Welcome to the Neighborhood

Ari Shapiro's newest venture, Sidecar, is a neighborhood bar with special touches

Everyone has their preferences for a good neighborhood bar, but one thing is key: feeling like you belong.

That's one of Sidecar's great strengths—whether you want to lounge, chat with friends, sidle up to the bar or watch the sun go down at a patio, you'll have a spot to do it in Broadway Village's newest libation location.

That, Sidecar owner Ari Shapiro says, is the idea. "I'm of the school of thought that a good bar can be a place to de-tune, relax and gather your thoughts, kind of like a coffee shop. Like a good coffee shop isn't just a place to get wired, a good bar isn't just a place to get drunk," he says.

It's a place to get to know yourself, to be creative, to be social; in other words, a good bar can be that oft-needed third place, the space away from home and work where a person can unwind and feel comfortable in the surroundings of good people and good beverage.

That Shapiro (no relation to the NPR reporter of the same name) mentioned a coffee shop as an example shouldn't be a surprise. He's also the proprietor of downtown Tucson's Sparkroot, the Xoom Juice smoothie shops and Sidecar's Broadway Village kin, Falora. While Sparkroot could very well be a place to get one self-loaded on caffeine and working in an energetic environment, Sidecar (named as much as an homage to its place in the building as for the flow of the words "side" and "car") considers itself to be a relaxing social house. The eclectic groups that inhabit it, occasionally laughing with each other across the small space, are proof of that.

It also makes sense that Shapiro's usual architectural partners, Repp + McLain Design, had a hand here as well, maintaining design continuity with Shapiro's other shops. This time, however, the firm's principals took a greater stake this time around, partnering with Shapiro to open the bar (making it the one place he doesn't own outright) after a conversation about how the then-empty space needed to be midtown Tucson's own neighborhood bar.

Sidecar manages to make itself cozy without feeling cramped. The wood, concrete, metal and leather that decorate Sidecar feel sleek, instead of rustic (the east wall, covered in small sheets of leather, is easily mistaken for wood paneling), and those touches are extended to the leather-and-brass-bound drink menus, the denim aprons made by the local outfitters at Too Strong USA and the beautiful welded-steel and poured-resin bar top made by Repp. "I can guarantee you won't see a bar like this anywhere else," Shapiro says.

But space can only carry a bar so far. There's another, perhaps more important, key to a good local watering hole: The all-important beverages. That's where Luke Anable, beverage manager of downtown restaurant Penca, comes in. The drink menu was a collaborative effort between Anable and Shapiro, and is filled with cocktails that are complex enough to make the drinker pause and consider them, though not so much that they're compelled to mark tasting notes in their journal. The beer list has local drafts from Dragoon and 1055, craft brews from around the globe, and notably even Tecate Light, for someone wanting a light beer on a budget. The wine list is substantial as well, featuring red, white, rose, sparkling and fortified wines from vineyards based locally and abroad.

Really, like everything else Shapiro owns, Sidecar is a further reflection of his tastes. As with Sparkroot and Falora, it's a space where craft is king; as with Xoom Juice, drinks are made ingredient by ingredient, one at a time, to get them just right; and as with Shapiro himself (a man who never seems to sit still, and always seems to be glancing around for something to improve), everything is done with an exacting, nearly maddening, eye for detail. Sure, that can make a customer impatient if all they want is a drink to sand the edges off of their day ... but then that's what a beer (possibly accompanied by a whiskey sidecar) is for, right?

"I'm starting to ingest that all these things that I do aren't the easy way out," Shapiro says, of the fact that his businesses tend to work complex, borderline-painstaking ways.

"I think that, if (my businesses) at times seem a little hard to grasp in the beginning, this town generally warms up pretty quickly to what I'm doing," he says. "I sometimes joke that Tucson loves the stuff I'm doing, they just don't know it yet."