Classic Utah Bar: Junior’s Tavern

WHAT’LL IT BE? A cold Pabst Blue Ribbon with an Evan Williams back

WHO’S THERE: Plumbers, high-paid lawyers, media types, old-timers and community activists, all getting along

WHAT’S SO SPECIAL?: A giant, well-thumbed encyclopedia of films that regulars use to spark spontaneous movie trivia games.

Junior's Tavern owner Greg Arata at his bar
Junior’s Tavern owner Greg Arata (Photo by Adam Finkle/Salt Lake magazine)

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.

There isn’t a whiff of any watermelon cocktails, sriracha margaritas or 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 in Salt Lake City,” says owner Greg Arata. “Salt Lake is a weird town.” By that, Arata is referring to downtown’s glut of handmade cocktail lounges with the dive bars only in its periphery as much as the demonization of drinking. “I wanted a neighborhood joint,” he says.

The pool table at Junior's Tavern
Photo by Adam Finkle/Salt Lake magazine

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 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 “handmade” 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.”

The exterior of Junior's Tavern
Photo by Adam Finkle/Salt Lake magazine

Still, Junior’s is anything but a dive. Its regular drinking crowd includes a chatty assemblage of media types, local crusaders, lawyers and historians. “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.”


30 E. Broadway, SLC

Jeremy Pugh
Jeremy Pugh
Jeremy Pugh is Salt Lake magazine's Editor. He covers culture, history, the outdoors and whatever needs a look. Jeremy is also the author of the book "100 Things to Do in Salt Lake City Before You Die" and the co-author of the history, culture and urban legend guidebook "Secret Salt Lake."

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