Saturday, September 28, 2013



Those trolley tracks are in and every cobweb is blown out. From decades of dust and indifference, downtown Tucson is emerging with a vibrant energy full of busy sidewalks and bustling restaurants.


Even the side streets are popping on new lights as this rejuvenation of Congress and Broadway between the Fox Theatre's bright marquee to the west and historic Hotel Congress to the east turns up the volume.


On a Wednesday night in August, you needed reservations to get a table in the most popular spots. Just imagine what it will be like when college students and snowbirds are filling the sidewalks every evening.


"It's starting to feel like a real city," said one veteran watcher of downtown's development. "The streets aren't dark and scary anymore."


Among those new faces are a variety of ages – along with the wide-eyed families out on their own urban adventures there are plenty of hip older people joining the restless young professionals in this search for new fun in unexpected places.


And the best part of all in this transformation of creating new restaurants out of old storefronts, everything so far is home grown.


Instead of tearing down the old to make room for something new, it's all about keeping the old buildings and making their insides new again.


Putting a forgotten charm back into the two-story brick walls and cozy corners, hanging chandeliers from lofty spaces and giving everything new air conditioning. Tucson's venerable architecture is getting lots of respect from this new generation of entrepreneurs pushing the Old Pueblo into the 21st century.



"Every Thursday we have date night downtown," said cheery Esther Bayle, sitting at the long bar of the Hub Restaurant and Creamery, 266 E. Congress St., with her smiling husband Greg. "We always go to different places."


"We love the ambiance at Proper," said Greg. "It reminds her of the bay area. It's so great to see all these places downtown."


"We love the martinis at the Playground," added Esther. "And the infused vodka and garlic parmesan fries at Elliott's."


Newest kid on this refurbished block is the Saint House Rum Bar, 256 E. Congress, with an ever-expanding list of rums and rum drinks. There must be a dozen variations on the traditional daiquiri alone.


The Saint House joins the Hub, Playground, 278 E. Congress St. and Proper Restaurant, 300 E. Congress St. in its preference for taking existing buildings on Congress and modernizing the inside while keeping the old brick charm and outside appearance.


At Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink, 101 E. Pennington St., it's the same story, but more so. For many decades, this building was a solemn funeral parlor. The outside is virtually unchanged from those times.


But inside….ahhhhh! Ample wood finishes, warm tones and an impressive chandelier create a cozy ambiance for meaningful chats with special friends over truly gourmet pizza and tastefully adult beverages.  Other Italian staples are also on the menu.


For the maximum energized downtown experience, join in each month's city-sponsored 2nd Saturday when special events and street performers fill Congress and its adjoining streets with happy visitors – some of them looking exceptionally arty in painted faces and imaginative clothing.

While this daily resurrection of the Congress/Broadway corridor grows stronger, don't forget about the loyal and longstanding restaurants that have stood resolutely through the hard times.

Traditional favorites such as the Cushing Street Bar & Restaurant, 198 W. Cushing St., have kept the faith and deserve to be rewarded. Jazz on Saturday evenings has been an honored tradition here for years, another way of mixing the old and the new --Tucson style.



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