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What We Miss 

Remembering what Tucson has lost over the last 25 years

Local scribe Charles Bowden once observed that every time he left this town, he'd come back to discover something he loved about it had been bulldozed.

I was reminded of that line as I flipped through the pages of the 1,300 or so Tucson Weekly issues that have been published over the last quarter-century. We've lost a lot of fine local businesses since 1984.

Here's my list of places that delighted our palates, expanded our senses or otherwise brightened our lives.

Café Magritte: One of the first hipster cafés in downtown Tucson, Magritte had a sophisticated air, awesome balcony seating and the simple but delightful Gotta-Have-It sandwich, along with the coolest bathrooms in Tucson. The space is now a sports bar on Congress Street.

• Bookstores: We used to love the Bookmark, Reader's Oasis and the Haunted Bookshop, three great independent establishments that couldn't withstand the coming of the chains. I'm happy that Jeff Yanc, a veteran of the Bookmark and Reader's Oasis, has landed over at the Loft Cinema, where he's constantly cooking up new craziness as the program director. I also miss the used books stacked on the tall, narrow aisles of the Book Stop on Campbell Avenue, but I'm glad they found a new home on Fourth Avenue.

Foley's Soul Queen: The Rev. Foley, who is no longer with us, cooked up some mean BBQ on South Park Avenue back in the late '80s. Sadly, a move to midtown Tucson was not a success. Great brisket and the best red beans and rice in town.

Hear's Music: The 1997 Best of Tucson™ issue noted that the selection at Britton Dornquast's record store on Campbell Avenue "covers an astonishing range of music from nearly every country on Earth." The sorry state of the music biz, combined with a dispute with the landlord, put Hear's Music out of business two years ago.

Magic Carpet Golf: One of the last handmade miniature-golf courses in the Southwest--featuring a giant tiki head, an enormous sphinx and all manner of other creatures--closed down early last year to make room for an expansion of an auto dealership on Speedway Boulevard. Thanks to Charlie Spillar and the gang he put together to save whatever sculptures he can, some of the work is destined to end up at the Valley of the Moon, and the tiki head has already found a new home at The Hut on Fourth Avenue.

The Airport Lounge: It's hard to describe why this smoke-filled, downtown basement nightclub was so hip during its short life, but I imagine that socialite Michelle Hotchkiss had a lot to do with it, as did the cheap cans of Schlitz beer. If my memory serves, this is where I first saw Calexico, somewhere back in that hazy period of the mid '90s.

Janos' downtown location: Sure, the foothills luxury up at the Westin La Paloma is a delight, but I miss the rustic charm of Janos' original home in the Tucson Museum of Art. It's a shame that museum management didn't recognize the value of having a world-class restaurant in the mix.

City magazine: After Chuck Bowden left the Tucson Citizen, he took a shot at the publishing biz, launching City magazine, a big, glossy monthly with a plenty of fine writing and some real attitude. It didn't last long, but it was an inspiration to me back in the day.

Grossman's Bake Shop: As the Tucson Weekly famously declared, Grossman's baked up "rye bread to die for" and a whole lot more.

Nonie's: Chris and Suzie Leonard's Cajun/Creole restaurant brought a taste of New Orleans to town with this classy joint on Grant Road. I still crave the gumbo, the jambalaya, the trout menuire and the corn machoux.

Critic's Choice Video: Remember when we used to have all those little independent movie-rental shops? Critic's Choice, located out on Golf Links Road, was a blessing for the eastside, stocking all manner of classic and obscure flicks alongside the mainstream stuff. Let's take a moment to thank God that Casa Video, a true local treasure, has survived the blockbusting of the mom-and-pop operations.

Greasy Tony's: It had been many years since I'd indulged in a Trash Can or a meatball sandwich, but in my younger days, I frequently chowed down at Greasy Tony's on Speedway Boulevard just west of campus, where there was "no charge for extra grease." Tony Giorgianni, a Jersey transplant, died of a heart attack last year.

Puku Puku Lounge and Taco Bar: This modest UA tavern, on Park Avenue and Speedway Boulevard, was declared "a real campus bar, with a pool table, jukebox, video games, cheap drinks, wonderful, greasy fries and two satellite dishes for your sports entertainment" in the very first Best of Tucson™. I worked a few shifts behind the bar, although if I recall correctly, it was in exchange for free beer and burgers rather than a paycheck. The bar closed when the city bought the building to widen Speedway Boulevard; there's a Circle K there now.

The Oasis: I first met Weekly contributor Tim Vanderpool at the Oasis, where he used to sell me pitchers of beer when I was just 18 years old. (Hope the statute of limitations on that crime has expired!) The Oasis, a modest pub and sub shop on Sixth Street across from the UA, is the place where I learned how much fun it could be in a bar after last call, when owner Marty Huff would shout out: "Beer's on me, as long as it's tap!" Guess it's little wonder that it didn't stay in business.

The Tucson Toros at Hi Corbett Field: The Toros brought home two Pacific Coast League championships in the early '90s while playing in the friendly environs of Hi Corbett, a lovely ball field in the heart of Reid Park. I've got fond memories of the many promotions that general manager Mike Feder cooked up, and some hazy ones of the buck-beer nights. Seeing the Sidewinders at Tucson Electric Park just wasn't the same.

And how's this for a note of renewal? A new team of Toros will be coming back to Hi Corbett this summer as part of the independent Golden Baseball League, thanks to former Sidewinders owner Jay Zucker. Take me back out to the ballgame!

More by Jim Nintzel

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