The Spot: Rúla Búla
401 South Mill Avenue, Tempe
The Hours: Happy hour is served from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily throughout the restaurant.
Perfect For: Resting weary feet after a walk around Tempe, or drowning your sorrows in a good pint of Guinness. The pub is that perfect Irish mix of casual, friendly, and filled with alcohol.
The Interior: Though Rúla Búla is situated on the end of Mill Avenue, the bar has all the warmth and welcome of a pub on the Old Sod. High tops fashioned out of barrels and pew-like booths sit on hardwood floors. The L-shaped bar is adorned with stained glass, glittering bottles and “Guinness is Good For You” prints. Unlike cheesy Irish imitators, this pub has the feel of the real thing, up to and including the snug, a tucked-away corner of the bar for more intimate conversations. There is also a beer garden out back that we’re betting is jammers in good weather.
The Food: The food during happy hour at Rúla Búla is decent, and the prices more so. Not one of the 10 or so food items costs more than $3.75, which means you can sample bites of a few different things or order up big for a group without breaking the bank. Portions are small: Orders of wings ($3.50) come in foursomes, and sliders come out all by their lonesome ($2.00 each). It sort of feels like Irish tapas – a nice accompaniment to your beer, but you’ll have to order a few items to get a full meal under your belt.
With this in mind, we ordered an Irish slider ($2.00), the bacon-wrapped shrimp ($3.75 for a trio), and the charmingly titled “Hot Bollix Spicy Potato Balls” ($2.50 for three). The slider was okay – corned beef, sauerkraut, and cheese with Thousand Island dressing – but the Hot Bollix were a hot mess in ball form: potato, cheese, bacon, and scallions, mashed together and deep-fried with no discernible flavor. The bacon-wrapped shrimp, however, was so good it made up for both.
The Drinks: It felt wrong to visit an Irish pub and not order a Guinness, so we didn’t even try. Despite the relative youth of Rúla Búla’s staff (this is a college town, after all), our bartender’s perfect pour would have made Arthur Guinness proud. And confused, probably, to see a pint of the black stuff being downed in the desert. The bar boasted other Irish favorites on tap, such as Smithwicks and Kilkenny Cream, plus old standbys like Kilt Lifter and Blue Moon. To be honest, we didn’t even glance at the wine list, but the pub has one, and that’s important.
Conclusion: When our bartender noticed we left the Hot Bollix mostly uneaten, she whisked them away, took the item off our tab, and suggested the shrimp, which turned out to be stellar. What Rúla Búla may lack in gourmet finesse, it makes up for in great service and a lovely setting, and we’d be willing to give it another go during mealtime, or at night when the music goes up and (we’re hoping) the scene gets livelier.
Don’t Miss: The bacon-wrapped shrimp.
Skip This: The Hot Bollix. Go for the potato skins instead: same ingredients, served better.