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Putney’s journey from dive to divine

click to enlarge From wings to sandwiches, the new, improved Putney’s serves up good pub grub.

From wings to sandwiches, the new, improved Putney’s serves up good pub grub.

Lots of people, especially bar regulars, don't usually embrace a big change, but when it comes to Putney's Pit Stop out on 6090 N. Oracle, well it's more than just accepting change, it's about celebrating change, too.

Since 1977, Putney's has been a staple, serving the good people of the Casa Adobes neighborhood an honest drink and a fairly good sandwich. It was always the place to go to watch the big game, meet up with friends and relax in a comfortable and familiar environment.

Then, as local legend and long-time patrons of Putney's confess to, their little home away from home began to slowly take a bad turn.

Apparently when Putney's started doing off track betting a new, shall we say, "clientele" began to show up and, unfortunately, drive a lot of regular customers away. The old standby hangout was now a destination for people wanting to make a quick buck with no intention of respecting the place, the employees or the regulars. It was sad to see a Tucson institution deteriorate due to some bad apples.

But this story has a happy ending. Salvation came with Greg Wexler.

Greg was a fan of Putney's for a long time and wanted to make it great again. So he bought the place with his good friend Michael Jacobson after the original Putney's closed in April of this year.

One thing they wanted gone was the carpeting. Yeah, if you can recall Putney's had this near shag green carpeting and we are going to go out on a limb to say that over the years it began to take on a life all its own. They added more facilities, they made it efficient for staff as far as service was concerned, they gutted the kitchen and brought in all new equipment, the old patio was renovated and large HD TVs replaced the off track betting.

Then, amongst the chaos of reopening as a whole new concept under a familiar name, tragedy struck. Jacobson died and it was up to Greg and his general manager Melissa Shaw to continue on despite the loss.

"After his death," says Melissa with a sigh, "we all scrambled to move forward to get the restaurant rolling while mourning the loss. It's been tough but we feel we have accomplished our goal."

In spite of the setback, Shaw and Wexler hired an actual chef, Fernando Gomez, formerly of the Ritz Carlton at Dove Mountain, to oversee the new menu and make sense out of the rather tight kitchen. Their plan was to create a warm and inviting selection of food with a slight nod to the old Putney's but a new take on sports bar cuisine.

There is a French dip sandwich served with a light but deep flavored au jus that is prepared with a slow cooked brisket, tucked inside a chewy roll served with delicious house fries. There is also their take on teriyaki style wings but with a Southern-style barbeque flavor mixed in. There is also a loaded potato soup perfect for the coming winter months as you laze about on their spanking new patio. It is hearty, savory, delicious and topped with fresh cheddar, crumbled bacon and finished with a sour cream reduction—all of it very tasty and a far cry from the standard fare that used to be served to longtime Putney's customers.

So far patrons like what they see, and eat. This isn't the Putney's of time past, this is the refurbished Pit Stop hoping to make new memories with customers both dedicated and the not yet broken in. Greg and Melissa have total confidence Tucson will embrace the change.

"We've worked out most of the kinks, played with the menu, seen what works and doesn't," Melissa said. "But basically, we want to make Putney's a success for Mikey. He is our rock!"

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