Tucson community mourns St. Charles Tavern owner Churchill Brauninger

Churchill Brauninger passed away of natural causes May 27, 2019.

Beloved Tucson bar owner and mentor Churchill Brauninger passed away of natural causes May 27, 2019. He was 51.

Known best as Churchill or Church, he met his wife Elizabeth Menke working at Zeitgeist, one of the San Francisco Mission District’s most popular bars. The couple moved to Menke’s hometown of Tucson in 2008. Together, they founded South Tucson’s Saint Charles Tavern in September 2015, helping, according to an earlier interview with Menke, the area “transcend its reputation of violence.”

In 2010, Churchill helped La Cocina Restaurant and Tavern and later Dusty Monk Pub create their bar programs, according to Jo Schneider, owner of those restaurants and Bentley’s House of Coffee & Tea.

On La Cocina’s Facebook page, Schneider wrote:

“It is with great sadness that we say goodbye to a man who was essential in making La Cocina the place that we know and love. Churchill was a part of our family from the week we first opened in 2010. He curated and implemented our bar program, inspired and aided us in opening the Dusty Monk Pub … Our hearts go out to Liz, the Saint Charles family, and all those who had the pleasure to know and love him.”

Schneider said: “He is the one who really created my whole bar program. He did it all. I had no idea what he was doing, and he saved me. Churchill made it happen for me. I hired Allie [Baron] as a manager but she ended up working in the bar; she had a natural affinity for it and Churchill saw that. He created the team for me and the program. I don’t know what I would have done without him.

“He was a pain in the ass,” Schneider said. “He wanted shit done his way. It was really hard to maneuver him. We’d go to battle and 99 percent of the time he’d win. And he frustrated the hell out of me. But in his heart of hearts, he loved me so much. I loved him and he loved me. I feel like I was just a moment in his life, but he was a force in mine.”

Schneider said that the night before Churchill died, he went out on the town and “got to see all his friends.”

“He passed quickly, no hospital, no wires. He went out on his terms, taking a final stand,” she added.

Churchill helped transcend locals’ lives, mentoring bar staff with kindness and patience.

According to Schneider on La Cocina’s Facebook page,

“(He) trained some of our most beloved bartenders, serving as a close companion and mentor to our lovely Allie. He was the warmest, kindest, most loving, simultaneously infuriating and charming friend and coworker. Churchill truly had a heart of gold, and we know there will never be anyone else like him in the world.”

According to his friend Jared McKinley, “Churchill was an essential element to making La Cocina a local hotspot. His generosity and love rubbed off on the space he occupied. He patiently bartended so many of my sometimes rowdy and loud events. His sense of service to others is something that if more people possessed, this world would be a much better place. He was a sweet man and I’m absolutely devastated as is this community.”

Local social media is brimming with memories and sentiments about Churchill

On its Facebook page, Che’s Lounge wrote:

“Tucson has lost an exceptional leader and admirable man. We will miss your infectious light, devotion to this community, inclusivity, and complete generosity. Your absence is devastating but we were lucky to know you, Churchill, and to call you a friend. Sending love to Elizabeth and the Saint Charles Tavern family. Godspeed on your next journey.”

On its Instagram page, 5 Points Market and Restaurant wrote:

“So honored to have known you. So honored to have loved you and called you a friend. This world was lucky to have you. Tucson was lucky to have you. We were all so damn lucky to have you. I’m in disbelief, devastated. I love you, Churchill.”

Anthony Rocco DiGrazia wrote Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizza’s outdoor sign to honor Churchill.

(Photo courtesy of Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizzeria on Facebook)

“He was a lovely man,” DiGrazia said.

Per Saint Charles Tavern’s social media, no services will be held for Churchill.

Angela Orlando is an anthropologist who owns Wandering Writers Workshops — retreats that take writers around the world. She’s into all things plant- and animal- and food-related, especially when cheese is somehow involved. She throws pottery and eats from her own handmade plates.