Thirsty Lion Pub & Grill, 2000 E. Rio Salado Parkway, Suite 1041, Tempe, (480) 968-2920. www.thirstylionpub.com
The Hours: 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 p.m. to close Sunday through Thursday.
The Details: Wine, well drinks, margaritas, and 11 select craft beers are all $4. Domestics (Bud Light and Coors Light) are, for some reason, still a whopping $3.50. There are 16 discount appetizers in all, divided into three categories: $3.95 includes apps like Hand Cut Pub Fries and the Caesar Salad; $4.95 includes Ruben Sliders and Hand Breaded Chicken Tenderloins; and for $5.95 you can get Artichoke Spinach Dip and Pub Chip Nachos.
We ordered two of the $4 beers - a Blue Moon and a Deschutes Mirror Pond - and started with the Traditional Scotch Eggs ($3.95). They had a crispy outside and were nicely paired with a tangy mustard sauce, but we couldn't taste the pork sausage at all (click here to see how these might stack up against our Battle of the Scotch Eggs contestants last spring).
See how we graded the new Thirsty Lion after the jump.
To test a go-to favorite for late-night snacks, we tried the Roma Tomato, Spinach, Arugula, and Feta Cheese Pizza ($5.95). Our expectations rose when our server said the pizzas were hand-tossed, but the truth is, it's the kind of pizza that probably tastes brilliant after about $12 of beer. Otherwise, it's a standard, forgettable dish, not too far from the pizza you'd pick up frozen and spin through the microwave. On the bright side, arugula-haters like Julia Child needn't worry: You can't taste it.
We decided to finish with the Bacon Cheddar Potato Cakes ($4.95): Russet potatoes, pepper bacon, cheddar, sour cream, jalapenos, and green onions, fried with Napa cabbage slaw, chipotle aioli, and scallion herb sour cream. Our server clapped when we ordered them - and we have to say we agree. While not at all good for you, these potato cakes are clearly one of those signature dishes this pub does right. With a crispy outside and a warm and mushy inside, these potato cakes delighted us with layer after layer of flavor: a little bit spicy, a little bit creamy, and a little bit cheesy, the ideal happy hour treat.
The Interior: It's a large space with a kind of reclaimed-factory feel (punctuated by the industrial chic style of caged lighting), all dark woods and high-top tables. Each bar is extensive, situated beneath bright hi-def flatscreens showing sports and music videos. Above the center bar is painted the inviting phrase, "Eat as strangers - leave as friends," but it's not a space that lends itself well to that cozy vibe. As far as we could see, it's staffed exclusively by attractive young women (modelesque, as Tyra would say) who look vaguely like every Sim in your neighborhood after you've trashed the auto-characters (in Steveopolis, every girl has the Great Kisser trait!). It's not exactly Tilted Kilt, but the uniform does include black knee-socks.
The Cost: Three appetizers and two beers, plus tax, came to just a pinch under $25.
The Conclusion: It's clean, vibrant, and there are 52 beers on tap. It's also a great location - particularly if you're getting some last-minute holiday shopping done and you need to decompress before continuing down your list. That said, the prices weren't great and the apps (apart from the savory Potato Cakes) were mostly typical, greasy bar fare (we stayed away from the California Roll and the Calamari, which seemed suspiciously out-of-place, and next to the token salads smacked of desperation).
Overall Grade: B