Restaurant News

Tempe’s Varsity Tavern Could Lose Its Liquor License Over COVID-19 Violations

Varsity Tavern in downtown Tempe.
Varsity Tavern in downtown Tempe. Lauren Cusimano
Tempe’s Varsity Tavern is in danger of losing its liquor license after a state agency said the bar’s management allowed multiple COVID-19 safety violations, including having employees who tested positive for the virus keep working.

The Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control announced on Wednesday that an investigation into Varsity Tavern determined it allegedly violated state liquor laws related to customer safety and an executive order by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey mandating social distancing.

The bar, which is located at Fifth Street and Mill Avenue in downtown Tempe, was issued a “notice of violation and opportunity to comply” by the liquor department regarding the matter on June 30.

Jeffery Trillo, communications director for the liquor department, says Varsity Tavern voluntarily closed on Tuesday and its license is considered to be inactive.

According to the liquor department’s investigation, Varsity Tavern management’s alleged violations include the following:
  • Multiple instances of requiring staff who’d tested positive for COVID-19 and were showing symptoms to continue working.

  • Failing to notify the Arizona Department of Health Services, other state agencies, and customers that the bar’s employees had tested positive and were symptomatic.

  • Failing to create and enforce written policies complying with social distancing guidelines set forth by the governor’s executive orders, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the ADHS.

  • Failing to enforce policies with groups gathering in the bar or requiring face masks by employees or staff.
According to liquor department records, Varsity Tavern is owned by Texas-based Ipsum Creative LLC. Phoenix New Times reached out to the bar on Wednesday for comment on the matter but hasn’t heard back as of this writing.

The liquor department says it will pursue revocation of Varsity Tavern’s license. The bar also faces a $3,000 fine for each violation.

Anyone with knowledge of these violations or similar misconduct by Varsity Tavern is asked to call the liquor department's Investigations Division at 602-542-9062 and provide information.

Varsity Tavern, which opened in 2018, has received disciplinary action from the department on two prior occasions. The bar’s liquor license was suspended in December 2018 after employees served alcohol to underage patrons, and again in July 2019 after a drunken patron fell from its second-floor balcony.

The license was reinstated following both incidents. 
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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.