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The food and beverage scene in Tucson and Southern Arizona has been on fire lately. First it was featured in the New York Times and USA Today boasting the culinary landscape, then leading craft beer website Beer Advocate did a focus on the bustling brewery scene in the Old Pueblo. But this is a sports town. Where’s the love for the locally-owned and operated sports bars?
This is a magical time of year for sports fans.
Football season is in full swing; the Cubs finally won a World Series while both the NHL and NBA seasons began last month. There is a new professional hockey team playing at the Convention Center and they’re currently leading their division.
The region’s favorite team, University of Arizona men’s basketball opened the 2016-17 season with a thrilling victory over perennial powerhouse Michigan State and are currently ranked No. 16 in the Associated Press rankings.
Suffice to say that if you aren’t a student or season ticket holder, getting tickets to see the men’s basketball team in person will be a difficult task. Fear not gentle reader, I’m here to help. I put myself through the gauntlet for you, ventured across the sprawling landscape and tried all sorts of chicken wings, nachos and myriad fried foods to find the best places in town to watch the ‘Cats or any other sports team that might float your fancy.
The second location for the Home Plate franchise opened up a little over a year ago in the Continental Ranch neighborhood just south of the Twin Peaks exit off Interstate 10. For those living in Marana, this is a game-changer. Twenty big-screen HDTVs are scattered throughout the property for the casual fan, but it’s also an interactive sports bar with shuffleboard, pool tables, foosball, video games and seven batting cages. From slow pitch softball to fast pitch baseball, Home Plate is perfect for the active sports fan as well as armchair athlete.
Let’s not forget about the beer. Home Plate Marana offers 16 beers on tap as well as over 30 different beers by the bottle or can. Your best bet is to get there for happy hour which runs from 3-6 p.m. on weekdays. As for the food, the menu is standard American pub fare with items like Buffalo wings, burgers, hot dogs, pizzas, and sandwiches.
Starting with just one restaurant in 1979, Floyd and Judy Anderson are now building a “chicken wing empire.” From the humble beginnings of the original ‘Native New Yorker’ near the Arizona State University campus, the Andersons, who are actually native New Yorkers, now have five Tucson area locations, 30 total in Arizona as well as six states nationwide.
More info at nativegrillandwings.com.
This casual, beach-themed restaurant is a great little spot to watch the games on the north side of town. Flip-flops and fish tacos are the norm here but owners and Tucson natives Scott and Fini are huge sports fans. If you find yourself yearning to watch “the big game” with a group of friends or are looking to make a couple new ones, head over to Fini’s on the northwest corner of Swan and Sunrise. You’ll be glad you did.
My favorite thing about Fini’s Landing is that they are open at 8 a.m. on weekends to catch those early east coast games and serve a full-on breakfast menu to go along with your standard Bloody Mary or local craft beer. With items such as Sunrise Nachos, Sonoran Benedict, pecan-smoked bacon, home fries, and French toast, this place is a must-stop for food, fun and good sports.
Visit finislanding.com for more information.
This corporate behemoth was one of the first places I visited when I moved to Tucson and it was serviceable as a spot that could be found anywhere in the country. No local identity other than the fans that packed it. The two-story complex with four separate rooms was daunting but when full, it was like a cathedral of sports. I was surprised that they offered $5 half racks of ribs on Sundays but I partook and they were tasty and affordable. Tuesday nights are a big hit here as they offer up over 20 draft beer selections for only $2 each.
More info at foxandhound.com.
If it’s true British fare and perhaps a bit of footy action that you are seeking, head east. Tucson’s favorite (and only) British-style restaurant and pub is located on the south side of Tanque Verde before you get to Sabino Canyon and plays host for all sets and styles of soccer hooligans. Fifteen flat-screen sets are strategically placed throughout the restaurant and pub for your viewing pleasure.
For the authentic feel of a true British pub, Canyon’s Crown offers up traditional fare such as Scotch Eggs, Shepherd’s Pie, Bangers and Mash, Guinness Pie and Corned Beef & Cabbage. To wash it all down, the pub offers 20 draft beers including rare favorites from the United Kingdom including Harp, Bass, and Strongbow Cider.
Visit canyonscrown.com for more information.
Here’s another nationwide sensation that had its start in the tiny burg to the north of us in Tempe. The “breastaurant” was originally a one-off in Las Vegas before moving its national headquarters to Tempe. The concept has since exploded with five Arizona locations and representation in 30 states and two Canadian provinces. The appeal for the concept is as simple as their tagline “A cold beer never looked so good.”
More info at tiltedkilt.com.
This unassuming brick building on Speedway, west of Craycroft, is the top location for east-siders looking to watch the big game or fight. The beer selection is astounding, offering 32 beers on tap and an additional 100 more available by the bottle. With so many craft beers available, they still know where the bulk of the business comes from, by discounting the domestic macro-brews during sporting events.
Most sports bars in town carry the NFL Sunday Ticket package but RJ’s is one of the few places that also carries the MLB, NBA, and NHL packages so you will never miss your hometown team. They boast 29 HDTVs with 3D viewing on the way. My favorite part of watching sports at RJ’s is not only the vast selection of craft beer but watching in comfort. I always try to call to reserve the private couch areas. Unlike other snooty areas with “bottle service,” there is no additional cover charge for this area although they do have a minimum tab during special events.
Visit rjsreplays.com for more information.
The original Home Plate is still one of the local favorites on the east side. Great fun, cheap beer, decent food, and batting cages. Perfect for families, happy hour or just a place to duck in to watch the game.
For those that have been in Tucson for any amount of time, they have most likely heard about Trident Grill, either at the original location at Speedway and Campbell or the newest spot on Swan just south of Fort Lowell. The east-coast sports pub was opened in 2001 by retired Navy SEAL Nelson Miller and is home to die-hard Washington Redskins fans as well as other mid-Atlantic teams. Located on the northeast edge of the University of Arizona campus, this is the perfect spot on Arizona game days for those not looking to battle the crowds at Main Gate Square.
Keeping true to his Maryland roots, Miller brings some of the best food from the region including crab cakes, peel & eat shrimp, Bluepoint oysters on the half shell, Old Bay seasoned burgers and the city’s best clam chowder.
When you sit at the bar at Trident, the first thing you notice is all the mugs hanging from the ceiling. If you would like to know more about them, feel free to ask your bartender or server as they usually have a colorful story about their history. Those with mugs can fill them with any of the 24 beers available on tap but the best bet is the $3.50 pints during happy hour.
Visit tridentgrill.com for more information.
For a neighborhood bar to offer 110 beers these days is commonplace. For a neighborhood bar to offer 110 beers, free birthday pizzas, and various daily discounts on food and beverages, it’s brilliant. This campus hangout has long been a favorite of the starving college student with its late night happy hour offering $2 pizzas and $5 you-call-it drinks every day from 10 p.m. to close. It is also well known to be a favorite post-game hangout for UA basketball players.
More info at oldchicago.com.
If you’re looking for a jam-packed place to celebrate the game with a couple hundred of your closest friends, Gentle Ben’s in Main Gate Square is the spot. An electric atmosphere unrivaled by any other as fans of all ages clad in red and blue root on the hometown ‘Cats for every football, basketball, baseball, and hockey game.
One of the most renowned restaurants and bars in Tucson, Ben’s has been serving up great food in the same location since 1971. The current owners of Gentle Ben’s, who took over the space in 1991, began Barrio Brewing Co. in 2007 and Ben’s typically has 10 to 12 Barrio beers available on tap at all time at Gentle Ben’s.
The building itself is awe-inspiring with a 12-foot carved wooden bear out front to the massive upper deck that is always popping to the vast side patio and also the huge front bar. The food offered is light years away from traditional bar food with some of the best southwestern cuisine being offered including carne asada, carnitas and pan-seared tilapia.
Visit gentlebens.com for more information.
A new addition to the Main Gate Square neighborhood is all the rage and is right across the street from Ben’s. The Colorado mainstay recently opened in Tucson to much fanfare, both positive and negative. The southwestern-inspired taco and burrito joint and bar has all the bases covered opening up at 7 a.m. during the week and staying open until 2:30 a.m. on the weekends. This multi-level location is the new darling among students due to its location and happy hour which runs until 8 p.m. daily.
More info at Illegal Pete’s on Facebook.
Playground has it all. Located in the heart of downtown Tucson, it’s a hot spot offering late-night dancing with DJs spinning the latest music and a rooftop deck that holds legendary parties with panoramic views of the vibrant downtown scene.
But a sports bar?
This place goes insane for American soccer. Over the past five years, Playground has been the most popular destination to watch the US Men’s and Women’s soccer teams play in the World Cup competition, Copa America, the Olympics, and other international competitions. The chants, the singing, the drinking, the hooligans—it’s all there.
After a late night of dancing into the wee hours of the morning, Playground puts on a fresh face and opens at 8 a.m. on the weekends for English Premier league soccer and Sunday brunch replete with a mariachi ensemble.
More info at playgroundtucson.com.
The big brewery with a little secret. Located just south of downtown and across the street from the train tracks, Barrio Brewing Co. is the perfect respite for those looking to get a great craft brew to go with their sports watching. Great food is offered up as well in the 1947 Quonset hut along with their ten standard beers.
More info at barriobrewing.com.
This west side gem is an anomaly. It attracts all walks of life with families in the restaurant eating classic Italian dishes on the right while off to the left is the sports bar with a second level pool hall. As you would expect from most pool halls, the bar area can be a little seedy but in a good, divey way. There are several big-screen TVs available for the masses but also smaller booths with personal TVs for those looking for a more intimate sports viewing experience.
There is a good beer selection of both macro and craft beers including several local Arizona options. The food in the bar is your standard nachos, hot wings, burgers and sandwiches but it’s always tasty, fair-priced and never disappoints. The service, on the other hand, can be hit or miss on busy sports days but the team always comes through and I never leave dissatisfied.
Visit rustystucson.com for more information.
Another corporate, run-of-the-mill sports bar on the list, you say? This neighborhood bar makes the list as it was the place of employment for a couple former University of Arizona football players after their football career ended. B-Dubs offers more than just wings, but I personally love their mango-habanero drums while downing a PBR and watching UFC fights…there is something primal about it and a definite guilty pleasure.
More info at buffalowildwings.com.