Durant's restaurant inspires reopening of play

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Durant

Durant’s steakhouse, a Phoenix landmark famous for its eccentric founder and its high-profile clientele, has inspired three books and a playthat opens this Thursday.

“In My Humble Opinion,” will open at the Playhouse on the Park, located on Central Avenue and Palm Lane. The play is set in 1988, one year after Jack Durant’s death. In the play, Durant (in spectral form), two of his ex-wives, a bartender and an unconscious drunk man sit at an imitation of Durant’s famous circular bar, discussing his exploits.

Topics range from when Durant was a hired hand for the famous gangster Bugsy Segal, to speculation about whether his restaurant was where the murder of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles was planned.

Carefree Theater Company, owned by Robert Bledsoe, is reviving the original play, written by Terry Earp and first performed in 2005.

“During the first run we sold out every performance,” Bledsoe said. “Arizona’s Centennial makes this play very apropos, so I don’t think we will have any problem with ticket sales.”

Bledsoe played Durant in the original production and will play him again in the upcoming one.

“Most of all, I just want to give playgoers a sense of what the man was like,” he said. “I think this play does just that.”

Founded by Durant in 1950, the steakhouse bearing his name is one of the oldest surviving restaurants in Arizona. It mainly caters to upper-income guests, with a porterhouse on the menu for $74 and celebrity regulars, such as Mohammed Ali and Henry Winkler.

Durant moved to Miami, Ariz., from Tennessee when he was 14 years old. He became a miner, a minor-league baseball player, a brothel owner and eventually a restaurateur. He died in 1987, 37 years after opening the restaurant.

His steakhouse sits at 2611 N. Central Ave. and has a humble, aged exterior. The interior is dark, with the booths and chairs covered by red leather. There is an extensive wine list brought by servers in tuxedo vests who unfailingly say “yes sir” and “yes ma’am” to every request. Pictures hang throughout the restaurant showing Durant with his arm around various celebrities.

Durant hired Ernie Canez in 1960 to be the boiler chef. Canez still works there and is now head chef.

“Jack was one of the nicest guys I knew and one of the biggest assholes,” Canez said. “He was a great boss though, and most of the employees that worked for him would probably agree.”

Canez was one of a few lucky employees to whom Durant left money in his will.

“I think Jack did it because he felt that we were his family,” Canez said.

Sandy Eurich, a 22-year employee of the restaurant, knows all about the mystique of the place.

One legend Eurich spoke of was the house and $50,000 Durant left for his beloved English bulldog, Humble. The dog’s name, along with the name of the play, sprang from his billboard that read, “In my humble opinion, Durant’s is the finest eating and drinking establishment in the world.”

“I knew him before his death, and I usually tell people all the legends are true,” said Sandy Eurich. “They aren’t really, but a good percentage are.”

Contact the reporter at  jmmarsh1@asu.edu

Comments

  1. Bob Diehl says:

    This play is performed between April 26 and May 12 2012. A decent link to get tickets might be http://tickets.phoenixtheatre.com/default.aspx?filter=27

    I am not affiliated with Playhouse in the Park; just got irritated that, after this article got me all interested in seeing the play, the link wasn’t useful and I had to do all the research myself.

  2. Sara Steffan says:

    Thank you for your suggestion. We have added the link to the ticketing information to the first paragraph of this story.

    Sara Steffan
    Downtown Devil Night Editor