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Booze Now, Food Later 

Martin Drug Co. pop-up bar serves guests craft cocktails before the bar transforms into a family friendly restaurant

click to enlarge Lot’s of fuzz and history on the walls of Martin Drug Co.

Elena Gonzalez

Lot’s of fuzz and history on the walls of Martin Drug Co.

This Downtown Tucson pop-up bar serves classic cocktails and rotating tap and bottled beers.

When Scott Stiteler first bought the building at Congress and Fifth streets 10 years ago, he didn't know the history of the pharmacy and soda fountain that once called the space home. The developer, however, fell in love with this downtown real estate that "just stops you in your tracks."

Stiteler and partner, Don Martin, bought the building, which was eventually transformed into the American eatery, Proper in May 2013. After three years, the restaurant closed and Stiteler and Martin were left with an empty space. While the two business developers plan out the next restaurant to take Proper's place, Stiteler thought it fitting to give it a temporary face and pay homage to the pharmacy that once lived there. After researching Martin Drug Co., Stiteler decided to create a pop-up bar of the same name.

"It made perfect sense to try and respect what was here before," Stiteler said. "And add a dose of fun."

Stiteler opened up Martin Drug Co. in February. The pop-up bar will be open for six months while Stiteler makes plans for a permanent restaurant. Stiteler said by first turning the space into a pop-up bar he is able to take the time he needs to create a new space for successful restaurant to move into and stay for many years to come. He wants to be sure he has the time to make patient and thoughtful decisions.

"It made a lot of sense to take part of the space and turn the lights back on," Stiteler said. The building is located on Congress and Fifth, which he says is an important intersection to downtown Tucson. He hopes that Martin Drug Co. allows people to get reintroduced to the history.

Martin Drug Co. opened in January 1884 by George Martin, Sr. In 1851, Martin, Sr. immigrated to the United States from Ireland for reasons that are unknown. He enlisted in the U.S. Army and was stationed at Old Fort Yuma. After being discharged in November 1856, he worked as a hospital steward where he gained a lot of his pharmaceutical experiences.

Martin, Sr. started a family and bought a drug store in Tucson. He opened up the first Martin Drug Co. pharmacy in January 1884 on Broadway Boulevard. The second Martin Drug Co. was located on the corner of Congress and Fifth—where the Martin Drug Co. pop-up bar is now located.

The Martin Drug Co. pop-up bar honors the history of the building while also incorporating modern, funky décor to the space. Stiteler said since the bar will only be open for six months, there was a lot of latitude when it came to decorating. He said if he were working on a more long-term project there would be more variables to take into consideration.

"It's one of the most fun parts of the project," said Rachel D'Acquisto, Martin Drug Co. manager.

She said the bar is a definite mix of old and new. The space has taken on a modern funk look, complete with shimmery, opalescent pink carpet walls.

The lighting fixtures that hang from the ceilings are circular and minimal, keeping with the modern vibe. The fuzzy pink walls are lined with old pictures of the Martin Drug Co. pharmacy and the Martin family, adding the historical element that is very important to the pop-up bar.

"Modern, funky, and historic," Stiteler said. "They're dating for six months."

After the six month pop-up bar, the building will be turned into a permanent restaurant. Stiteler said the funk is most definitely temporary and he plans on the restaurant having a more traditional feel to it as a way to honor the history and tradition that lies in the building.

Stiteler said he is not yet ready to announce what the concept of the restaurant will be, but wants it be a space open to family and friends of all ages to gather together.

"We're excited about it," he said. He hopes it becomes a place people leave happy.

As for future pop-ups, Stiteler isn't ruling them out. He said pop-ups are a tool in his toolbox and a way to utilize a space when something doesn't end up as successful as hoped.

"I don't like to see things papered up," Stiteler said.

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