These days it seems like if you leave downtown long enough to pick up a dozen glazed donuts from Le Caves, something will be different by the time you’re back feeding quarters into a parking meter on Pennington. A traffic light will have replaced that four-way stop sign you drove past earlier in the day; contractors will have broken ground on a new apartment project; or, perhaps, a new business will have opened its doors. A new spate of openings on Congress Street has broadened the flavors on offer to hungry (and, yes, thirsty) Tucsonans.
Good Oak Bar is about as all-Arizonan as they come. Nestled into a narrow space between the Rialto and Diablo Burger, this newcomer features wines and beers from across the Grand Canyon State, and locally sourced pub fare made fresh in the Diablo Burger kitchen.
“There are a lot of great bars in Tucson, but I don’t know of anyone that is as focused on purely Arizona craft beers and wines as we are,” says owner Derrick Widmark, who also opened Diablo Burger earlier this year. The menu at Good Oak rotates, but a typical selection on the chalkboard may include Tucson’s Thunder Canyon Deep Canyon Amber or Chandler’s San Tan Belgium IPA, while wines like Arizona Stronghold’s Tazi and Page Springs’ Mules Mistake flow from another tap. Customers can quiet their grumbling stomachs with a burger, BLTA (that’s a BLT with avocado), shepherd’s pie, seasonal salads, snackboards, or the kitchen’s signature fried pickles.
Even the name Good Oak Bar is an homage to Widmark’s adopted state. He explains that he got the name from “the most credible theory for the origin of the name Arizona, which is that it comes from the Basque words for ‘good oak.’”
If you’re craving something more tropical than the Sonoran Desert can provide, Saint House Rum Bar may be just what you have in mind. With its deep booths, sleek tables, and the oversized rum bar that sits at its heart, Saint House evokes sweltering Havana nights, swaying palm trees, and the lapping waves of the Caribbean.
After the success of their first downtown ventures, 47 Scott and adjacent Scott & Co., Nicole Flowers and Travis Reese were eager to expand their horizons. “We were introduced to the amazing world of rum by our team of bartenders who just kept pushing how unique and unexpected it could be as a spirit,” Reese says. “When we started researching more about the places where rum comes from we realized the cuisine is just as unique.”
The menu is a cruise through those varied flavors of the Caribbean: from coconut shrimp, Martinique-style mahi mahi, plantain soup, to pineapple-glazed chicken or sweet potato quinoa pancakes. And of course no trip to the Caribbean is complete without a daiquiri. The signature cocktail, Reese explains, is “made with rum, fresh squeezed lime juice, and sugar. Shaken then served up like a martini. So simple and perfect.” But be sure to sample the other rum cocktails on offer, including the El Presidente, with its fine mix of orange liqueur and pomegranate grenadine, or the Vicious Virgin #3, which is not nearly as nonalcoholic as the name suggests.
A few doors down, Unplugged Wine Bar brings a welcome dose of European gemütlichkeit, or coziness, to Congress. Measuring only 600-square feet, Unplugged showcases a curated selection of handcrafted wines from around the world—Austria, Spain, France, Italy, and even a Riesling from one of the oldest vintners in Germany. Several U.S. wineries also feature on the menu, including a selection from California, Oregon, Washington, and, yes, Arizona.
“You can eat in a hundred other venues downtown, but no one takes wine as seriously as we do,” says co-owner Frank Lietzau. “We’re all about handcrafted natural wines. Everything we serve is extremely authentic—it’s a new take on wine in Tucson.”
While Unplugged’s focus is clearly vino, there’s no shame in opting for one of the beers on tap, and the kitchen prepares tempting appetizers, salads, and paninis. ✜
Good Oak Bar, 316 E. Congress St. 520.882.2007. GoodOakBar.com. Saint House Rum Bar, 256 E. Congress St. 520.207.7757. SaintHouseRumBar.com. Unplugged Wine Bar, 118 E. Congress St. 520.884.1800. UnpluggedTucson.com
Vanessa Barchfield is a freelance journalist and independent radio producer based in Tucson.