Downtown’s R Bar Serves Up an Impressive Array of New Wines, Beer, and Innovative Cocktail Creations
July 28, 2014
by James J. Jefferies
If there’s one thing that isn’t difficult, especially in the entertainment-and-dining heavy nexus of Congress and 4th Avenue, it’s finding something delicious to drink. That much could be said for Downtown Tucson as a whole. It’s the oldest corner of town, and has offered watering holes ever since there was water to offer. In the last two years, though, there’s been an absolute explosion in terms of the dizzying variety of beverages one can acquire in our bustling urban hive of 9-to-5 municipal workers and UA students.
It’s getting harder and harder to come up with something clever and innovative in a place where locally microbrewed beer flows like the Nile. Of course, we’re thankful for said torrent, keeping us thirsty yearlong residents quenched during this endless chain of triple-digit days. That said, there is still room for a brand-new vibe, where one can find both risky new takes on wine, beer, and cocktails and a genuinely unique environment unlike any other in the Old Pueblo. They’ve gone ahead and built that, right in the alley across from The Rialto Theatre, at the one and only R Bar.
When you approach R Bar from the alley outside, it’s honestly kind of underwhelming. A red-trimmed façade with tinted windows, and a few outdoor tables and chairs, with signage painted on the wall announcing the bar’s existence. Stepping inside the bar, however, completely blows that first foolish impression to smithereens. You’ll see what is just about the coolest damned mural you’ve ever seen in town, a panoramic representation of Tucson cut from metal, and backlit to give it a permanent glow reminiscent of a sunset after a fierce monsoon storm.
The unmanned Predator drone up high in the left-hand corner of the mural makes me giggle, and announces that despite the ‘serious’ look of the place, it certainly offers a tangible sense of humor to go with your drink. The entire bar is just a sea of blood red, from the soft seating in the main room to every plastic chair and table on the upper floor.
Rory O’Rear, bar manager of R Bar, talked about his reasons for joining forces with Curtis McCrary of The Rialto, having spent noteworthy stints at Wilko and Red Room. “Curtis talked about wanting to do an alley bar opposite The Rialto, which definitely piqued my interest,” said O’Rear. “The more we talked about it, and got into his underlying philosophy and vision for the bar, the more it sounded like something I wanted to be a part of.”
Part of that vision centered around the bar’s intense aesthetic design, which included projection of films onto the northern wall of the bar, which greatly appealed to O’Rear. O’Rear is an alumnus of the UA’s film/video production program at the School of Theatre, Film and Television, who continues to work on film projects in his spare time. “I just like being able to watch 2001: A Space Odyssey while I’m making drinks, I think it’s fantastic,” said O’Rear. You can even feel that cinematic influence in the hallways leading to the restrooms, which are adorned with these pseudo-holographic tiles I can’t say I’ve seen anywhere else. Whatever you might think of the visual approach upon your first visit to R Bar, you certainly have to give them credit for taking an unusual risk with such a strong set of deliberate choices in crafting the environment.
This is also something that appeals greatly to O’Rear. “I never really wanted to be a bartender for bartending’s sake, it has always been more about being attracted to a particular space, and their ethos…that’s what drove me to make drinks at Red Room, then Wilko, and now here,” said O’Rear. Of course, the most critical choices a bartender can make are what he or she serves, and at R Bar, O’Rear is most excited about the wine selection they are offering.
“I feel it’s important to support those who take risks…I feel that way about most things I choose to spend money on as a consumer, so that’s how I approached creating the menus here,” said O’Rear. The seventeen different wines served at R Bar are either natural, organic, biodynamic, or some combination thereof, and O’Rear is bullish on the idea that the wine and beer lists at R Bar are definitely a compelling reason to pay them a visit, in addition to the excellent spate of cocktails.
R Bar is located opposite The Rialto Theatre, at 350 E. Congress, Suite 110, on Herbert Alley. They are open Monday through Sunday from 5pm to 2am, and you can check out the current drink menus on their website here.