When word got out that the old Boondocks Lounge on North First Avenue was closing, the collective cries from longtime Tucson residents squealed: "No! What's going to happen to that crazy big chianti bottle?"
Then, when the Boondocks finally did shut down in late 2016, there was another aggregate wail of remorse: "No! Now where are we going to get our five-dollar meatloaf every Monday and hear local blues rock bands?"
Just down a ways, a salty hidden saloon sharing a space with a fish 'n' chips eatery and a 24-hour laundromat was hatching a plan. Nancy's Ft. Lowell Pub has been a neighborhood staple for honest drinks and a break from the student-dominated bars since 2001, and they were casting their eyes on the now-unused space of the Boondocks. When the timing was just right, Nancy's shut their doors and moved into the old Boondocks space, combining the two forces to become Nancy's Boondocks.
The old Nancy's is now in the hands of a new owner who has completely done away with the former feel and look of the place. But the Boondocks? Yeah, the Kuhlman family, who own Nancy's Boondocks, knew that if they changed too much of the longstanding beloved bar, there would be a midtown meltdown of sorts. You just can't mess with tradition, so the general ambiance of the Boondocks remains and, of course, they didn't touch that oversized wine bottle out front.
If you recall, the Boondocks served food. Like, pretty good and honest pub-grub kind of food. When Nancy took over, with her daughters Jodie and April managing affairs and sometimes bartending, their first inclination was to serve food as well. But, according to them, the kitchen needed, say, "a little work."
It took several months to rebuild, zone and sterilize, but Nancy's Boondocks is now serving food from a kitchen that is almost unrecognizable. Trust me, I've been in the old Boondocks cooking space, and, uh, let me just tell you the difference of how it is in its present state is beyond night and day. More like 17th-century methods of dentistry versus what we got going for us in these modern times. It is immaculate, expanded and—best of all—up and running again.
Now, the Kuhlman's just didn't want to put out your basic bar fare to appease those waist-deep in Jell-O shots and needing something to soak up the hooch. Happily, I am here to say the food is even better than before. The few times that I have popped in and sampled something, it has always been solid and delicious. For $6.50, you get a huge half-pound Angus beef burger that will totally mess you up, juices dripping down your arm, and that is exactly what I want from a local pub with a menu. Sure, it's a buck more to add on crispy fries or a tart house slaw, but who cares? It is generous and goes perfectly with a local beer on tap or a cocktail. A real cocktail. Not some downtown jigger measured sugary wallet lightener; an honest-to-goodness drink.
Leaannz Chicken Club ($8.50), lovingly named after bartender Leann, takes a different approach by adding sautéed mushrooms and mozzarella along with smoky bacon and avocado. At first, I didn't think that combo would work but it haphazardly does and has become a personal favorite. The Patti's Melt ($7.95), which gets its handle from longtime employee and Elvis fan Miss Patti, is a quarter pound of beef paired with grilled onions and Swiss cheese on marbled rye bread, which is then finished on the griddle. Nancy's Boondocks isn't going to change the global culinary infrastructure, but when you are craving one of the best and biggest patty melts in Tucson, you are straight-up glad that they are here.
Honestly, I was just happy to have the Boondocks back, now in the hands of ladies who owned a bar I used to frequent because of its "always a show, never a cover" vibe, but the situation has gotten even better because Nancy's now serves breakfast. At $6.95, the breakfast burrito filled me up and invited me to go right back to bed due to its generous helping of eggs, potatoes and choice of meat. But can we get serious for a moment? They have a breakfast chicken and waffles plate paired with eggs. Sure, it was early, but I needed a reflective drink after that bit of tasty salvation. In fact, all the delicious grub served here just might invite you to have one as well. Perhaps two. ■