search

10 Best Bars to Explore Tucson's Cocktail & Nightlife Scene



The Tucson bar scene has really come into its own in recent years. The city has developed a highly distinctive cocktail scene, a thriving local brewery scene, and remains one of the best cities in the country to explore artisanal, agave-based spirits. It's also home to quirky bars that you simply won't find anywhere else, like the Casa Film Bar, which pairs craft brews with classic and indie films.  

Penca, meanwhile, brings Mexico City-style sophistication to the downtown scene. The restaurant's "international bar" has become one of the best places in town to sip on mezcal (the bar offers around 30 mezcals) and premium tequilas. 

Scott & Co. has become the cornerstone of downtown Tucson's hip bar scene. The small speakeasy-style lounge has been instrumental in elevating the art of drinking around downtown. 

If you're looking for a truly unique Tucson bar, head to 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 Tap & Bottle, a friendly neighborhood tavern where you can find home-grown Southern Arizona beer and other top regional craft beers. 


Advertisement

OBON


OBON might be better known as a downtown Tucson sushi and ramen bar. But it also happens to be one of the most inventive cocktail bars around town. The bar's David Bowie-inspired "Space Oddity" cocktail went viral not too long ago, a beautifully-rendered drink featuring squid ink and edible pearl dust. If that's not your thing, the house cocktail menu includes stand-outs like a Black Tea Old Fashioned (featuring washed bourbon, tea milk and bitters). Another highly inventive drink is the I Want My Umami, a refreshing beer cocktail featuring a Hite beer, a Korean-inspired michelada mix, and a shot of soju.

Recommended for Bars because: OBON is a great place to explore Tucson's creative cocktail scene, and must for fans of sake and soju drinks.

Patricia's expert tip: Enjoy $2 off cocktails on select drinks during Happy Hour, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Read more about OBON →


Tough Luck Club


A bar in the basement of a former funeral home? Makes sense to us. Tough Luck Club is a stylish basement bar in downtown Tucson, tucked beneath Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink. Comfy leather booths line the stone walls, and there are numerous stools in front of the long, wooden bar. The bar has quickly gained a following for its intimate character and inventive craft cocktails served without pretension. Come here to sip on a domestic beer, or to down cheekily-named cocktails made with precision and care. The "something for everyone" philosophy is done right here. Mostly, though, you'll want to come for the inventive and fun cocktail menu, which features riffs on themes, and which are authored exclusively for the bar by its talented crew of mixologists.

Recommended for Bars because: Tough Luck Club regularly invents some of the most clever craft cocktails in town.

Patricia's expert tip: You'll probably want to eat upstairs at Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink before you head downstairs to drink. These cocktails are not often for the faint of heart.

Read more about Tough Luck Club →


8
Northeast
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.

Recommended for Bars because: The Shelter Cocktail Lounge in Tucson is a unique blast from the past featuring great drinks and unbeatable sixties-inspired atmosphere.

Patricia's expert tip: Happy hour specials available every day from 3 pm to 8 pm.

Read more about The Shelter →


Advertisement
Independent Distillery


"Stay independent and drink local" is the tagline at Independent Distillery, a newer but already well-respected, small-scale distiller in Tucson. Independent Distillery produces its own gin, vodka and other locally made spirits, made with craft and care. But it's also a great downtown bar, situated in a historic red brick building that's full of character, including exposed beams, concrete floors, and a wooden bar crafted out of re-purposed Douglas fir. Of course, the main attraction is the enticing drink menu, which highlights cocktails made using local, boutique and pre-prohibition spirits. Drinks often highlight local growers and ingredients, and everything is prepped in house daily.

Recommended for Bars because: Come here to get a taste of high-quality, locally made spirits, which are frequently featured in cocktails.

Patricia's expert tip: With an extensive handcrafted cocktail list, it's hard to go wrong. The strawberry smash is excellent, as are the punch bowls.

Read more about Independent Distillery →


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 Mandarin 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.

Recommended for Bars because: The Good Oak Bar is the place to go for the finest in locally made beers and wines.

Patricia's expert tip: Don't miss the bacon & jalapeno cream ale cocktail, a savory-spicy specialty.

Read more about Good Oak Bar →


Casa Film Bar


Movies and beer? Yes, please. Tucson's beloved Casa Video, a Tucson institution for film buffs looking for hard-to-find cult and international movie rentals. The independent film rental and sales shop is now also home to one of midtown's favorite beer destinations. The bar features 20 draft taps and more than 300 craft beer bottle. You can also bring a growler to take away your favorite beer. The bar regularly hosts film-inspired theme nights, such as a Bollywood night, or a Twin Peaks night. The bar also serves wine and local coffee drinks.

Recommended for Bars because: Casa Film Bar is a unique Tucson watering hole where you can drink craft beer while watching an indie flick.

Patricia's expert tip: Check out the Casa Film Bar calendar to find cool themed movie nights or events.

Read more about Casa Film Bar →


Penca


Located in a lovingly restored 1920s-era building in downtown Tucson, Penca Restaurante has become a destination for local gourmands looking for upscale riffs on the cooking of central Mexico. The seasonally-inspired menu features fine renditions of traditional dishes like chile en nogada (roasted chile poblano stuffed with traditional pork, fruits and nuts, finished with a sherry walnut sauce) and mole de guajolote (braised turkey in a traditional mole poblano). You'll also find small plates, and of course, several taco options. This is not merely a chic Mexican restaurant, though, but also an award-winning bar. The "international bar" features more than 30 mezcals, a very good wine list, creative craft cocktails, and premium, hard-to-find tequilas.

Recommended for Bars because: The international bar at Penca has fast become one of the most cosmopolitan cocktail bars in downtown Tucson.

Patricia's expert tip: Come to sample hard-to-find agave-based spirits like bacanora.

Read more about Penca →


Sidecar


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.

Recommended for Bars because: Sidecar is the type of bar that takes its mixology seriously. Come here for the great cocktails, and the friendly, laid-back ambiance.

Patricia's expert tip: Tell the bartender the flavors you love and watch the creative minds behind the bar concoct a cocktail made just for you.

Read more about Sidecar →


Tap & Bottle


Tap & Bottle is a beer lover's paradise. The intimate tap room at this beloved Tucson bar is home to one of the city's best-curated selections of craft brews. Tap & Bottle celebrates home-grown Southern Arizona beer, as well as many of the best regional and international brews currently being made. The brewpub atmosphere is lively and friendly, making this a great place to rub elbows with locals and fellow beer connoisseurs. Tap & Bottle even hosts it's own monthly curated "Beer Club" dedicated to pleasing the palate of even the most ardent beer snob. There's no food menu at the bar, but the city's best food trucks regularly feed the hungry masses at Tap & Bottle.

Recommended for Bars because: Tap & Bottle is a friendly neighborhood bar with an extensive craft beer menu.

Patricia's expert tip: Come to Tap & Bottle for the craft brews, stay for the delicious food truck offerings.

Read more about Tap & Bottle →


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. 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. Most of the signature house cocktails have become staples of the downtown drinking scene. Try The Vagabond, or if you want to something light and refreshing featuring locally made gin, order The Secret Garden.

Recommended for Bars because: Scott & Co. in Tucson offers exceptional hand-crafted drinks in a sophisticated yet friendly downtown setting.

Patricia's expert tip: The signature house cocktails have become classics around downtown. Even if you don't love margaritas or other tequila-based cocktails, give The Vagabond a try. It features sage-infused agave nectar and orange bitters.

Read more about Scott & Co. →


Map

Meet Patricia Escarcega

Patricia Escarcega works as a writer and editor in Phoenix.

×