10 Best Bars in Tucson: Craft Brews, Fine Wines and Good Times
By Patricia Escarcega
Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tucson Local Expert
When you're ready for drinking and socializing, Tucson's bar scene does not disappoint. Scott & Co. has become the cornerstone of downtown Tucson's hip bar scene. This small speakeasy-style lounge has elevated the art of drinking in the Old Pueblo. Handcrafted seasonal cocktails in an intimate space make this downtown bar a favorite with Tucson cocktail enthusiasts. If you're looking for a truly unique Tucson bar, head to the The Shelter Cocktail Lounge, a 1960s-inspired bar with great drinks and a fun, kitschy ambiance. Are you a beer connoisseur? If so, you'll want to make a stop at Nimbus Brewery, home to the nationally-recognized brand that draw crowds to the taproom every night. Another popular local microbrewery is Barrio Brewing Company, located in one of downtown Tucson's historic warehouse districts. This vibrant bar, grill, and brewery proudly brews up 12 microbrews, several of which you'll find on tap on any given night. Down on busy Fourth Avenue, Che's Lounge plays host to an eclectic mix of bar-goers who come for the stiff drinks, friendly service, a great jukebox, and the free live music every Saturday night. Need a hip, cozy bar for a nightcap? Try Plush, also on Fourth Avenue, which offers a swanky lounge to relax and toast the Tucson night.
10 Che's Lounge
Che's Lounge is located on Fourth Avenue, Tucson's hip thoroughfare strategically situated between the University of Arizona and downtown. There is a decidedly youthful atmosphere at Che's, but you'll also find plenty of old-timers sitting at the bar. The bartenders are the star of the show here, delivering stiff flavorful drinks and seasonal specialties. The jukebox is eclectic and hip, and there is free live music every Saturday night. A good place to catch up-and-coming bands who are passing through town. Did we mention the people-watching? This is one of the best places to sit back and enjoy the downtown crowd. (520-623-2088)
9 Gentle Bens Brewing Co
For 35 years, Gentle Ben's has been brewing up great beers like Tucson Blonde, Red Cat Amber and Ben's India Pale Ale. If you come to eat, there are two must-haves: buffalo wings in either a wicked hot habanero sauce or a piquant tequila-cilantro sauce, and the Diane Burger topped with butter and red wine sauteed onions, mushrooms, garlic and Swiss cheese. A friendly, laid-back neighborhood pub by day, the place morphs into a thumping dance club when the moon comes up, especially on Tuesday and Thursday nights after about 10pm. That's when legions of trendy 20-somethings gather to mingle and move while quaffing quality beer. (520-624-4177)
8 The Shanty
For 30 years, the Shanty has maintained its reputation as an excellent place to meet for a drink or to mix and mingle. The spacious patio and relaxed vibe are inviting on warm nights. Though the bar is near the University of Arizona, a diverse crowd comes here for the laid-back ambiance and the excellent selection of beers, drinks and tasty food. The Shanty feels like your friendly neighborhood bar--even if you don't live anywhere near the neighborhood. Beer specials change weekly, and The Shanty also serves local seasonal beers as well. Whether you're coming to catch up with old friends or mingle with the locals, The Shanty is one of downtown's best watering holes. (520-623-2664)
7 Thunder Canyon Brewery
Thunder Canyon boasts several award-winning brews such as Bing Bang Ale with a hint of cherries, Catalina Pale Ale, Sandstone Cream Ale, Obsidian Porter, Thunderhead IPA, and Blackout Stout. And their food is impressive too. Wood fired oven pizzas top the list, but there's a great selection of traditional pub fare like fish and chips, steaks, burgers, sandwiches, cottage pie and pasta. Plenty of vegetarian options, as well. No doubt, there is something for everyone on the menu. And if you're a beer connoisseur, you will want to stop by for a drink, even if there isn't a big game on the screen. There are two locations in Tucson: Downtown and the Foothills Mall. (520-797-2652)
6 Good Oak Bar
Good Oak Bar is an Arizona craft beer and wine bar that celebrates the state's finest locally made beers and wines. Located in downtown Tucson in the historic Rialto Building, just across the street from Hotel Congress, Good Oak Bar is adjacent to Diablo Burger Kitchen. This is a great place to sample the best brews made in Arizona, including regional favorites like Old Bisbee Brewing Co.'s Copper City Pale Ale, Papago Brewery's popular Orange Blossom Madarin Wheat Ale and several Tucson-made craft brews. There's also an assortment of Arizona-made wines. The bar also has a full menu that includes gourmet pub fare made with locally sourced ingredients. ((520) 882-2007)
Sidecar is a hip, neighborhood cocktail bar located in midtown Tucson. The emphasis is on Prohibition-era cocktails like its namesake, as well as unique concoctions like the Oaxaca Dry Sour, a smoky cocktail made with small batch gin, mezcal, absinthe, dry vermouth, habanero shrub, and house salted lime cordial. There is also a good selection of craft brews and wines. The atmosphere strikes the right balance between chic and sophisticated without being pretentious. The waitstaff are trained mixologists who will discuss the makings of a good cocktail. With large windows facing west, this is a good spot to enjoy a cocktail or glass of wine while watching the sun go down over the Old Pueblo. ((520) 795-1819)
4 The Shelter
A lot of folks will tell you that this bar used to be a fallout shelter, but the truth is it was actually built as a bar back in 1961. The round, windowless structure is packed to the rafters with 60s era kitsch, from JFK memorabilia to black velvet paintings and groovy lamps. The retro vibe is augmented with a continual showing of 60s B movies and plenty of period music, occasionally provided by DJs fond of deep cuts and rare grooves. Bartenders mix up all the retro cocktails you can handle, but don't fret if your personal favorite is something invented last year--they can make those too. And if you're in the market for some new bad jokes to share with your friends, a visit to the restrooms here should be high on your list of things to do. (520-326-1345)
One of the best ways to get to know a city well is to take part in its nightlife, and if you like live music that steers well away from Top 40, Plush is where to go. Performers are scheduled nearly every night, and might be a local fave like Calexico, or a national or international act like Brian Jonestown Massacre, Shonen Knife, Sufjan Stevens, Michelle Shocked, Mike Doughty's Band and Okkervil River. Since this is one hip bar, artsy and dimly lit, there are plenty of couches and comfy chairs for lounging and socializing. The bar staff are expert mixologists, equally adept at pulling a draft Bud and putting together the trendiest cocktail. (520-798-1298, 520-798-1302)
2 Barrio Brewing Company
The Barrio Brewing Company, located in one of downtown Tucson's historic warehouse districts, has quickly established itself as a local landmark. This vibrant bar, grill, and brewery, which opened back in 2007, proudly brews up 12 microbrews, several of which you'll find on tap on any given night. This dark, cool converted warehouse has quickly become a favorite with locals in the know. Tucson Blonde, Red Cat Amber, Copperhead Pale Ale, Barrio India Pale Ale, Oatmeal Stout, Nolan's Porter, Taylor Jayne's Raspberry Ale, Hefeweizen, Nut Brown (fall seasonal), Rich Rod Red (seasonal) are just some of what you'll find on tap at Barrio Brewing Company. ((520) 791-2739)
1 Scott & Co.
Established in 2010, Scott & Co was founded by the same folks that brought 47 Scott to Tucson, downtown's popular destination for modern American comfort food in an intimate bistro-style space. Scott & Co. is an intimate speakeasy style bar with a seasonal menu of hand-crafted cocktails. Head bartender Ciaran Wiese and the team of mixologists at Scott & Co. display a genuine passion for developing new and delicious infusions. Although the atmosphere at Scott & Co. is great, this is the kind of place you go to for truly exceptional mixed drinks. You won't be disappointed by house-crafted creations like The Lionheart, made with Blanco tequila, green chartreuse, bitter orange amber, rich allspice dram, and agave nectar. ((520) 624-4747)
About Patricia Escarcega
Patricia Escarcega has lived in the Arizona desert since she was a teenager. She works as a writer and editor in Phoenix with her four dogs and two cats. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona and is working on a novel about growing up in the 1990s.
Read more about Patricia Escarcega here.