When I moved to Tucson in 2006, The District Tavern was already a bit of a legend. Having opened up just a year earlier, the bar invited all types of local color, with fans of everything from porch-steppin' ragtime to neck-destroying death metal calling it home. When I was downtown, I always made a stop there, because the drinks were honest, the music was great and the regulars made me feel comfortable.
Then in 2015, the doors of The District closed and the lovable misfits who once occupied the chairs inside had to find a new saloon to call their own. The memory of The District lived on through social media and in conversations on the neighborhood bar circuit. After a steak-and-pasta restaurants closed on the dusty lot of Stone and Drachman, rampant rumors hinted that The District was going to be the new occupant, with a menu that would include food. Hey, aging thrashers and gritty street poets need to eat too, right?
The District Tavern Eatz opened up a few months ago and is slowly rebuilding the notoriety that it had when it was located downtown. It's great news for those who kept the seats warm in the original location, even if the new address is on the outskirts of our expanding downtown.
"When we closed in 2015, I took a well needed break," says owner Noel Chester. "Although I did try to make another bar project work, I was looking around for the right opportunity. I'm friends with the landlords here and just love the location and look of the space and decided that we needed to use it in a whole new way."
Basically, along with serving comforting and inspired fare, Chester wanted to utilize some of the tract to house live music with bands that may have a tough time getting gigs anywhere else around town. So, she hired a long standing and respected booking agent to handle the acts and coordinate the jukebox, which is a flurry of ideals spanning 70s funk to 80s hardcore punk to 90s lo-fi and beyond.
But the menu had to be considered and developed as well during all this. That's when chef Simeon Hawks came aboard to help construct dishes that would appease those with a taste for real drinks, real music and a really good time.
"I was cooking downtown, and The District was my after-work hangout," says Hawks. "I even played shows there with some of the bands I was in. I got to know Noel and when she said she was re-opening The District, this time with a kitchen, she asked if I was in and I didn't have to think twice. We just started talking and developing the menu."
Chester's Italian and Irish heritage influences old-school faves like the hefty meatball sandwich ($11), featuring melted mozzarella and provolone atop three slightly intimidating meatballs splashed with marinara. The Tavern Supreme sandwich ($10)—ground pork, basil, garlic and a bell pepper mix—is the current best seller. I can see why.
The District Tavern Eatz also offers pasta dishes and locally baked—and sometimes boozed-infused—breads and such, but be sure to try the poblano gravy atop the homemade biscuits. This is good enough that they could bottle it and sell it at the merch table right next to the band T-shirts and CDs.
Chester says she's happy to once again be running The District Tavern—"this time with yummy affordable food."