My name is David Slutes. I’ve been a part of Hotel Congress for, oh, 24 years or so. I’ve taken on various roles – Cyber Café manager (remember cyber cafes?), Hotel Manager, self-appointed sommelier, and for the last 16 years, Entertainment Director. But even prior to my employment, I spent a great deal of my life here at Hotel Congress. As a musician, this was my favorite place to play; as a bachelor, this was my favorite place to play. Now, in April 2020, I am married with two children, and packing groceries at the Hotel Congress Market.
And I couldn’t be more grateful.
Hotel Congress is a special, weird, controversial, sprawling beast. The creative energy of the people who work here, the professionalism/anarchy of the management, the fearless politics and “go for it” attitude of ownership, and the “every guest, every time” mantra we corp-speak is actually embraced.
But now, most of this has been silenced. The concert venues, sit-down dining, dance club, weddings, parties, and hotel guests have all necessarily disappeared.
I miss it all. I miss our festivals and giant events of course—that’s my thing—but mostly I miss the days to hum. I miss the clink of wine glasses, I miss Salvador Duran crooning on Thursdays, I miss the wide grins of old friends meeting at the Tap Room to reminisce or pregame. I miss the knowing Michigan snowbirds showing their friends historical building details while adding new apocryphal details to the Dillinger legend. I miss the aging musician regaling his girlfriend about the amazing show he played here back in the 90s opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I miss the late night thump of the disco and the sleepless guest calling down to tell us to please turn it down. I miss the FBI-escort surrounding the political power lunch while seated next to the punk rock band, both tables tucking into the baked eggs. I miss the late night love birds sneaking into the dark corners where they think the security staff can’t see them. I miss the quartet of mezcal fueled dancers swaying to cumbia under the stars. I miss the giant pancakes awaiting to be eaten by the kids who are running laps around the plaza while a honeybee, eying his opportunity, swoops in. I miss best-bartender-ever Barb, yelling at one guest then hugging his best friend. I miss the clamor of the food truck as it churns out tasty 2am food to the post-drinking, pre-Uber club bum bar folk. I miss the boomers demanding more chairs for the early evening concerts then barely giving way as the horde of dancing millennials take over late night. I miss the gentle touch of our door staff escorting out that guy who is acting like a jerk. I miss the woman who insists on renting a “ghost room” then gets too scared to stay in it all night. I miss the ghost that scared her. I miss that awful band that drove everyone out of the Club. I miss that sold out show that everyone waited in a line for an hour on Congress Street to see. I miss the finely dressed wedding party guests getting down on the dance floor with the grimiest downtown hipsters. I miss the death-warmed-over, hungover couple who stumble down the stairs after their late-checkout, staring straight into the front desk attendant’s eyes and boozily stating “That was the best goddam night EVER” and then pleading for Tylenol and a Bloody Mary.
So who are we now? The handful of us who are left run a grocery store, a to-go food cafe, and a virtual nightclub. Remarkably, the Hotel Market found its footing fast and is making available a wide variety of essential items that are easy to order and pick up, making a win win for the community and the staff. The Cup Café is still churning out delicious breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day but Wednesday (our new day of rest).
For me, I’m particularly proud of our club team for launching a nightly virtual Club Congress that features artists and DJs every night of the week, and, with the help of the Southern Arizona Artists And Musicians Healthcare Alliance, are able to pay every artist that performs. That is cool.
We feel this is as close to honoring our mission as we can get. I’ve been here long enough to really believe that this place is special and will fight to the end to keep it alive, vital, and an important cog in the Tucson cultural milieu. This family-run business is still keeping valued employees employed (including me, ostensibly a booker of bands with an extraordinary lack of other useful skills), giving our guests grocery and dining options and keeping some blood pumping through the creative community. We are a shadow of what we were, but our heart is still beating.
We miss our comrades. We miss our patrons. This place is about people; it’s about the diversity of Tucsonans and travelers who feel the way we do about this place. Sure, its an historic, 100 year old building, but its real history is the stories and experiences that we all have made here. Like me, I bet you have a “Congress story” or two, as well.
Yep, we miss you dearly. I can’t wait until I get to see you and listen to your stories again, but more so, I can’t wait until we can start making new ones.