Hipsters meet gaming fans at Short Rest Tavern

click to enlarge Hipsters meet gaming fans at Short Rest Tavern
(Nicole Haro-Gomez/Contributor)
Tom Garretson is behind the bar at Short Rest Tavern at Tucson Games & Gadgets.

Wearing a backward baseball hat and a bushy brown beard, Tom Garretson, on a 1-to-10 nerd scale ranks himself “a solid seven.”

Fittingly, Garretson manages the fantasy-themed bar, Short Rest Tavern in Tucson Mall, at the back of the 5-year-old Tucson Games and Gadgets.

Open for two years, the bar has become a haven for the nerd community and curious mall shoppers.

Dimly lit, the bar offers a variety of beer, including ales, pilsners, sours or stouts; mead; and classic cocktails with fun spins on them, such as Witches Blood (bloody Mary) or Sauron’s Tower (whiskey sour).

Drinking, however, is secondary to the activities. On Fridays, guests are invited to play board games while Dungeons & Dragons takes centerstage on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

The hallway entrance to the bar is stocked with games. A catacomb of Dungeons & Dragons character cards all with the word “DEAD” written in red pen all over them also adorn the area. Among many other characters, the wall includes a memorial for the Dragonborn Barbarian named Vetle.

Initially, Short Rest Tavern was set for the ASU campus in Phoenix, but the owner, Mark Kadow, didn’t think he could make enough to cover the rent.

Tucson and Kadow’s Tucson Games and Gadgets proved to be the perfect spot. He had extra room in the back.

Through crowdfunding, he raised $13,714, according to the Short Rest Tavern Kickstarter page.

Hailing from Minnesota, Garretson moved to Tucson for a change of scenery and to be near his dad. Growing up, Garretson and his friends created their own version of D&D. He played classic ’80s and ’90s video games like Zelda, Metroid and Mortal Kombat. He remembers frequenting a local comic book store.

“It was literally a hole in the wall,” he said. “That was the only dedicated comic book store there in town. There were other stores that did comic books and games and kind of everything in the tabletop genre,” Garretson said.

Garretson has many years of experience in the service industry. He worked at Coffee Times, a drive-thru coffee shop on Speedway, for seven years. He also delivered pizza just prior to Short Rest Tavern, where he recommends Chaucer’s triple berry mead.

He enjoys Short Rest Tavern’s atmosphere and said it’s the only bar job for him. Guests here come for more than alcohol.

“I’d say it’s definitely open to everyone, especially being right here in the mall,” Garretson said. “I don’t have any problem with them seeing it as a haven and a safe space for them because it is, there aren’t really a lot of places like this where they can go.”

In recent decades, traditional facets of nerd culture seem to have been pushed more to the mainstream. Instead of sitting on shelves in comic book stores, the Marvel Universe has amassed a wide fanbase.

According to Box Office Mojo, an IMDb-owned website that tracks box office revenues, the highest-grossing movies were made by the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in six out of the past 10 years. According to Rotten Tomatoes, “Avengers: Endgame” (2019) is the second highest-grossing movie of all time.

The extent of this shift doesn’t end at Marvel.

“I saw that start to turn around when ‘Lord of the Rings’ came out, when they had the live action movies first come out,” Garretson said.

“‘Critical Role’ happened, ‘Stranger Things’ happened, and it snowballed. I feel like it was a perfect storm, like you had ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ and the whole Marvel series take off, and then you had video games,” he said. “You just can’t ignore that nerd, niche genre coming out or just that group of people.”

An example of this could be a game called “Settlers of Catan,” a lightly fantasy-themed game of settlement building and trade. The board is created by connecting hexes of resources, wheat, brick, rock, sheep and wood, which are obtained by players placing their settlements on the intersections of the hexes.

These resources are then used to expand, build roads, more settlements, cities or knights. The game used to only be available in game stores, now it can be found in Target or Walmart. It was released in 1995 and has since sold over 40 million copies, including its variants, according to the game’s website.

“The board game industry, I think, is having a resurgence now because of COVID and everybody being a little more focused on being home now,” he said.

“I think it’s helped refocus people’s attention on board games.”

Garretson also said the pandemic may have pushed some D&D players to move to online formats. Some players were already accustomed to playing over formats like Zoom or Discord.

Garretson plays D&D every other Monday with a group of seven, including the dungeon master, the player who creates the game and the scenarios for the others.

In D&D, players create and customize their characters in any way they see fit, then these characters together face the dungeon master-created obstacles and scenarios.

They meet at the dungeon master’s house and set up seats around a folding plastic table. Everyone gathers and some bring drinks and food. Sometimes a bong is passed around.

“We’re there for three to four hours and maybe an hour of that is just bullshitting and catching up because we don’t see each other that often,” he said.

click to enlarge Hipsters meet gaming fans at Short Rest Tavern
(Nicole Haro-Gomez/Contributor)
Get your drink on with a tankard of Chaucer’s triple berry mead.

Two of the other players also work at the game store. Garretson’s D&D character’s class is a witch and his race is a Kitsune. He described the Kitsune as a “shapeshifting fox person.” His character’s role in the game is to make it harder for the enemy monsters to act.

“It’ll make it harder for them to hit or harder to save against any spells I cast on them,” he explained.

Garretson said he thinks even a game like D&D is leaning toward the mainstream.

“That whole nerd mentality of being a D&D nerd is still very much a thing,” he said. “It’s probably going to become a new-age hipster thing, like, ‘I was playing D&D before it got cool again.’ And yeah, sure, it may not become as household a game as Monopoly, but I think it’ll be a lot more frequent in households 10 years from now than it was when I was a kid.”

The Short Rest Tavern is placed in the middle: It’s a place that caters to the most devout of nerds who crave an immersive experience.

“Everybody who comes here is very open to accepting somebody new and showing them the ropes and letting them know what it’s all about,” Garretson said.

Short Rest Tavern

4500 N. Oracle Road, Suite 253, Tucson


shortresttavern@gmail.com, shortresttavern.com