Now Open: Northside Sandwiches and The Firehouse Near ASU in Tempe

Northside Sandwiches on University Drive in Tempe near ASU.
Northside Sandwiches on University Drive in Tempe near ASU.
Benjamin Leatherman

Students at Arizona State University in Tempe have a pair of new places near campus where they can grab a bite between classes and also party up a storm after dark.

University Drive is now home to Northside Sandwiches and The Firehouse Tempe, two establishments that serve as eateries by day before transforming in nightspots when the sun goes down.

Much like many bars and restaurants in close proximity to ASU, the proprietors of Northside Sandwiches are hoping that students will make a short jaunt to their door for grub. They're located on a prime piece of real estate between College and Forrest avenues that's directly across the street from the campus' northern end (hence the name).

Owned by a trio of Tempe entrepreneurs, including Jay Johari (who also runs Vintage Lounge on Mill Avenue), Karl Freund, and Paul Derensis, Northside opened in late September and primarily offers deli-style sandwiches with fresh-sliced meats and cheeses, as well as bread from local bakeries.

Derensis says they've done everything possible to gear the place toward the Sun Devils crowd, including selling every sandwich for $6 each (which helps stretch mommy and daddy's money further), including a free sodas with every purchase, and offering discounts to those who have to use the paid parking lot behind the shop.

"We always got music playing, a chill kind of environment, a big ol' front patio with free wi-fi for people to come and do homework or waste time between classes," he says.

All 11 of their signature deli-style sandwiches boast college-oriented monikers, like the "Freshman 15" (thin-sliced steak, sautéed onions and mushrooms, and provolone, and garlic aioli) or one named after ASU football coach Todd Graham (grilled chicken, marinara sauce, mozzarella, and topped with fresh spinach). There are also a few cheekily named options like the "Wet Dream" and "Love Triangle."

Patrons aren't limited to what's on the menu, Derensis says, as Northside is like "any other deli" where folks can order up custom-built sandwiches.   In fact, he adds, the shop's owners are hoping to evoke the spirit of a bygone mom-and-pop favorite of ASU students that eventually became a Subway location several years ago.

"If we could get something going like the old College Street Deli, that would be great," Derensis says.

On weekends, Northside will also offer performances by local DJs like Michael Ryan. The only thing the place is lacking, Derensis says, is beer and wine (a virtual necessity for college kids), which they're planning to fix by applying for a liquor license.

Two blocks away at the intersection of University Drive and Mill Avenue is the Firehouse, a spin-off of the popular Old Town Scottsdale bar/nightclub/restaurant of the same name that features firefighter shtick mixed with the party-hearty aura of a frat house.

Located in the building that's formerly housed everything from a Ruby Tuesday franchise to a string of failed sports bars, the Tempe version of the Firehouse is a virtual amusement park for dudes or a man cave writ large.

Besides paintings of women dressed like sexy firefighters and an enormous collage of vintage beer cans decorating the place, various comic book covers serve as wallpaper, bleacher-like stadium seating in available in one corner, and more than 40 HDTVs constantly tuned to sports.

The Firehouse Tempe is similar to its sister location in many regards, ranging from a menu focused on upscale bar food to its incorporation of a repurposed firefighting vehicle (in this case a circa 1940s truck) into the décor: The front half and cab has become a DJ booth while the rear portion is part of the bar and now dispenses nine different beers from tap handles instead of gushing streams of water.

Unlike the Firehouse in Scottsdale, which had earned a certain infamy for its after hours action, the Tempe location serves food earlier, starting at 10 a.m., and closes promptly after last call. Which is a good thing too, since ASU kids dive into that pile of homework and required reading sometime.

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