Get Lost Downtown: Hidden Gems You’re Sure to Love
June 30, 2015
by Liz Felix
Downtown Tucson is growing and the expansion just begs for some urban exploration. Sure, everyone has their favorite watering hole and shop for pizza, but every once in a while, stumbling across the unexpected can make for a great experience. Park your car, take the streetcar and give Downtown a stroll. You’ll be surprised on what you can find when you wander through an alley or take a walk down into a basement. There’s something cool hanging out in every corner and in this triple degree weather, you’re going need cool. Lot’s of cool.
Tough Luck Club
Unless you’ve lived in Tucson your entire life, you probably didn’t know that the popular Downtown eatery on Pennington Street, Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink, used to be an old funeral home. The new owners, Tyler and Zach Fenton, renovated the 109-year-old building back in 2013 and they’ve been serving up some unbelievably tasty artisan pizzas, pastas and sandwiches since then.
Visit Reilly’s Beer Garden in the back of the pizzeria and you’ll find an arrow inviting you to take a walk downstairs. It might look a little scary but don’t worry, there’s nothing but good times awaiting you. Down in Reilly’s basement is the Tough Luck Club, a small speakeasy-style bar with lots of character and lots of unique drinks. The lights are low but the spirits are high at the Tough Luck Club and with handcrafted cocktails on the menu, you’ll have a blast reading through their menu to find the right drink. Don’t know what to order? No worries! The bartenders at the Tough Luck Club have got you covered. They’ll ask you a few questions and in just a few moments, you’ll be sippin’ on a special mixed drink made just for you.
You’ve probably walked on Broadway near Scott Ave and heard mariachi playing and asked yourself, “Where is that Vicente Fernandez coming from?” There’s no sign advertising a restaurant or bar but if you look close enough and peek through the big glass windows of one of the brick buildings along Broadway, you’ll see people enjoying food and drinks in a beautiful little spot called Penca. If word of mouth hasn’t reached you about this restaurant that serves Mexican City inspired cuisine, it’s only a matter of time. Along with fantastic lunch and dinner entrees, Penca boasts an international drink menu that features sangria, several types of mezcal, and the classic Mexican pineapple drink, tepache.
The alleyway between the historic Rialto Theatre and Cadence student house that showcases the colorful murals of Joe Pagac will also lead you to a swanky cocktail lounge, R Bar. Besides the drinks, what stands out most about this place is the Tucson inspired backdrop that illuminates the interior. The bar also has a large projection screen which shows a variety of classic films and TV shows to ponder while your bartender makes you your drink. The bar pairs fabulous cocktails like the Oaxaca Rose, made with Alipus San Juan Mezcal, Cocchi Rosa, lime, and molé bitters with a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere that makes for the perfect place to enjoy a drink alone or with a date.
Scott & Co.
The nightlife Downtown seems to stay on the east end of Congress, but you’re missing out if you don’t explore what’s on the west end. You might have heard of Scott Avenue’s popular bistro, 47 Scott, but maybe overlooked its quiet neighbor, Scott and Co. It’s easy to miss – there’s no sign outside – but it’s a hard place to forget once you visit. Inside, you’ll find a small bar area where the bartenders are busy making exquisite cocktails or laughing with patrons, probably over talks on how some of the drinks got their names. Ask about the John Cruise/Tom Travolta made with High West OMG Silver Rye, Cles des Ducs VSOP Armagnac, beer syrup, grapefruit juice, Angostura bitters and a whole egg. It’s sure to get you giggling.
Good Oak Bar
With the big neon sign of The Rialto glowing brightly next door, it’s easy to miss Good Oak Bar’s tiny sign. Nestled in between Diablo Burger and The Rialto, the Good Oak Bar mixes a craft beer bar experience with a dash of comfort that feels familiar to that of a sports bar. Although definitely not a sports bar, Good Oak has a few TV screens where you can catch your favorite team while you decide whether to go with a wine cocktail like the Stone Cold (made with apricot and cherry infused white wine served over shaved ice) or a beer cocktail like the Booch Beer (prickly pear kombucha and a pale ale). If you show up hungry, you’re in for a treat. The bar offers delicious pub fare served straight from their neighbors over at Diablo Burger.
As the newbie to the downtown scene, Highwire Lounge has already proven it can hang with the best of ‘em. The entrance to this soon to be Downtown favorite lies a little further down Arizona Avenue, just south of Congress and east of 6th Ave. You’ll feel transported to another time and place once you set eyes on the beautifully decorated outside patio. Grab a seat and take your pick of the many circus inspired cocktails like The Bearded Lady or La Adivina (The Fortuneteller).