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.
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.
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.”
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.”
IF YOU GO
30 E. Broadway, SLC
See more stories like this and all of our food and drink coverage. And while you’re here, why not subscribe and get six annual issues of Salt Lake magazine’s curated guide to the best of life in Utah.