What’s Next for Junior’s Tavern?

Junior’s Tavern has been downtown’s one true and good neighborhood joint since the ’70s. It’s a place that begs you to grab a bar stool, order a beer, and settle in for above-average bar chatter, like an actual good conversation. The usual suspects sitting next to you could be gray-haired intellectuals, booted construction workers coming off shift, women stopping in for a quick fernet fix, and maybe even a few high-powered city officials and media types. A few things you won’t find? Overpriced cocktails, douchey frat brothers and snooty influencers insisting their “phone eats first.” Yep. Junior’s is a real bar, just that. And it’s earned the devotion of countless regulars, some who have been visiting for 30-plus years. 

As downtown’s nightlife scene has erupted with flashy new clubs and presumptuous mixology trends, Junior’s has remained a constant. It’s such a fixture that, understandably, when owner Greg Arata announced his retirement earlier this year, Juniors’ regulars began fretting. But Arata, being Arata, wouldn’t pass the torch to just anyone. Both he and new owner Bob McCarthy insist Junior’s will remain a bar for the people. 

Junior's Tavern New Owner
Junior’s owner Greg Arata (Photo by Adam Finkle)

“It was time to call it a career,” says Arata, who has been working behind the bar since 1975 when Junior’s sat across from the old Salt Lake City Library (now the Leonardo). Forty-seven years and one move later, Arata rang up the one person he knew would maintain the spirit of Junior’s. 

“In 1992 I met Greg, and I walked right up to him and said ‘I want to buy this bar,’” says new owner Bob McCarthy. “Every time I saw him for the next 20 years I asked him the same thing, it became a joke between us until he reached out to me six months ago and said, ‘OK I’m ready.’” McCarthy, who also owns Stoneground and The Garage on Beck, doesn’t take his new ownership role lightly and is quick to reassure skeptical regulars. 

“I don’t want to replace Juniors’ heart and soul, and I don’t want to shock the people that have been coming here 15, 20, 30 years,” he says. “Without them, Junior’s doesn’t exist.” 

McCarthy says he wants to enhance the things that make Junior’s great. “I like to unearth things, find out what used to happen there, what bands played there, what were the glory days like, and bring them back to life,” he says. While paying homage to the bar’s storied past, Junior’s will also receive some much-needed modern updates. For customers, this will look like updated bathrooms and a garage-style entrance to the patio. But rest assured, McCarthy is running any big changes past the employees (all of which have stayed on through the transition) and the regulars at the bar corner, who’ve dubbed themselves the “North Enders.” “I’ve created the ‘North End Coalition,’” McCarthy says. “I come to them with ideas and ask their honest opinion.” 

Ultimately, Junior’s will remain the same-old friendly bar for the foreseeable future, as McCarthy isn’t planning any significant changes for the next two to three years. And Arata is confident Juniors’ new ownership is a step in the right direction. “Change is hard, and takes a while to get used to,” Greg adds. “I have a lot of faith in him.” McCarthy is determined to earn that same trust from Junior’s faithful. His plan? “For now I sit, I listen and I get everyone comfortable.” As for Arata, you’ll likely still find him posted up at the bar’s north end in the afternoon, but mostly his plan is this: “Now, I’m just gonna live!” 

Junior's Tavern New Owner

Bobby Junior’s  

Bargoers might notice an alteration to Junior’s sign in the next few months. McCarthy, whose full name is Robert McCarthy Jr., plans to add an arc above the existing signage to read “Bobby Junior’s’.” “It signifies a transition,” says McCarthy “It’s an homage to moving forward.”

If you go…

Junior’s Tavern
30 E. Broadway, SLC

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Avrey Evans
Avrey Evanshttps://www.saltlakemagazine.com/
Avrey Evans is the Digital and the Nightlife Editor of Salt Lake Magazine. She has been writing for city publications for six years and enjoys covering the faces and places of our salty city, especially when a boozy libation is concerned.

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