Downtown Tucson is Wild About the Cats!

March 20, 2014

Elliott's has more infused vodka than you could possibly try in one sitting. After downing one, you'll be sure to say, "Nice shot, buddy!"

Elliott’s has more infused vodka than you could possibly try in one sitting. After downing one, you’ll be sure to say, “Nice shot, buddy!”

by James J. Jefferies

It is impossible, especially if you grew up here in Tucson, to not feel the magical connection between this lovely time of year, and your own memories as a fan of Arizona Basketball.  The chain of excellence, given the now full-throttle attack under Coach Sean Miller, has been a fierce tradition in these parts for more than two generations.

Whether it was being hunched in front of an enormous walnut-paneled Zenith tube TV as a child, desperately wishing Steve Kerr would hit another three-pointer against Oklahoma in UA’s first-ever Final Four berth, celebrating with impassioned abandon on 4th Avenue during the improbable 1997 National Championship run (who could forget seeing Lute Olson’s immovable mane getting joyously ravaged by his rapturous squad?), or gnashing your teeth and cursing the day Mike Dunleavy and Coach K were born during the bitter 2001 national title loss to Duke, these images run deep within our community’s collective consciousness. (Some of us still curse that day and Duke. Daily. Upon waking.)

Being a die-hard Wildcat fan is the bittersweet symphonic sum of these events, a common history which is capable of binding you to completely unknown strangers who have felt the exact same intense emotions surrounding the many triumphs and the occasional heartbreaking defeats. Recent times have been very good to us around these parts, with the Miller machine bringing in recruits and amassing victories this year at a clip that matches even the very best teams of the Olson era. We stand poised for greatness, but know in our heart of hearts all too well how sometimes, you just have a bad night in the Tourney, and one is all it takes.

Playground has a fantastic upper-level area with an ENORMOUS screen, and more in the lower level. As of press time, it is unclear if they will open early for Friday's game, but they'll definitely be open for the other games in the Wildcats' title quest. (Fingers crossed.)

Playground has a fantastic upper-level area with an ENORMOUS screen, and more in the lower level. They will remain a fantastic spot for watching the other games in the Wildcats’ title quest. (Fingers crossed.)

The Arizona Wildcats continue their quest for a berth in the 2014 NCAA Final Four this Thursday at 7:00pm against San Diego State. However, they’re not the only team in town that has been steadily raising their game. A number of excellent destinations for enjoying fantastic local craft beer and watching the Cats have arisen in the last two years or so, and if you’re a bit tired of that same ol’ neighborhood sports bar you’ve been ordering a sad basket of curly fries from, you should step out and try some of the excellent new spots that await you.

ELLIOTT’S ON CONGRESS: Elliott’s is a charming destination for pub-style grub with four screens, and a menu that boasts some specific twists, such as their pulled duck BBQ sandwich, and a dessert that features chocolate-covered bacon. Yes, you read that correctly. They also have a dizzying array of house-made infused vodkas. They’re at 135 E. Congress St., and you can check them out on the web here.

Gio Taco is new, colorful, and has a menu full of surprises. Perhaps the best destination if you're looking to duck in and catch some of a game during an "extended" lunch break. (We won't tell the boss.)

Gio Taco is new, colorful, and has a menu full of surprises. Perhaps the best destination if you’re looking to duck in and catch some of a game during an “extended” lunch break. (We won’t tell the boss.)

GIO TACO: One of Downtown’s newest flavors, Gio Taco’s menu of “no-rules” tacos is certainly avant-garde given what a haven for traditional Sonoran delights Tucson is known to be, but if you’re in the mood to be surprised in the best way, you should give it a shot. They have three screens and a variety of tempting cocktails and wine on tap, and always have Happy Hour pricing during Arizona basketball games! Gio Taco resides right on the intersection of Congress and 4th Avenue, and can be found here.

HUB: Hub isn’t the first choice for actual game day viewing, as there are a limited number of seats and television viewing is mostly confined to the bar area. However, it would be criminal, especially when temperatures are hovering in the high-70s to 80s, not to mention THE ICE CREAM. Dear Lord, the ice cream is superb. They make it themselves, and they boast a variety of flavors and combinations, at least one of which will surprise you. And if something terrible should happen, and the Cats have a bad day at the office… there’s few better ways to salvage a smile or two from the crew than a scoop of Downtown Tucson’s best. Hub is at 266 E. Congress St., and on the web here.

PLAYGROUND TUCSON: Right next to Hub at 278 E. Congress, Playground has MASSIVE screens, wicked cocktails, and an energetic modern ambiance. The food is no joke, either, as it shares elements of the menu with co-owned neighbor Hub. It’s a fantastic spot for those looking for a bit more of an upscale viewing experience and dining option, quite possibly the coolest of new Downtown fixtures that actually caters to the sporting life. Check ’em out here.

Thunder Canyon Brewery, on Broadway and Herbert, has the most traditionally sports bar-like atmosphere of all the newer Downtown establishments. If you have a big group, and want that kind of easy-going menu (not to mention some genuinely great, cheap pints of microbrew), this may be your best bet!

Thunder Canyon Brewery, on Broadway and Herbert, has the most traditionally sports bar-like atmosphere of all the newer Downtown establishments. If you have a big group, and want that kind of easy-going menu (not to mention some genuinely great, cheap pints of microbrew), this may be your best bet!

THUNDER CANYON BREWERY: Thunder Canyon recently opened their gargantuan new location right at the corner of Broadway and Herbert near 5th Avenue. It is an absolutely massive spot, with tons of seating available in a variety of configurations, and more high-definition screens than you can shake a chicken strip at. They brew a wide variety of their own delicious beers, along with a ridiculously good root beer for the teetotalers or kids in your party. The menu is extensive, with some relatively original and tasty spins on traditional burger and wing sports bar fare, and they’ll be open at 10:30am this Friday. Check them out here.

WORLD OF BEER: World of Beer does two things very right, which may be the only two things necessary for you to enjoy Wildcat basketball: they have televisions EVERYWHERE, in that, it may actually be difficult to sit inside and NOT see a screen, and they have an unparalleled selection of suds from every corner of the globe. It may be Miller Time on the court, but it can get a hell of a lot fancier inside your pint glass. There’s no better time for you to kick the overly-advertised weak brand-name brews to the curb and try something excellent that may stretch your own definitions of what “beer” is. World of Beer sits right next to Gio Taco at 4th Avenue and Congress, and they’re on the web here.

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