When the guys behind Reilly Craft Pizza + Drink told me about the bar they planned on opening in the basement of the former funeral home, I got a little excited. After all, the restaurant is a personal favorite, their minimalist-modern approach to the beer garden was just my taste, and I’m a big fan of their approach to craft cocktails. I’m also a huge fan of basement bars.
There’s a definite Tucson nostalgia to the dimly lit Reilly Basement bar (aka “Tough Luck Club”). The stones that double as building foundation and basement walls were harvested from A Mountain around 1906, which is when the building was originally completed. The bar feels old enough that there’s a slight feel of the Double Zero (an old downtown basement bar), yet modern enough that it fits in well with what’s happening currently downtown. Custom built, bolted down and padded bar stools line the bar while booths reminiscent of The District Tavern (sans tears) line the opposite side.
The Reilly Basement also complements Scott & Co., Tucson’s original modern speakeasy down the street and around the corner, nicely. But, where Scott & Co. fills up rather quickly with only 17 seats, the Reilly Basement will seat 70. Many of the new bar’s bartenders cut their teeth on craft cocktails at Scott & Co., such as bar manager Nick Morris and bartender Karl Goranowski.
“We’re really aiming to be the next generation of craft cocktails,” says Bar Manager Nick Morris. That means “zero pretention” and “cocktails for everybody”. Morris isn’t looking to make anyone feel excluded for ordering something other than the artisan beverages that make up the menu. When I asked him what he would do if someone were to order a rum and Coke, he said, without blinking an eye, “We’ll make it.”
Bear in mind, a rum and Coke at Reilly Basement won’t necessarily mean Bacardi and Coca-Cola. It will mean a non-mainstream rum mixed with the bar’s house made cola. They also are making – or have plans to make – their own tonic, mesquite root beer, and lemon-lime soda called Green River.
On my visit, I tried The Brooklyn Vegan, which Morris is super-proud of. “It’s a vegan Pisco sour that uses a soy-based egg white substitute,” he says. Morris also said it’s the first he has heard of or seen a vegan version of a drink that traditionally uses egg whites. The Pisco used in the Brooklyn Vegan also includes raw palm sugar and is infused with hemp hearts.
I also tried the Tough Luck Cup, which includes apple brandy, amaro rhubarbaro, blueberry syrup, verjus rouge, lemon, and a dash of horseradish. With a mushroom and mint garnish, the aroma gives this cocktail a complexity unlike anything I had ever tasted previously.
Other standout drinks include:
- White Guilt – Cedar and oak infused vodka, vanilla syrup, bitters (call it a Vodka Old Fashioned)
- Basin Street Queen – Cognac, whiskey, Haitian mauby, maraschino brandy, Valerian root
- Nerdface – Unaged oat whiskey, honey, peach liquer, lemon, smoked paprika, lemon twist
- Knock Twice – Italian light aperitivo, lime, pineapple, cacao, absinthe
- The Sound of Silence (“Milquetoast”) – Fino sherry, dry vermouth, Holland genever served over wonderbread
As a sort of homage to the District Tavern and their infamous three dollar beer and whiskey shot special (Miller High Life and Old Crow), the Reilly Basement will offer a four dollar version that includes a regular Coors and a shot of Mellow Corn whiskey. But, that’s not the only homage they’ll offer. The current crop of craft cocktail bartenders in town is a tight knit bunch and a third drink well at the end of the bar will remain open for any bartender that wants to sling some drinks, local or passing through. A “homage” to other bartenders, if you will.
If you plan on going, the Reilly Basement bar opens New Years Eve. You can’t order food in the basement, so plan on eating before or after. My advice: eat first. These drinks are boozy.
Reilly Craft Pizza + Drink is located at 11 E. Pennington. Reilly Basement Bar is downstairs. For more information visit reillypizza.com.