'A Pub for the People.' College Students and Professors Flock to the Hidden Thunderbird Pub

The Pub at Thunderbird, the full-service bar and restaurant at the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University, has become a social hub for students and faculty since opening in April.
The Pub at Thunderbird, the full-service bar and restaurant at the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University, has become a social hub for students and faculty since opening in April. Georgann Yara
There’s no signage in front of the building or in the lobby, no recommendation to take the elevator to the fifth floor or to turn left once the doors open, and follow the sounds of laughter, music, and lively conversation.

But for those in the know, this path culminates in a contemporary space flaunting vibrant lighting, high tops and long dining tables, shuffleboard, a number of flatscreens showing sports, a horseshoe-shaped bar in the center, and a rooftop lounge that showcases skyline and sunset views.

One of the buzziest weeknight spots in downtown Phoenix is flying under the radar.

The Pub at Thunderbird, the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University’s full-service bar and restaurant, has become a social hub for students and faculty. It’s also open to the public, a fact that’s little known beyond campus boundaries.

This clandestine journey to an unexpected location gives the Pub a speakeasy feel. Since opening in April, it has drawn customers from Thunderbird and Arizona State University’s downtown campus. Here, they mingle, blow off steam, and meet over iced tea, beer, and snacks.

The Pub is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, and from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday and Friday. It is closed on the weekends.
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The Pub’s history dates back to 1971, when Thunderbird was located in the West Valley. Students opened it to create a social space that, by running it, also gave them the opportunity to put their business skills to use.
Georgann Yara

Revival of a Longstanding Tradition

The Pub’s current iteration opened this spring but the concept has been around since 1971, before Thunderbird’s partnership with ASU.

Prior to becoming a global management and business school, Thunderbird started as a flight school for pilots who trained at Thunderbird Field in Glendale before heading into WWII.

The school was located in a region dominated by orchards and farmland rather than power centers. There was not a lot for students to do outside of class hours. So students started the Pub, which served as a social space that, by running it, also gave them the opportunity to put their business skills to use, explains Griffin Gosnell, senior associate director of engagement at Thunderbird who is also an alum.

At the time, the administration wasn’t keen on the idea but it didn’t take long for it to fit right in.

“The Pub became a really essential part of Thunderbird. There were no classes on Friday so everyone conversed at the Pub, danced to music from around the world, and drank beers from around the world. While you’re playing games you may practice another language with someone from another country,” Gosnell says.

The first Pub had foosball and a pool table. It was dark and dingy and located in an old airplane hangar. In 2011 it moved into the old air traffic controllers’ tower building on the Glendale campus. Gosnell has heard the stories from older alumni who recall peanut shells on the floor and various job or school rejection letters posted on walls as decor.

“When we were building this Pub with its modern unique style, some alumni said, ‘This is too nice,’” Gosnell says, chuckling.

Out-of-state license plates on the walls and beneath the bar from students’ home states or places they’ve lived in, and vintage photos of its days as a flight school are among the mementos that have made the moves over the decades and are on full display in downtown Phoenix.
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Out-of-state license plates from students’ home states or places they’ve lived is a tradition that has been part of the Pub’s history for decades. The discs on the bar and plaques on the chairs feature names of alumni donors who made the bar possible.
Georgann Yara

Where Studying and Socializing Meet 

On a recent Thursday afternoon in downtown Phoenix, the Pub was gradually filling up as the work and school day came to a close. Every Thursday is Pub Night, and a school club is responsible for the theme. It was Latin dance night and in a couple of hours, dancing and music would take over.

Savannah Wix, a third-year student at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at ASU, sat at the bar with a prickly pear margarita and classmate Joel Sand, who had a beer. It was Sand’s first time here and Wix’s fifth.

Wix earned her undergraduate degree at a dry campus so having a bar on campus was different, new, and very exciting, she says. She appreciates the relaxed surroundings that allow students and professors to hang out in a real-life setting. Wix has met friends after class to discuss their day but also sees the possibility of meeting a professor for lunch to communicate about her work outside of a stodgy office space.

“It’s cool to have this environment to encourage those more casual conversations with professors, because it is fun to have those kinds of connections,” Wix says.

Sand would love for this to be at the law school but doesn’t mind the short stroll.

“I think it’s great, there’s camaraderie,” Sand says, gesturing toward a dining table a few yards away. “All of our writing professors from our first year in law school are right over there…It’s nice to see them outside of a formal environment.”

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The lack of signage in the building or in the elevators letting visitors know about its location on the fifth floor gives the Pub a speakeasy vibe. It’s open to the public, a fact that’s little known beyond campus boundaries.
Georgann Yara
Tenielle Fordyce-Ruff, an associate clinical professor of law, was among the 10 professors at that table with a nearly empty glass of wine and an appetizer plate with a few bites of food on it. Fordyce-Ruff explained she had visited the Pub four or five times. This is the first university she has attended or worked for that has a bar onsite. She approves.

“The bartenders make wonderful mixed drinks, the food is good, the view’s great. It's a really nice place to relax after work,” Fordyce-Ruff says. “It’s great for the downtown campus to have a meeting space like this."

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The Pub’s rooftop lounge showcases skyline and sunset views. Around this corner, a custom roof cutout creates Thunderbird’s logo onto the floor when the sun hits it at the right angle.
Georgann Yara
The food menu offers small bites, sandwiches, and entrees with international flair including poke nachos, Brazilian churrasco flatbread, a pressed Cuban sandwich, and a Peruvian grain bowl. International beers and spirits from alumni in the beverage industry grace the taps and fill bottles at the bar.

In addition to Pub Night, World Cup viewing parties took place through November and December. The music is lively and the sound of clinking glasses and typical bar clamor are part of the ambiance.

Because there aren’t Friday classes, Pub Night Thursdays are when students can let loose a bit. Often, the crowd stays until closing time of 11 p.m., says Terrance Balousek, a web marketing specialist for Thunderbird and 2021 alum.

Balousek remembers the days before the Thunderbird school moved into its current building. Back then, it was located in the Arizona Center so students would pick a random bar to meet and mingle. This space, he says, is much better and sparks more synergy.

“Now, there’s no excuse not to go to Pub Night or meet after classes,” Balousek says, sitting in a booth and working on his laptop. “It’s nice being in an environment with so many diverse people with so many backgrounds and experiences and sharing those.”
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When approaching the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University in downtown Phoenix, there’s no indication there's a buzzy bar on the fifth floor.
Georgann Yara

Creating a Community Gathering Space

The school’s scholarly reputation that draws a large business-focused international crowd may not seem to align with hosting an on-campus bar. But, the hope is the word gets out.

“It’s kind of a hidden gem in the heart of downtown Phoenix but it’s for the community. We want the public to join us,” says Dasi Danzig, senior media relations officer at the Thunderbird school.

However, because of the mix of its patrons, this often means you’re more likely to leave with a lead on a career rather than a date.

“After an hour, you could leave here with a job offer,” Danzig says. “It’s less about the eating and drinking and more about a place where people can come together, break bread, start a new business idea, and feel comfortable.”

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Vintage photos of Thunderbird’s original days as a flight school are among the mementos that have made the moves over the decades. This mural of a WWI-era plane on the rooftop lounge also bears the names of alumni donors.
Georgann Yara
While the new Pub is modern and stylish, its mission harks back to its original days in Glendale, serving as a gathering space for the community, current, and former students.

Alumni not only played a role in bringing this version to its contemporary brick-and-mortar state, it exists because of them. The plaques behind chairs and discs that feature names along the bar and on the airplane mural on the rooftop lounge are nods to those donors, without whom it would not have come to fruition.

And this is one reason why Gosnell feels it should be shared with those outside of Thunderbird, kept no longer as a downtown Phoenix secret.

“We wanted it to be a pub for the people. Thunderbirds don’t want to be exclusive,” Gosnell says. “It’s about bringing as many people together that can enjoy each other’s company.”

The Pub at Thunderbird

401 North First Street, Fifth Floor
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Georgann Yara is a freelance writer and former newspaper reporter who's also a proud equal opportunity eater. She loves all things Arizona, including the professional sports teams that continue to break her heart. Food, cocktails and cats dominate her IG.
Contact: Georgann Yara

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