Release Date: Thursday, September 20th 2012
The Handlebar Tempe opens on Mill Avenue
By Kellie Hwang
Restaurateur Julian Wright has created a cozy niche for himself on Mill Avenue in the past few years.
He opened La Bocca Urban Pizzeria + Wine Bar, a sleek date-night destination featuring bruschetta planks and house-made limoncello, in 2008. Two years later, directly across the street, came Canteen Modern Tequila Bar, an upbeat taco and margarita joint by day, a dance club by night.
This week, Wright introduces his latest venture, a European beer garden-inspired bar called the Handlebar Tempe, two doors down from Canteen. It's a concept, named for the bicycle-friendly atmosphere, that he hopes both differs from and complements his other two restaurants.
"I have customers at La Bocca enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and want to keep hanging out, but we close early there," Wright said. "Canteen turns into a club after dinner, and some customers don't want that. Handlebar is the answer. We'll never have DJs and rarely have live bands. We'll always maintain that same, relaxed atmosphere until 2 a.m."
Wright, an ASU graduate, took over the former Bath & Body Works space with plans for a music venue. Then he found new inspiration during a trip to Italy last September.
"There is so much exposed light that I realized it wouldn't lend itself to a dark rock bar," he said. "The buddy I went to Italy with wanted to open a contemporary American beer garden, and I thought that idea might be right for this space. The movement now is toward craft and local beer, so it seemed logical."
Handlebar has 24 beers on tap and 24 by the bottle. With World of Beer less than a block away with 60 taps and 500 bottles, beer buyer Billy Clayton has his work cut out for him to keep the brew list unique.
"I've been doing my research and looking for beers that not many bars carry," he said. "With a smaller amount of taps, we can keep our beers fresh. I'm trying to find smaller selection, eclectic beers, and looking to many of the new breweries in the state that don't have large distributions."
He has been in contact with Mother Road Brewing in Flagstaff and Dragoon Brewing Co. in Tucson. He already has locked down Mother Road's Lost Highway Black IPA, San Tan Brewery's Negron Nitro's IPA and Belgian golden ale Delirium Tremens.
Clayton also has been educating the staff on beer, and even has books on beer that staffers can check out and patrons can read.
The minimalist bar features a mix of various types of wood and metals, creating a clean yet cozy feel that's more Northwestern than Southwestern. The large swivel doorway and long main bar were constructed from weathered, reclaimed wood saved from a Midwestern barn. Chalkboard material on the facade of the bar will feature beer specials.
More than 20 long wooden and metal tables are scattered throughout inside and on the large patio. Similar to the concept at the beer halls and beer tents in Germany, patrons take a seat at the communal tables.
"In Europe, they are centuries ahead of us as far as communal dining," Wright said. "In the U.S., people are a bit more reserved and conservative ... but I think more and more people are warming up to the idea of plopping down with a beer and making new friends."
Garage doors surround the bar, all opening up to the L-shaped patio. A fire pit and refinished lamp posts on the patio provide that European beer-garden feel, and the surrounding fence will feature hooks for bikes. The only portion kept from Bath & Body Works was the display window by the front entrance and some brick walls.
With little space left for the kitchen, the grill originally was built out to patio, but the idea was shot down by Maricopa County Public Health. So all of the equipment is squeezed into small space inside between the bar and patio.
The food menu is small, featuring five types of bratwurst sourced from Schreiner's Fine Sausage in Phoenix. Varieties include a classic brat, chicken-and-apple and Southwestern turkey. There's also a local Arizona grass-fed burger, freshly made pretzels, fries and sauerkraut.