Diving Into History: The Buffet Bar Turns 80

November 1, 2014 |

Buffet Bar & Crockpot

The repeal of the prohibition act in 1934 ushered in a new era for America. As the sale and consumption of alcohol once again became legal, people all over the US rejoiced with emphatic cheers while more than a few pints clanked together in celebration. It was at this time that a small Tucson bar opened its doors at 538 East 9th Street, and would become a favorite among college students of the University of Arizona and lovers of spirits and good company alike.

80 years later, after sixteen changes of ownership, numerous economic ups and downs and seeing Tucson grow from a tiny western town to a thriving city, The Buffet Bar & Crock Pot is still standing in its original location and is still serving cold libations to its beloved regulars. Known now on a national level as a must-visit dive bar, even Esquire Magazine named the Tucson watering hole as one of its Top 12 Dive Bars to Visit in America. With an increasingly popular status among natives and newcomers to the Old Pueblo, The Buffet has become a right of passage for college students, who eagerly fill its seats and take full advantage of their 6:00am opening time.

“It’s a very nice neighborhood bar, more so probably in its first 34-years,” laughs co-owner Marilyn Smith. ”We’ve been opening our doors at 6:00am for many years and I think that’s part of our popularity. We offer good service, cold beer, hot dogs and nothing fancy. We like to keep it simple and make the patrons the focus of our little beer bar. A lot of people come in and tell us their grandparents used to drink here, and that makes us really happy.”

To celebrate their monumental milestone, The Buffet is throwing its 80th Anniversary Party on Saturday, November 1st from 1:00pm-5:00pm. The party will take place in the parking lot of The Buffet, where live music, comedy, food and drinks will be served. Mayor Rothschild will be in attendance to deliver and read an official proclamation from the City of Tucson’s Office of the Mayor that commemorates the 80th anniversary. In a fitting choice of words, one line of the proclamation reads, “The Buffet Bar draws a clientele that ranges from college students to punk rockers and old timers,” which appropriately encapsulates the landmark bar.

“The anniversary party will be a gathering of old and new regulars of the bar and many friends that we’ve made over the years. We’re hoping to see a lot of people we haven’t in a while and also hopefully some new people will come join us,” says Smith. “We’re doing it as a fundraiser for two of our neighbors right next to us in Fluxx Studios and Positively Beautiful, which are two wonderful non-profit organizations run by people who used to work for us. So we’re tying it in as a benefit for them as well.”

Chacos Barrachos, D-Wall, Jillian Bouchet, Tom Walbank and the Tucson Drum Core will provide music for the event and two Buffet regulars “Aaron and Bobby” will deliver a comedy set for the crowd. The Buffet will be open, of course, at its regular time of 6:00am, so attendees are encouraged to come by at any point before for a drink prior to the start of the celebration. The party continue inside The Buffet after the event, where patrons can play pool and shuffle board while reminiscing about the many fabled stories of the joint that have occurred over the years.

“I love the history of this place. We are a part of the Iron Horse Neighborhood Association, of which I am now the vice president,” Smith says. “It’s a unique little neighborhood with a very close community. There are always so many great things going on down here in this area and it has such a communal feel to it. All of us try to support each other and our businesses as much a we can.”

Marilyn, along with her daughter Lisha Smith-Davidson and her son-in-law William Davidson, bought The Buffet from its previous owner in the beginning of 2008. And while the initial years of owning the bar proved to be challenging with growing pains and major inconveniences, the trio’s passion for the preservation of the popular dive bar are a large reason why it continues to grow in popularity.

“Lisha and I are both accountants and she was Ted Bear’s (the previous owner) accountant over the years and his wife died tragically in 2007 and it destroyed him, so he gave Lisha the first rights of refusal, so we ended up buying the place,” explains Smith. “It seemed like a good thing and then economy went down the hill the next year and then they blocked off our roads down here because of the streetcar, so its been a rough seven years. But we’ve made it through and are still here.”

If any local establishment knows anything about perseverance, it’s undoubtedly The Buffet. After eight decades of service, the doors are still promptly open early in the morning, the seats of the regulars are left undisturbed, the hot dogs are kept cycling in the crock pot and their antique sign remains stoically lit above the street. Longevity for businesses is hard to come by nowadays, but it appears Smith and those before her have found the right formula, as she smiles and casually explains, “we’re just a little dive bar that keeps on going.”

The Buffet is located at 538 East 9th Street and can be reached at 520-623-6811 and viewed online at www.thebuffetbar.com





Category: FOOD & DRINK, The Scoop