In a world overrun with hipsters and artisan cocktails, classic SLC neighborhood bars survive and thrive.
When you walk into Junior’s Tavern downtown, you’re greeted by four booths, a dozen bar stools, a solitary TV and a pool table. The guy next to you is chasing a shot of vodka with Guinness and watching the Saints squeak one out against the Panthers. The crowd includes Millennials, Gen-Xers and codgers, mostly drinking beer.
Missing are watermelon cocktails, sriracha margaritas, limoncello collins and you won’t find autumnal gin or chocolate bitters behind the bar.
“I wanted the kind of old-school bar that exists in every other town—except Salt Lake City,” says owner Greg Arata. “Salt Lake is a weird town.” By that, Arata is referring to downtown’s glut of hand-made cocktail lounges with the dive bars only in its periphery, as much as the demonization of drinking. “I wanted a neighborhood joint,” he says.
Junior’s is one of several classic bars that survive and prosper, despite eschewing “hip,” as defined by highfalutin’ cocktails and craft beers.
Everyone knows your name, of course, but they won’t tell.
Junior’s, a local landmark, opened in 1975 as a beer-only tavern across the street from the old City Library (now The Leonardo). In 2005, Arata moved to the heart of downtown at 300 South and got a full liquor license and started booking jazz groups. But he proudly detours from the growing “hand-made” cocktail route. “Some of our bartenders will make some fancy drinks—I don’t,” he says. “It’s not our bread and butter, and I, personally, don’t like to pay $10 for a drink.”
Still, Junior’s is anything but a dive. Its regular drinking crowd includes the director of the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, rare-book dealer Ken Sanders and Utah historian Will Bagley. “You can voice your opinion here without somebody getting pissed off and wanting to fight you,” Arata says. “And women don’t have to worry about being hit on.”
See more inside our 2018 Mar/Apr Issue.