The Phoenix metro area is home to an ever-growing assortment of dining and nightlife districts. Downtown Phoenix. The Melrose District. Seventh Street Corridor. The Heritage District in Gilbert. Old Towne Glendale. Downtown Mesa. Old Town Scottsdale, of course.
It was not always this way. Not so long ago, Tempe was one of the few drinking and dining destinations in central Arizona. Over the years, many a restaurateur or tavern proprietor has set up shop in Tempe, hoping to attract business from the alternative thinkers — and alternative drinkers — who’ve come for Arizona State University but stuck around after discovering the charms of life in a scruffy college town.
Many of those establishments, of course, closed. New ones arose. The circle of life. But occasionally, we find ourselves thinking about those old ghosts, scratching our heads trying to recall the name of such-and-such place. Here’s 11 Tempe locations that have amassed a long list of memorable (or not-so-memorable) tenants over the years.
1470 East Southern AvenueCurrently: Spokes on Southern
This central Tempe building, which neighbors the Spirit of Yoga complex and a Goodwill, is currently home to the bike- and beer-themed Spokes on Southern. It’s known to some for its Secret Garden-esque back patio. Spokes has been serving pints of Arizona craft beer and those crispy Buffalo cauliflower bites we love since 2013, but before that, several themed family restaurants operated there. Those included Uptown Brewery by Streets Of New York in the 1990s, which was predated by the honky-tonk Neon Cowboy Steaks and Spirits, the beach-themed Acapulco Bay Restaurant, and Gino’s East of Chicago, a pizza joint. In the 1980s, it was home to the Famous Pacific Fish Company — a seafood restaurant known for hyping the art of charcoal-broiling fish. (Famous Pacific, whose interior was decorated in ropes and nets, was a chain that also had a sister location in Scottsdale.)
1810 East Apache BoulevardCurrently: Tempe Tavern
“The Tempe Tavern is one of my favorite old buildings in town,” says Joshua Roffler, who, as senior curator of collections at the Tempe History Museum, is something of an expert on old stuff. Tempe Tavern’s only been around since 2010, but the building it sits in was erected more than a century ago, in 1918. It was built as a dairy barn for a man named E.M. White. (Cobblestones still line its walls today.) After 1930, the barn was renovated and became a commercial establishment. Over the years, several watering holes have taken up space inside, including Murphy’s Irish Pub, Oxbow Bar & Lounge (and/or Oxbow Italian Food), and Hattie’s Tavern. When Hattie’s was the tenant, the words “The Western Way To Say Welcome: Ice Cold Beer to Go” were painted on the side of the building. “Hattie’s — oh, that was a great dive,” says Laura Kelly-Phillips, owner and operator of Time Out Lounge since 1988. “There were a whole bunch of squirrely little dives like that on Apache Boulevard in those days.”
423 South Mill AvenueCurrently: Taco Bell Cantina
With a few exceptions — you can pry Rula Bula Irish Pub or Old Town Books out of our cold, dead hands — Tempeans largely accept the fact that one cannot become too attached to businesses located along Mill Avenue. Even so, many were shocked last year to discover that Mill Ave. mainstay Restaurant Mexico would be closing after 12 years. It was a friendly, neighborhood kind of place where they were generous with the complimentary chips and salsa and you could order a burrito named for a longtime server at the restaurant. The structure itself is known colloquially as the Vienna Bakery Building, because it was home to The Vienna Bakery after it was built in 1893. This narrow structure has been occupied by many tenants since, including some law offices. In the 1970s, the suite was home to Golden Temple Natural Food Restaurant, which seemed to please hippie-leaning diners, many of whom would have been unlikely to patronize its current tenant: a Taco Bell Cantina.
1015 West Broadway RoadCurrently: Palo Verde Lounge
Eccentric characters, live music, dance parties, the occasional fight: Everybody who’s visited the Palo Verde Lounge in central Tempe has a story. “It’s a Tempe institution,” says Roffler. “There are certain places in town that longtime Tempe locals really care about, and this is one of them.” The building itself, a dinky standalone structure that neighbors a liquor store, has plenty of stories as well. The lounge and liquor store always have been a pair, dating back to their construction in 1964. The bar was originally called the Park Inn Tavern. Later it was the Adobe Lounge. The Adobe served hot food, which is tough to imagine for current patrons at Palo, whose only options are beef jerky and Cup Noodles. Back then, the liquor store was called Palo Verde Liquor, and it’s that structure that eventually became the namesake for the Palo Verde Lounge. These days, operations at the bar are overseen by Charles Marthaler, whom regulars know as Chuck. A former patron and part-time bartender at Palo, Marthaler recently passed the 15-year mark as owner. When he took over, he says he figured he’d spend “half the day counting money, half the day fishing.” But it hasn’t turned out exactly like that. “I’ve been fishing a couple times,” Marthaler says, “when there wasn’t any money to count.”
26 South Farmer AvenueCurrently: The Lodge Sasquatch Kitchen
Until 2014, Farmer Avenue in downtown Tempe dead-ended at a special little dive bar called the Sail Inn. A rock club and day-drinking haven, Sail Inn was operated by Gina Lombardi, who opened it in 1990. Between 2006 and 2008, Sail Inn became a weird nightclub called Trax. “Trax failed miserably,” Lombardi told Phoenix New Times in 2014, “and since I loved the old Sail Inn so much, I leased it and brought it back.” The last band to play the patio stage at Sail Inn were The Sugar Thieves. “It wasn’t just a neat Tempe venue, but a community space as well,” singer Meredith Moore told us in 2018 while reminiscing about old Tempe haunts. But the address has been home to even more neighborhood escapes if you go back far enough, including gin joints with names like Last Chance Lounge, The Brass Ring Lounge, The Oasis Lounge, and The Hut Tavern. Today, it’s home to The Lodge Sasquatch Kitchen, where you can still get a bloody mary or a Miller Lite — albeit in a $2 million cabin-themed bar and grill.
530 West Broadway RoadCurrently: Boulders on Broadway
Boulders on Broadway is a neighborhood tavern, yes, but also a popular port for cyclists (love that indoor bike rack), a pizza restaurant, a beer hall, a meeting place for local activists, and a hell of a weekly trivia spot. The two-story establishment is owned by Erick and Rochelle Geryol, who are also behind its sister locations Boulders on Southern and Spokes on Southern. The Boulders building is a full-circle story for Erick, who was a pizza cook for roughly three years in the same kitchen when it was owned by the pizza chain Old Chicago. “Before that, [it was] a pretty important music venue called Back Stage Off Broadway,” says Roffler. “It was also Sadie Thompson’s [Restaurant] and Anchorage Hawaiian Seafood.”
2700 South Mill AvenueSoon: Golden Pineapple
Quartiere (Italian for “district” or “neighborhood”) was an Italian restaurant in operation from 2017 to 2019 in a standalone structure at the southwest corner of Mill Avenue and Alameda Drive. But from 1989 to 2017, the building was home to Riazzi’s Italian Garden, a Tempe-famous, family-owned red-sauce joint that hopscotched around the Valley before landing on lower Mill Avenue. “It was the epitome of Italian restaurants,” says Kelly-Phillips, the Time Out Lounge owner. (Time Out was located almost directly across the street, and Riazzi’s staff would come by for drinks after their shifts). Kelly-Phillips recalls vines across the patio, big circular booths, the “horrible” flower print carpet, and a fireplace at the bar. It was the kind of place you could go for a glass of chianti and the “best” Italian bread. But, in the last couple years, “You could tell it was getting a little faded.” We recently came across some vintage Tempe photos that show places with names like Cisco’s Mexican Food and Biscuitroot Park and Bunky’s Food and Spirits in the spot. A new tenant is on the way, a taproom and restaurant called The Golden Pineapple, brought to Tempe by the gang behind The Sleepy Whale in downtown Chandler and The Theodore in downtown Phoenix, both high-end craft beer establishments. “We were introduced to the Riazzi’s building and fell in love!” Justin Evans writes in an email. “Stand alone, giant space, lots of parking, large kitchen, beautiful patio, and that amazing tree out front! It fits our mold!”
4 East University DriveCurrently: Pita Jungle
Downtown Tempe — and especially Mill Avenue — is under heavy construction at the moment. (Some would argue that this is always the case.) But one constant through the years is that a restaurant of some kind will greet you on the northern edge of the Mill Avenue crawl at University Drive. We’re not referring to the laid-to-rest Chili’s — that’s the southeast corner. We’re talking about the northeast corner, where a busy Pita Jungle has been serving Mediterranean food since 2015. But quite a few different illuminated signs have appeared on this intersection-facing façade over the decades. Tenants of this enviable piece of real estate have included Firehouse Tempe (where Snoop Dogg DJed one time), Devil’s Den Sports Grill, the sportsy Diverti Bar and Grill, and the hotrod-themed Sucker Punch Sally’s Diner. And, of course, during the 1990s and into the millennium, a Ruby Tuesday sat in this spot. Long ago, though, when this wasn’t such an active and desirable intersection, “there was a Conoco gas station on that site that later converted to a Submarine Factory and a Philly Pizza and Steaks,” Roffler says.
801 East Apache BoulevardCurrently: The Vine Tavern & Eatery
The Vine Tavern & Eatery has been a raucous little Irish tavern located at the southeast corner of ASU’s main campus since 1986. So there hasn’t been much change to speak of in recent history, but that doesn’t mean this recognizable little A-frame bar and grill on Apache Boulevard doesn’t have a past. General manager and longtime bartender Trent Robertson says the Vine building was a variety of restaurants under the umbrella of Varsity Inn — Varsity Inn Pizza, Varsity Inn Restaurant, and Varsity Inn’s Chimi’s, a Mexican food restaurant. Before The Vine became a go-to college hang in the mid-’80s, it was a Hooters. And originally, Robertson says, the building was designed as a Pizza Hut from the ground up. When it opened in 1961, it was very likely the first Pizza Hut in Arizona. “Crazy that Tempe had some of the big fast chain food restaurants going back to the ’60s, and right along the Apache corridor: Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and KFC,” Jared Smith, Tempe History Museum history curator, says. “Old Tempe is all full of surprises, huh?”
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8749 South Rural RoadSoon: Postino Wine Cafe
This is where chef Aaron Chamberlin opened (along with his business partner Dave Chamberlin) Tempe Public Market Café, his follow-up to Phoenix Public Market Café. TPMC debuted in January 2018, soon followed by the affiliated Ghost Ranch in the same parking lot. The 3,400-square-foot restaurant and bar closed for a six-week remodel in May 2019, and eventually shut down for good in January 2020. Not long after that, it was announced that Postino WineCafe would be moving into this south-Tempe spot; it’ll be the wine-and-bruschetta joint’s eighth Arizona location. The building dates back to 1988. It was previously a Kwik-Stop and a Circle K. In fact, the Chamberlins bought the building from Circle K corporation and hired Christoph Kaiser of Kaiserworks, the Phoenix-based design firm, to convert it from a convenience store into a restaurant.
501 South Mill Avenue, # 200Currently: Varsity Tavern / Low Key Piano Bar / Rodeo Ranch / One One Bar
Where to begin with the Laird and Dines building? Probably with the drug store — named after Dr. J.A. Dines and Hugh Laird, both former Tempe mayors — that occupied this address from 1901 to 1964. John Dixon, a longtime Tempe resident and regular at the aforementioned Restaurant Mexico, recently reminisced about the old Laird and Dines drug store with us. “They had air conditioning, and for five cents you got root beer in a frosted mug,” Dixon said. “It was a great after-church hang.” This Victorian-style building, originally built in 1893, has housed mostly restaurants, clubs, and fast-food counters aimed at college students in the years since. There are typically three or four distinct operations going inside. Currently, it’s Varsity Tavern, Rodeo Ranch, One One Bar, and the subterranean Low Key Piano Bar. The list of previous tenants is substantial: Gringo Star Street Bar, Blondie’s Sports Bar, Beeloe’s, Rck Cty, Rooftop Lounge & Patio. A McDonald’s. A Hooters. The whole world even got to see inside when The Library Bar & Grill, a sexy-schoolgirl-themed restaurant in operation from 2002 to 2010, was featured on an episode of ElimiDate. Or was it Blind Date? One of those hot tub dating shows. Anybody remember?