A Beer Garden is Coming to Reilly Pizza and Drink

February 12, 2013

By Teya Vitu

Tyler Fenton (right) is adding a beer garden at Reilly Pizza & Drink.

Tyler Fenton (right) is adding a beer garden at Reilly Pizza & Drink.

Tyler Fenton shoots for uniqueness with all he does at Reilly Pizza & Drink, 101 E. Pennington St.

Open a restaurant in a long-time funeral home. Even keep the name and marquee of the funeral home.

Now he’s working on adding a beer garden in a former hearse garage out back. Don’t expect a Bud Light once it opens some time in spring. Don’t come to the beer garden for game night.

“We’re trying to set up an experience that hasn’t been done here,” Fenton said. “We’re trying to create a very unique destination.”

The beer garden will wrap around the back and one side of Reilly Pizza & Drink. In all, it will offer about 5,000 square feet, most of it shaded outdoors with 1,300 square feet indoors in the former hearse garage. But that will essentially be outdoors, too, as Fenton is figuring out how to create a garage door that folds upward.

“When the weather is nice, we’re trying to do hangar-type doors so the whole space opens,” Fenton said. “That’s the way we’re going. The engineers are working on it. We’ll see how it goes.”

Beer gardens are a German thing. Tyler Fenton has been to a few German beer gardens. Don’t expect a German beer garden at Reilly’s, just as Reilly’s isn’t the typical pizza joint.

“Nothing we do is trying to be a direct reflection of a German beer garden. It’s an interpretation of a beer garden. We’re trying to elevate the concept,” Fenton said.

This will be the first real, dedicated beer garden in Tucson. Fenton intends to have 40 craft beers on tap.

“The first step is I really like beer,” Fenton said. “Right now there’s a really good craft beer movement. We have really good beer sales. I looked at all we can do that is unique and isn’t really represented.”

This beer garden won’t be a place to go for your “regular” pick each time but rather to try something different.

 Reilly Pizza and Drink dressed up the facade with a facade improvement grant from the Downtown Tucson Partnership.

Reilly Pizza and Drink dressed up the facade with a facade improvement grant from the Downtown Tucson Partnership.

“The beer list is going to rotate very frequently,” Fenton said. “It’s more about the casual drinker. It’s enjoying the atmosphere you’re in. When you boil it down, it’s a bar, but we’re going to try to bring a level of hospitality to it. What makes us different from other  establishments is we’re not selling $1 Bud Lights. We’re not doing $2 Thursdays. We only do craft beers. We’re not really a college bar.”

Don’t expect a row of big-screen TVs in the beer garden. Don’t expect any TVs at all.

“I firmly believe TVs take away from the experience,” Fenton said. “For me, TV’s are very distracting. The idea of a beer garden is that it is a very social experience.”

The beer garden will have long tables that will lend themselves to shared tables and interaction with strangers.

“We’ll have communal tables,” Fenton said. “Maybe you’ll sit next to someone you don’t know and make friends.”

The beer garden’s U-shaped bar will have the U pointing to Scott Avenue.

Fenton started demolition work for the beer garden the week of Jan. 21 with a projected opening in “spring,” which in Tucson can mean anything from today until the summer solstice on June 21. Fenton is just as circumspect with his commitment to an opening date.

“We’re hoping for a swift three-month build-out,” Fenton said. “That said, we’ve all taken bets ranging from as early as mid-April to mid-July.”

Meanwhile, Fenton just celebrated his six-month anniversary on Feb. 1 with Reilly Pizza & Drink, which opened Aug. 1, 2012 with a dressed up façade of the early 20th century building made possible by a $5,000 matching façade improvement grant from the Downtown Tucson Partnership.

“We’re doing great, doing better than originally projected,” Fenton said.

Fridays and Saturdays typically have 250 covers and Fenton said every day always gets at least 100 covers.

So that means it’s time for some change. Why mess with something going so well? Because Tyler Fenton wants to keep things fresh.

He went with the same menu choices for the first six months. Those days are over.

“I’ve always wanted to change the menu regularly,” he said. “We have a lot of regulars. They say they have had enough of the pizza (choices). Now, half will change regularly. Half the menu is set with our staples.”

The most popular pizza has proven to be the fennel sausage and roasted peppers. That and the margherita pizza and the Calabrian salami and roasted Fresno chile pizza amount to 90 percent of the pizza orders.

“I call them the Big Three,” Fenton said.

The most popular salad is the apple, walnut brittle and gorgonzola.

“It was the first salad I knew was going on the menu when I designed the menu,” he said.

The beer garden was already in his mind while he was building out Reilly Pizza a year ago, but waited for six months with the beer garden.

“I like doing things in phases. See how things are going,” he said.

Reilly’s has a full bar inside and the beer garden will have a full bar, too, but “the focus is beer. We’re doing 40 draft beers and four beer cocktails. We’ll also have four red and four white wines on tap.”