South Tucson Tavern Takes Off

Inside Saint Charles Tavern, a new addition to the South Tucson scene.
Inside Saint Charles Tavern, a new addition to the South Tucson scene.

Freshly cleaned shot glasses are stacked underneath the handles of local draft beer. Bright red maraschino cherries have been plucked and placed within the bartenders reach. More than a dozen bar stools, upholstered in different colored leathers, line the refurbished wood and tin bar.

The eclectic Saint Charles Tavern, 1632 South 4th Ave., is ready for the day’s business.

It is the brainchild of owners Elizabeth Menke and Churchill Brauninger who adopted the empty building and backyard area as the home for the neighborhood bar.  The building was once The Paddock Bar, which was closed in the 1990s.

Saint Charles opened its doors September 2015 after months of acquisitions, building permits and approval for a liquor license from the city of South Tucson, where bars were largely a thing of the past.

At one point, the city was home to 55 liquor licenses, Brauninger says. Today, there are only eight. In the 1990s and early 2000s a community-wide effort closed most of the bars.

Life-long South Tucsonan Arlene Lopez remembers the plethora of bars and the disorderly conduct in the neighborhood that came with it, which was a major factor in the widespread closures.

As an active member in closing down those bars, the former Tucson city council aide attended the South Tucson city council meeting when Menke and Brauninger asked to open Saint Charles. She spoke at the meeting and said that the residents would give the two a chance, but will keep an eye on them.

“I think they’re aware of the issues in the past,” she says of the new owners.

The neighbors have generally been supportive of Menke’s and Brauninger’s effort.  “The locals are stoked,” Brauninger says.

One neighbor who was instrumental in shutting down area bars in the past, has become a fan of Saint Charles and what it represents, Menke says.  The neighbor now comes in and orders her soda water and has even held a neighborhood association meeting with the police at the tavern.

The bar features recycled wooden beams to form cafeteria tables, bar counters and outdoor seating. A beer garden in the back extends the relaxed and casual atmosphere. Visitors pass a Comedy Central South Park pinball game as they enter through the double doors. A pile of board games nearby includes Risk and Scrabble.

Across the hardwood floors a vintage jukebox plays everything from country to rock ‘n’ roll alongside two pool tables.

The owners plan to landscape the patio and want to remodel the pre-existing kitchen so they can serve a small menu of Southern food as homage to Saint Charles Parish in New Orleans, Brauninger says.

The pair wants the bar to be a place where everyone is welcome to come in and order a drink.

The perfect representation of this, Brauninger says, was when a group of gay professionals, Hells Angels and tango instructors all piled into the bar one evening.  Each group designated a little area of the bar for their activities, not caring that the other was nearby, he says.

To look at it from the outside it was an uncommon combination, he says, chuckling as he recalls the scene.

Yet for Saint Charles Tavern, it was just another Wednesday evening in the heart of the Old Pueblo.

 

Alexis Wright is a reporter for El Independiente, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at alexiswright@email.arizona.edu

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