Crafting AZ Libations & Pub Fare

September 5, 2013 |

Good Oak Bar, opening night

The Good Oak Bar Opens on Congress Street.

The Good Oak Bar is now a reality. Up until a few days ago, the space on Congress – between the new Diablo Burger and the established Rialto Theatre – was still being completed, and was gloriously punctuated by the scent of oak dust. Fittingly, since the name Good Oak bar comes from Gary Nabhan’s interpretation of Arizona’s namesake: the Basque words “aritz onac,” for “place of the good oak,” which became garbled into “Arizona,” and in like fashion you too can garble your words at the Good Oak Bar.

The cozy corners have taken shape and the bar front and vestibule are fashioned from reclaimed wood, roughly 70-years-old, saved from some buildings previously on the Northern Arizona University campus. Derrick Widmark brought the Diablo Burger concept from Flagstaff to Tucson this summer to expand the connections between the local culture and the local foodsheds in Arizona, and with the Good Oak Bar he’s ready to take that idea a step further with what he calls “local foods based pub fare.

“The idea is to broaden our local food footprint and use the palate of pub fare to open up our relationships with local farmers and ranchers,” Widmark explains. With a tight but variable menu based off pub standards like shepherd’s pie or a classic pulled pork sandwich, Good Oak can accommodate the variety of meats and heirloom foods that producers bring to the table. “And maybe some folks will have to come in and sip a pint while they look at the blackboard specials,” Widmark quips.

At the heart of Good Oak is a rotating selection of Arizona beers curated by Blake Collins, the home-brew prodigy turned master brewer for Borderlands. The wine cellar is commanded by Kassie Killebrew, who also concocts beer and wine based cocktails for the more spirit-inclined. As an example, Widmark describes a dream in a glass: imagine fresh peaches from Sleeping Frog Farms, muddled in a light summer beer with a spritz of seltzer.

“Refreshing and local,” Widmark describes, “that’s what we’ll try to do. I think the idea is to give people an option who wouldn’t normally drink just beer or wine, but it also further defines the craftiness of the bar.”

Good Oak Bar, opening night

Widmark says that “with the narrowness of its focus, Good Oak has an opportunity to create a craft wine destination that’s bold and unique,” and parenthetically he adds, “without trying too hard to be either of those things.” The hardest thing Widmark is trying to do, it turns out, is create the kind of bar that deserves to be on Congress, next to the historic Rialto Theatre.

In the interceding time between opening Diablo Burger this summer and now following it with Good Oak, “it’s given me more time to think about, ‘what kind of bar does Tucson want in that space?’” In the light of a tongue-in-cheek discussion to “Keep Tucson Shitty,” Widmark says that “I was drawn to Tucson because of the same qualities of authenticity and character that are being discussed there. I value that sense of place, and I’m committed to trying to deliver that in a heartfelt and unpretentious way.”

And so, here it is: comfort food and libations with a Tucson and Arizona focus. The finishing touches to the bar include an original section of Old Pueblo Trolly track salvaged during Tucson’s streetcar construction, and a giant “Tucson” mural, spelled backwards as if you were standing behind a classic building sign. As for an authentic sense of place, Widmark says that he’s discovered one of the original tenants of the space he’s inherited, the Sunshine Climate Club of Tucson. He’s created a homage to the club that you’ll see as soon as you walk in the door.

Good Oak Bar is now open at 4pm everyday at 316 E. Congress St. Find Good Oak Bar under the locations tab at

Sunshine Climate Club, Tucson, Arizona