Downtown Tucson A Day-Drinking Mecca

February 3, 2015

Old Town Artisan's is a perennial downtown patio favorite.

Old Town Artisan’s is a perennial Downtown patio favorite.

by Brad Poole

When I headed Downtown on a recent Saturday at noon to research day-drinking, it was cloudy and a brisk 39 degrees. The steady 10 mph breeze (gusts up to 30) pushed the wind chill down below freezing … in Chicago.

In Tucson, it was sunny and 65, and I couldn’t see a cloud. I don’t know what the wind chill was, because we don’t really worry much about that here in the Old Pueblo in January. It’s rarely a factor.

Winter is a glorious time to be outside in southern Arizona, and what better time to have a couple drinks than a relaxing afternoon in the sun? So when I started planning a Tucson day-drinking expedition, I decided to focus on places where I could be outside. There are plenty.

This is by no means a comprehensive list – there are dozens of places Downtown to get a drink on a sunny afternoon, inside or outside. A lot of Downtown drinking establishments post their specials on sidewalk signs, so exploring is always an option.

Sometimes your best bet is a leisurely stroll around town feeling out vibes until something draws you inside. Here are some suggestions gleaned from almost two decades of local experience and one brief, recent (highly successful) foray:

Hub on Congress is a great spot for a drink on the sidewalk.

Hub on Congress is a great spot for a drink on the sidewalk.

Obviously if you’re going day drinking it makes sense to not drive or ride a bike. So depending on what part of town you’re coming from, you can bring a driver, take a taxi, walk, or take my preferred route, public transit.

Sun Tran has bus routes from every corner of the city that end Downtown, and they all connect there to the Sun Link streetcar. A day pass good for all of them is $4 – much cheaper than a DUI, and riding the bus is far less likely to kill you or innocent bystanders. For Sun Tran schedules, go here.

Old Town Artisans 
This stop is an old-school Tucson staple steeped in history … and it’s one of Downtown’s best patios with not one, but two bars and restaurants.

This walled property that includes several shops and galleries was part of an 1850s fort that protected soldiers during Apache attacks. In the 1880s, the property became a distillery, and some shops still have ceilings made from barrel staves and liquor crates.

This courtyard at 201 N. Court Ave. is maybe the greenest place to have a drink Downtown in the middle of a sunny day. There is a huge tree and small koi pond in the center, and there are bushes and plants everywhere. The patio is served by La Cocina and the Dusty Monk Pub, both of which have food and drinks.

On weekends, they have live music starting at noon (the amazing chorus of sparrows starts earlier), and there is a full menu available.

The garage-door storefront at Street Taco & Beer Co. lets you be inside while enjoying the outside.

The garage-door storefront at Street Taco & Beer Co. lets you be inside while enjoying the outside.

Street Taco & Beer Co. 
Street Tacos, 51 W. Congress St., has a few sidewalk tables out front that put you right in the midst of Tucson’s urban core. It’s about six feet from Congress Street, and the streetcar runs past every 15 minutes on weekdays and every 30 minutes weekends, which makes it easy to get to.

In case it’s raining (it could happen), Street’s patio is under an awning, and the restaurant has two huge garage doors across the front. You can sit inside and more or less be outside at the same time.

The main reason for day drinks at Street, however, is drinks duh. It’s a super casual spot with purse hooks and electrical outlets under the bar and beer buzzers on the tables (to call for another round).

Their drink menu is top-shelf. They have scores of beers in stock and several on tap, including local brews. Their margarita mix is made in-house daily from fresh ingredients. Yum.

Tiger is back behind the bar on the day shift in the Hotel Congress Tap Room.

Tiger is back behind the bar on the day shift in the Hotel Congress Tap Room.

Other options:
Hotel Congress  – This longtime Downtown favorite is open daily, and their patio faces north, sheltering it from sun for much of the day. The Cup has a full menu of yummy delectables, and if you go into the Tap Room during the day, you can have a chat with the legendary Tiger, who is behind the bar again.

Elliot’s on Congress  – This smallish bar at 135 E. Congress St. doesn’t have a patio to speak of, but it has things no other downtown spot has – several varieties of duck (including sliders) and custom-infused vodka. They open at 11 a.m.

El Charro  – This noteworthy spot at 311 N. Court Ave. lays claim to the invention of a staple of Mexican-American cuisine – the chimichanga. As the legend goes, the restaurant’s founder, Tia Monica Flin, accidentally dropped a burrito into hot grease, and the dish was born. El Charro, which opened in 1922, also claims to be the oldest Mexican restaurant in the United States run by the same family. Regardless of those claims, the food is excellent, and they courtyard patio is a quiet enclave perfect for conversation and sipping Don Julio.

Diablo Burger  – This upscale spot at 312 E. Congress in the Rialto block has seats facing Hotel Congress that are open to the sidewalk in good weather. It’s a nice place for Arizona-made beer and wine people watching.

Proper  – Another upscale eatery in the Rialto block, at 300 E. Congress, Proper also has a glass front ideal for people watching. The bar faces the window, so you can sidle up and watch to your heart’s content.