SALT LAKE CITY — Neal Middleton knows what makes a good club.
For more than 15 years, the frontman for Utah’s veteran rockers, Royal Bliss, has been touring the nation, playing a wide variety of bars, pubs and clubs in addition to the larger theater and amphitheater venues. That also means he has eaten a lot of bar food and drunk a large variety of beverages.
He knows what works well and what can make for a miserable night out.
Now, Middleton is using his years of “research” to fulfill another longtime dream of his: running his own club.
Salt Lake County’s newest club, The Royal, 4760 S. 900 East, is well on its way to becoming the next great nightclub/small concert venue along the Wasatch Front. If the venue’s atmosphere – and even its bi-level layout – reminds you of the good ole’ days of Salt Lake’s late, great Zephyr Club, that’s not by accident.
“Here in Salt Lake, we lost so many awesome clubs like Port-O-Call, Zephyr, Cabana, so many places that I loved and used to hang out at,” Middleton said. “I think we’re missing that presence of a smaller venue. If we can build that again, because there’s just a huge void I think personally, and have that again.”
The Royal isn’t just a club that Middleton slapped his name on and then went off to focus on other things. A short walk with Neal through his club and one immediately sees how detail-oriented he is. Constantly noticing little things that need improving or fixing, Middleton notes that he wants his club to forever be evolving and improving.
“Everyday we come up with new things we want to do.”
The idea for The Royal was simple. “Mix music and partying, which are two things that I really love,” Middleton said. “The room will get its own personality from the people.”
He was completely hands-on when the building was remodeled. Middleton had a vision of what he wanted and “went to town,” as he put it, tearing down walls and ripping up the floor, sometimes with nothing but his own hands and a jackhammer.
The Royal has been the home of several restaurants over the years, including The Pine, Rivers, and most notably Oceans. Middleton has re-done the interior, making better use of the floor space. There is plenty of room for patrons to sit as well as get up and move around and dance. Bars are located on both the lower and upper levels.
And, of course, there is a stage.
But The Royal won’t just be a place for Royal Bliss to host their own shows. Middleton hopes to bring in other national touring acts of all music genres.
“I want to bring in country bands, I want to bring in rock bands, I want to bring in classic rock bands that are still touring,” he said.
Middleton also wants to give local bands the chance to get their feet wet. And whether that night’s act is nationally known or just starting off, he said they will all be treated all the same. It just takes is a few little steps to make bands feel welcome, he said. It’s something that Middleton said doesn’t always happen to Royal Bliss.
“I think that’s one of the biggest things that drives me crazy. We’re from Utah and we’ll go play Chicago and Michigan and San Francisco and all these different cities and be treated like a national touring act. But still here in Utah, we go play different things and are still treated like a little local band. We’re a Salt Lake band that does well outside of the state. We promote the hell out of the state when we’re on the road. I love Utah, and we support it more than anything else because we’re proud to be from here.”
In addition to live music, The Royal hosts karaoke on Wednesday nights, DJ’s and dance parties on Saturday nights, and expects to hold specials on Sundays during football season. The Royal has both indoor seating and a fantastic patio next to a fish-filled stream, overlooking the Wasatch Mountains.
And then there’s the food.
Middleton hired Darby Debellis, who also owns Santa Monica Pizza and Pasta in Ogden, to run the restaurant side of his club. There are no frozen taquitos reheated in a microwave and served here.
“The food is just killing. The burgers will knock you out of this world,” Middleton said enthusiastically. “There’s so much amazing food happening in Utah, we want to be at that level and above.”
Middleton said he and his bandmates experience so many different foods while on tour, that when they find something special, he’ll text Debellis from the road just to give him ideas. It was the band that came up with the club’s popular special mac-and-cheese burger that includes eight different cheeses, bacon and onion strings.
One of the most popular items at The Royal is the chili verde nachos, made from a special family recipe passed down to Debellis. The idea is to load the nacho plate so deep, that every chip on every layer has cheese on it.
The opening of The Royal does not mark any type of retirement for Middleton and Royal Bliss. On the contrary, Middleton said the band has been busy writing new material and will be on the road for much of July.
But when he’s in town, you never know when your server, or the person who shows you to your table or your dishwasher at The Royal will be Salt Lake’s resident rocker.
“In the most successful clubs, the owners are hands on,” he said. “I know this side of the bar where I can drink and have a good time and I know what makes me happy as far as beverages and people, I love people, I love getting out and talking to them, so this is what I’m good at. But I want to learn everything behind the bar as well. I want to show I’ll be mopping the floor and cleaning the toilets at the end of the night too.”
4760 South 900 East
Wed – Fri: 5:00 pm – 1:00 am
Sat – Sun: 12:00 pm – 1:00 am