If you’ve lived in Tucson for most of your life, have only been in the city for a short while, or perhaps you’re just visiting, chances are you’ve noticed the historic Rialto Theatre in downtown Tucson. Likely, you’ve been to a show at the venue that’s held performances for pop musicians, death metal acts, standup comedians, or ’80s movie star Corey Feldman and his backup dancers, The Angels (yeah, he’s got a band, too).
In short, the Rialto Theatre brings one-of-a-kind entertainment to the city, but the non-profit foundation has a lot more happening — some that many might not be aware of.
One of those is R Bar, a hidden gem located on Herbert Alley across from the Rialto patio. R Bar is an extension of the Rialto Theatre Foundation with all proceeds going to the non-profit. So, to expand on that a bit, all the earnings from the all-red bar go towards ongoing improvements, operations, and programming of the Foundation’s three venues, Rialto Theatre, 191 Toole, and R Bar.
The bar originally opened on July 12, 2014, as a way to increase revenue and mitigate slow periods after the recession. In 2020, the pandemic canceled live music and closed a lot of businesses, including R Bar, but recently, the hip hangout spot reopened its doors with a brand new crew and a different focus in its sights.
“In 2014, it was a different type of market and the focus was craft cocktails,” said Rachel Dacquisto, Bar Manager at R Bar. “There wasn’t a strong connection publicly, or through media between our bar as a nonprofit bar. Your dollars spent on your cocktail at our bar versus another bar go to the non-profit — restoring the theater, operating it, programming it — and that just wasn’t the focus before.”
No need to fret, though, because R Bar will still be offering its unique craft cocktails, which you’re likely to receive if you walk in during a non-show night or by mingling with the bartenders.
“Yeah, you’re more likely to get an interesting cocktail if you strike up a conversation with your bartender versus trying something from the menu,” said Dacquisto.
Also, if something catches your eye on the bar’s menu, just know that there’s a backstory to a good handful of them. For example, a few of the cocktails are inspired by historical milestones of the theatre — back before it was even named the Rialto Theatre, too.
“Our menu is very focused on the history of the Rialto,” said Dacquisto. ” So, aside from the theatre’s inception, there’s an inspiration through all of its stages like the time it was a Spanish language theatre, porn theatre, a furniture warehouse, being shuttered for many years, its revitalization, and then celebrating what it has become today.”
“The menu actually reads in the chronological order of the Rialto’s history. So, it starts with vaudeville in the 1920s, and then it moves through the different iterations of the theatre’s past.”
The space was designed by Patch & Clark Design and brought to fruition by the team at Repp + Mclain Design and Construction. They’re the ones responsible for the bar’s all-red interior that many have come to love. It’s become sort of a must-see attraction of its own over the years, and the “Story of Tucson” steel mural has become a showcase in itself.
Aside from the shades of red, more artwork has been added to the walls — photos of past performances and events at the Rialto being some of it.
“Along the back wall, we’re celebrating via concert photos to further build the connection between the theater and the bar,” said Dacquisto.
Just across the alley, where the rumblings of epic concerts can be felt along the brick wall, is another set of murals to admire if you’re sitting outside on the patio. The sight-to-be-seen features rotating murals by local artist Jessica Gonzalez, who paints upcoming shows, and then permanent murals by the very imaginative Salvador Durnan and Joe Pagac.
R Bar just launched its summer hours, which are 7 p.m. – midnight on Wednesday and Thursday and 7 p.m. – 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Plus, attending a show at the Rialto Theatre isn’t required to stop in and grab a drink at R Bar, but if you did buy a ticket to a show and are waiting for the next band to set up their gear, you’re welcome to pay a visit.
“The bar is open to the public during shows,” said Dacquisto. “But if you’re coming from the show, you can gain access to R Bar. It’s a less busy bathroom. It’s nice air-conditioned seating. If you’re in between acts, it’s a nice place to get a cocktail, a little bit of a higher-end product offering, and a more expanded draft beer selection.”
R Bar is located at 350 E. Congress St. #110. For more information, menus, events, and private event inquiries visit rbartucson.com.
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