The Downtown Clifton Hotel at 485 S. Stone Ave. recently completed renovations with a 22-room expansion and a sexy new bar and restaurant.
The Red Light Lounge features an indoor/outdoor mid-century space with local art and black leather tufted bar stools. Interior accents include stained concrete floors, wood tongue-and-groove ceiling.
At 525-square-foot, the lounge fits 45 seats inside. The bar also opens up to the patio, which features additional seating with a courtyard vibe.
While the bar is up and running, the kitchen is almost ready. Guests can order from a limited menu; the grand opening with a full menu is expected to launch within the next few weeks.
“We are planning on doing several shareable small plates and artisanal fry breads along with a few rotating entrees, soups, and desserts,” said Travis Peters, executive chef for The Red Light Lounge.
You may recognize Peters as chef-owner at The Parish — he still has that role, but he now also runs a culinary consulting company, Wicked Firebat Culinary Concepts.
“Once I figured out the concept direction, I knew I needed to hire a great staff,” Peters said. “The very first person I thought of was chef Stacy Vernooy. She’s a badass and I felt she deserved a great work environment where she could express herself through culinary. After doing several GUT pop-up dinners together I had always wanted to work with her and I loved her drive.”
After Vernooy joined the team as sous chef, Tommy Begay III joined the team as chef de cuisine.
“He’s also crazy talented, super precise, and very driven,” Peters said. “His attention to detail is second to none, plus I’ve been friends and culinary neighbors with Tommy for eight years.”
While Peters was the primary force for the restaurant’s creative conception, Begay and Vernooy are the ones who will be in the kitchen daily. The duo also contributes ideas to the menu as it will continue to evolve.
“I’m honestly a huge fan of both of them and can’t believe how lucky we are to have them both running the show at The Red Light,” Peters said. “They are both very different styles of chefs, but both incredibly passionate and I thought that they would be the perfect balance for the story we are telling here. I’m very proud to be cooking with them and extremely excited about what they are bringing to the table.”
“We’re all fusing all of our ideas and thoughts and cultural backgrounds and culinary experience into this one Tucsonian concept,” said Begay, who comes from a Navajo background.
Begay was most recently a sushi chef at Sushi on Oracle. Before that, he was owner-chef at the now-closed Café 940. Although the preview menu at The Red Light Lounge doesn’t feature sushi, it prominently features two fry breads.
The Elote Fry Bread ($10) is sure to be an instant hit with its combination of corn, chipotle crema, cilantro lime aioli, queso asadero, queso fresco, cilantro, and spicy greens. The Chorizo Fry Bread ($12) omits the corn and chipotle crema and adds chorizo, tangy hibiscus pickled onion, and a sunny egg. The fry bread itself is lighter than what you’d find at the street fair, but it still holds up well to the toppings.
Sausage produced by Sausage Shop Meat Market and Deli shines in the Red Light Boerewors ($12). The South African sausage is served on a local bun with pickled onions and peppers along with spicy strawberry mostarda. The order comes with house-fried duros, which are the wagon wheel-shaped puffed wheat chips often found at Mexican grocery stores.
Other bar snacks are receiving gourmet treatment as well.
“Stacy and I are pouring all of our hearts into making every aspect delicious,” Begay said.
The duros are also available a la carte with lime and house hot sauce ($4). Other options include Crunchy Bar Mix ($3), Spicy Fresh Chicharrones & House Hot Sauce ($6), and House-Made Spiced Corn Nuts ($4).
Bar manager Don Murray, who previously worked at The Dusty Monk Pub, created a beverage menu with Tucson and Mexican influences. Furthermore, the prices are far more accessible than a standard hotel bar, with most original house cocktails hovering around $8 and $9.
“[Some] people want to open a bar in Tucson that have San Francisco prices, and I’m like, the whole reason I live here is the cost of living is so great,” Murray said.
Beau Brummell ($10), the priciest cocktail on the menu, is a gin daiquiri made with the butterfly pea blossom-imbued Empress 1908 gin. The Santa Gertrudis Highball ($7) features a clove-infused house mezcal blend with soda water. The Inglaterra ($8), a Tucson take on the Pimm’s Cup cocktail, features Pimm’s #1, tequila, simple syrup, lime, cucumber, and ginger ale.
Boilermakers, which include a one-ounce shot with a beer, range from $4 to $9. The beverage menu also features $7 classic cocktails, flights ranging from $8 to $15, and an assortment of beer and wine.
Operating hours for the bar is 3 p.m. – midnight daily. The restaurant is open 4 – 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 4 – 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
For more information, visit downtowntucsonhotel.com.
Jackie Tran is a Tucson-based food writer, photographer, culinary educator, and owner-chef of the food truck Tran’s Fats. Although he is best known locally for his work for Tucson Foodie, his work has also appeared in publications such as Bon...