Built in the early 1960s by "Wild Bill Byrd" the original name was "Wild Bill's". At that time there were only a few western style saloons in North Scottsdale, since then, all the others have come and gone. In the 60's anything north of Lincoln blvd. were tumbleweeds, rattlesnakes, and cowboys. "Wild Bill's" was a dancehall and honky-tonk that had live music, chicken wire in front of the stage and all! One of the regular performers was the then unknown Waylon Jennings. Waylon played clubs around Phoenix after moving from Lubbock Texas. Wild Bill hired and fired Waylon many times, so the story goes. A colorful character from Wild Bill's days was "Mac the singin' bartender", and a good friend of Waylon's. Mac told the story of one night at the bar (after a few cocktails) Wild Bill was demonstrating "the art" of twirling a gun…. he dropped the gun, the evidence remains in the inch deep bullet hole in the post on the dance floor, miraculously, no one was hurt!
In around 1966, tax issues forced Wild Bill to sell. Locals Dick Campana and former Scottsdale cowboy mayor Herb Drinkwater came within days of purchasing the building, when a last minute change of plans made George (Handlebar mustache wearing) and Joannie ("J") Lautz, (hence the name "Handlebar J") the new owners. They had been managing the Lulu Belle restaurant in old town Scottsdale when the opportunity arose. Shortly after they bought HBJ, George, a consummate guitar player, hired bass-man and singer Brick Herndon to help him form a house band, the "Country Score" and the Handlebar J was up and runnin'. Still out in the middle of the sticks and tumbleweeds, they served up mouth waterin' BBQ Ribs, Steaks, Burgers and great live music. In 1967 Brick's wife Gwen went to work as a waitress at HBJ. Gwen had worked at the original Manuel's Mexican food restaurant on 32nd street and Indian school for 6-7 years prior to going to work at HBJ. When Gwen moved to HBJ Manuel hated losing Gwen as she was always hard working and loyal, but she wanted to be with her husband, Brick. The Herndon's worked with the Lautz's for over 9 years, entertaining, feeding and bringing people together with that western style hospitality HBJ has always been known for.
In approx. 1974, for personal reasons, the Lautz's decided it was time to make some changes so they took the bar out. (The old bar is in The Hole in the Wall restaurant in Phoenix). Needless to say, that idea didn't work, and the opportunity was handed to the Herndon's to take over HBJ. Brick had always wanted his own restaurant and a place his 3 young boys could also perform. With the help of local contractor (and Gwen's oldest brother) John "Jay" Lattimore and his wife Jennie, they put up the cash to put the Herndon's in business. Handlebar J continued with a huge grand opening on September 15, 1975, Gwen and Brick were the new legacy of HBJ.
Brick got sick in 1979 and lost his battle with cancer in 1981 at the young age of 58. Gwen almost single handedly kept HBJ going through it all, she kept it going, and it kept her going. Meanwhile, Ray, the youngest of their three boys bussed tables and learned many aspects of the business, until he started performing regularly on the HBJ stage with the Country Score band alongside his Uncle Mel Herndon (bass). Brothers Rick (drums) and Ron (piano) performed in the band on occasion as well. In 1986 Ray and Ron formed The Herndon Brothers band. The band brought a huge following of new-comers to the Handlebar J. Gwen managed staff, seated guests, and even cooked after the kitchen closed if needed, she did whatever was necessary to satisfy her guests, all the while enjoying working along side her boys in their family business. The love Gwen had for her boys was obvious to all, and she enjoy their music nightly.
Ray Herndon's involvement in country music has also contributed to HBJ's visibility over the years as a member of Texas singer/songwriter Lyle Lovett's Large Band since 1985, and as a principal member of the hit making MCA recording trio McBride and The Ride, in the 90s. Ron continued playing with The Herndon Brothers band, and held down the fort with Gwen.
Handlebar J has hosted many celebrities over the years; Dick Van Dyke, Buster Crabbe, Matthew McConaughey, Huey Lewis, Jimmy Fallon, Lyle Lovett, Vince Gill, Toby Keith, Kris Kristofferson, James Hatfield, Jordan Sparks, Hank Williams Jr., Shooter and Waylon Jennings, many of whom have jumped on stage to sing with The Herndon Brothers on occasion. In 2003 and 2004, Jessi Colter and Ray hosted a couple shows at HBJ called "The Outlaw Connection" as a tribute to Waylon Jennings. At the latter, SIRIUS radio's "Outlaw channel" was born and introduced LIVE from Handlebar J by "Little Steven" Van Zandt (from Bruce Springsteen's band and The Sopranos).
In 2007 Handlebar J and The Herndon family were inducted into the AMEHOF (Arizona Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame).
The legacy continues… Handlebar J, "Scottsdale's Original Rib House" is still known for our Bar-B-Q Ribs, Steaks, Burgers, Fish Fry, Corn on the Cob, Fried Chicken, Biscuits with honey and so much more, all made in house.
Besides our good food, country music is a huge part of HBJ. But don't be surprised if you hear various other styles of music from time to time, like blues, jazz or rock-n-roll. (Schedules are subject to change, so please call for information, or check our online calendar for information).
Gwen Herndon is/was the life-force of Handlebar J, and the owner/operator for over forty unbelievable years. In 2017, Dementia/Alzheimer's took Gwen from us. We will forever miss her physical presence, but Gwen and Brick are forever watching over us, and the incredible legacy they left for us to enjoy.
Hats off to you, our guests for your continued support of this one of a kind treasure…. We hope to see y'all real soon at "Gwen's" Handlebar J.