitchen,” Robert said. “I think this is just the beginning and it’s going to get worse.”
Angel didn’t say much other than that he agrees with Robert about Melrose.
“The Governor may order you not to walk around,” Robert added. “Enjoy it while you can.”
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey was interviewed Friday night by Mark Curtis with Channel 12 News.
“I wish we weren’t doing this,” Curtis began the interview with the Governor. “But we’re doing it for all of you.”
Curtis then asked Ducey if he felt pressure to issue a state-wide house arrest order.
“Our situation in Arizona is different,” the Governor told Curtis. “I’m not looking to compete with other governors or to play any politics.”
Ducey declared a “State of Emergency Around Health” last week that he claimed gave him the authority to close bars and restaurants, except for takeout food.
This happened several days after Mayor Gallego ordered all bars and restaurants closed on St. Patrick’s Day, without a vote of the City Council (read more.)
“Shut down restaurants and bars we’ll continue to escalate as necessary and appropriate in this state,” Ducey said Friday. “If you’re not sick and you want to go out and go for a walk that can also be good for your health.”
At around the same time of the interview, another area resident by the name of Megan came to Progress to pick up dinner with a friend and two dogs.
She was reluctant to give an interview.
“We’re going to support (Progress),” Megan said. “It’s kind of a wild time.”
So far, at least four people have been on staff every night at Progress.
Who knows how long Culp and his people will be able to keep it up, but with so few choices for cuisine left in Phoenix, whatever they’re doing still seems like progress.