JunXion is a Bar for Music and Conversation
November 13, 2012
By Teya Vitu
They want JunXion to be a bar where everybody knows your name.
Mike Skwiat and Andrew Sommers see JunXion, 63 E. Congress St., as a place where friends gather rather than where singles prowl.
“We want everyone to feel welcome,” said Skwiat, whose motorcycle/fashion shop Knucklehead Alley filled the same space now transformed into Downtown’s newest bar. “Our big focus is the best top-notch service in town.”
Sommers, the general manager and part owner, fully embraces attentive customer service.
“People who come here will be engaged by staff. Three people better say hello to customers,” said Sommers, most recently general manager at Zen Rock and Sapphire Lounge, just a few store fronts to the left and right of JunXion. “My customers should know every staff person’s name.”
Live music and more than 100 varieties of vodka will be the signatures at JunXion. But there will be a twist to the live music. Bands will play Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights, but Saturdays and Sundays will have DJ music toned down to a conversational level.
“You’re going to be able to talk to each other,” Sommers said. “Here it’s about friendship. It’s not a swinging singles bar.”
Skwiat concurred: “All along I wanted this to be the opposite of a night club. It will not be that crowd. It will not be a dance club whatsoever.”
They have the after-theater crowd in mind.
“We’re monitoring the Fox calendar,” Sommers said.
JunXion has its grand opening Nov. 15, 16, 17. Skwiat intends to have the bar open every day of the year after that from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday to Friday and noon to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. “We’ll never be closed,” Skwiat insisted.
JunXion doesn’t have a kitchen but you’ll be able to dine on some of Downtown’s best food. V Fine Thai Dining, Monkey Burger, Empire Pizza, 47 Scott and Jimmy Johns will all deliver to JunXion.
“I’m friends with all the restaurant owners,” Skwiat said.
Skwiat (pronounced “skiat” – like Fiat) opened Knucklehead Alley at the corner of Congress and Scott in July 2011 as a custom motorcycle/fashion shop. The clothing was at the front of his 1,700-square-foot shop and the motorcycle workshop in the rear half – all in the same room.
“Four months later, I was already thinking about something different,” Skwiat said.
He envisioned doing mostly custom motorcycle work and some repair, but from the outset customers sought much more repair work and disenchantment quickly set in. At the same time, by September 2011, Skwiat started getting approached by all sorts of bar owners and restaurant owners interested in his space.
“I was never going to leave or let somebody buy me out,” Skwiat said.
Instead, why not open his own bar? Years back, he had tended bar for seven years, several at Frog and Ferkin non University. Skwiat weeded through 10 different partnership proposals with the objective of “not having them take the whole thing from me.”
Then streetcar track construction came along in April and Skwiat immediately shut down Knucklehead. By early August, JunXion was under construction in an expanded space now measuring 4,000 square feet.
Andrew Sommers found Mike Skwiat. That wouldn’t have been too hard. For three years, Sommers had been general manger at Sapphire Lounge and Zen Rock.
“There’s no human being who walked more in front of this shop than I did,” Sommers said. “ You can’t have looked in this store more than I had. I told him I could bring a lot to the table.”
Sommers brought his own inactive liquor license to the table plus 18 years in the bar business. He had owned North on 4th, where Sky Bar is today. Sommers officially moved over from Sapphire/Zen on Sept. 1.
“Our bartenders, every person is new to Downtown,” Sommers said. “They are young and vibrant and full of energy. We’re right next to Jimmy Johns. I took the whole staff over there. ‘I guarantee every person is going to say hello and we get our food fast. When we leave, they will say bye.”
Sommers and Skwiat want to match that model at JunXion.
Black “kinky vintage” wall paper covers the 18½-foot high wall behind the bar.
“For 10 years I’ve been trying to put up damask wall paper on the walls,” Sommers said.
Curated art will hang on the opposite brick wall.
There is a 80-foot-long, slender patio on the Scott Avenue sidewalk. Inside, JunXion will have two 70-inch televisions and a dozen 54-inch televisions plus two pool tables and a shuffleboard court.
JunXion has a full bar with an emphasis on the 20 beers and 100-plus vodkas.
Some of the beers on offer are Purple Haze, Moose Drool, Left Hand Milk Stout and Deschutes White IPA.
The vodka selections include all the popular labels plus more exotic titles such as 360 Vodka, High West 7000, Skinny Girl, Death’s Door and Rain Organics.
Sommers acknowledges that many of these may be entirely unknown to the public. You don’t have to commit to a full drink.
“Sampling is a big thing. This inventory allows sampling,” Sommers said.
Sommers knows of no other Tucson bar offering more than 100 vodkas and there will be a specialty drink for each one. He sees it as a no-brainer to put vodka front and center.
“My liquor purchasing for 13 years tells me vodka is the No. 1 seller,” Sommers said.
The streetcar may not have directly led to JunXion, but it did inspire the bar’s name and the X variation in the spelling.
“We like the X because it ties in with the trolley with the X railroad junction sign,” Skwiat said.