By Connor Dziawura
The historic Nile Theater has had a storied 94-year history in the Valley. Founded as a movie theater and eventually converted to a music venue, The Nile Theater has been a staple of Mesa’s Main Street for decades. After closing in 2002, the venue reopened in 2010 under new ownership.
Recently, however, the entity was rebranded and renovated, with its previously separate music venue and café modified to now operate under one name: The Nile. Beyond the new brand image, however, The Nile underwent a variety of experience-improving renovations.
The changes, owner Michelle Donovan explains, serve as a launch into the city of Mesa’s planned façade improvements of Main Street, which will kick off in March.
“In the ’90s, the city – all up and down Main Street – put these giant colonnades on the front of all of these historic buildings and stuccoed over them,” Donovan explains. “They have grants some of the buildings applied for to remove that colonnade and restore the buildings to more of what they looked like back in the ’20s when they were built.
“We received one of those grants, so it will go back to looking like The Nile Theater did in the ’20s, as close as we can get it.”
In the meantime, with Main Street renovations still a ways out, The Nile’s interior was renovated to go along with the exterior’s future facelift.
“We’ve been slowly doing it over the past year,” Donovan explains. “We redid that lobby and the bathrooms, kind of updated things – new paint, new everything. We repainted the inside of the theater.”
The sound has also been upgraded, she says, with additional soundproofing.
“We have all-digital sound,” Donovan says. “We were running a lot of old school NL4 cable type of stuff. Now, we’re on a Cat5 system with a digital board and some more powered elements to the sound system.”
Other notable changes include new stage curtains; renovations to the bar area, including church pews for seating; and an Egyptian Scarab beetle mural as a focal point.
“Just updating sound (and) updating the look in there so that there’s a cohesion between the coffee shop and the theater,” Donovan explains.
The goal, she says, is to make patrons feel as if they are in a common space. This is apparent, with guests now permitted entry through the café rather than the alley.
Sound and aesthetic changes extend partly to the theater’s hardcore-centric basement venue, The Underground. Concert tickets will still, however, specify which area of the theater a show is in, Donovan explains.
As for the café, the previously dubbed Volstead Public House is simply The Nile Café. Despite the new brand image for The Nile, the café’s choices will remain almost entirely dedicated to the vegan lifestyle, Donovan says. Options include sandwiches, salads and pastries, among other items. While all its food is vegan, dairy products are available for coffee drinkers.
“We do carry half and half and regular milk for the coffees because we’re not quite there yet in downtown Mesa,” Donovan explains. “The promising thing is, when we started, we carried dairy cheese as well. We came to a point where people just weren’t ordering it, so we were able to phase it out.
“I’m vegan myself, so I was excited for that to be acceptable down here,” she continues. “We’re slowly getting there.”
The café’s menu will continue to expand throughout the year.
“One of the things that we are doing this year is we’re adding a lot more vegetables into the menu, not just soy, meats and some vegetables,” she says. “We’re going to try to bring in a lot more fresh and organic, hopefully, local produce to the menu.”
The Nile Café also now serves a $6 grab-and-go lunch option, which consists of a tea and a different salad each day.
To celebrate the recent and future changes, The Nile will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, February 28, with Mesa Mayor John Giles. Throughout the day, T-shirt purchases will include a free cup of coffee, and $5 Reggie grilled vegan cheese sandwiches will also be offered.
The evening will conclude with performances by Senses Fail, Reggie and the Full Effect, Have Mercy and Household.
“That was actually a tour package that was already put together,” Donovan explains. “That tour is touring the country. It just happened to fall on the perfect date with the perfect lineup for what we were doing. It wasn’t a conscious thing at all. It just happened that way.”
The show will begin at 7 p.m. Tickets are $18.
“I remember when I was in high school going and seeing bands like Reggie and the Full Effect at The Nile, and then later on, Senses Fail played there,” Donovan explains. “Have Mercy is one of the bands that we’ve been developing at the theater that’s been touring through here for the past couple years, so it just seemed like a good combination of past, present and future, and that’s kind of the direction we’re going.”
The Nile, 105 W. Main Street, Mesa, 480.559.5859, niletheater.com.