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New Tempe Marketplace Bar Moves in Like a Lion

Published: Monday, October 31, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, November 2, 2011 13:11

Thirsty Lion

Ryan A. Ruiz

The Thirsty Lion serves up some good food and spirits.

Raise your glasses; there's a new bar in town. 

Thirsty Lion Pub and Grill (2000 E. Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe) opens its doors this week at its newest location in Tempe Marketplace's dining district. The Portland-based English style pub, located where the ill-fated, Carlos Santana-backed Maria Maria was once housed, has chosen to open its first location outside of Oregon in Arizona. 

Thirsty Lion is a pub and grill concept restaurant led by CEO John Plew. According to Plew, Arizona was the first step in his plan to expand the brand over the next few years. Plew has been looking at markets in California, Colorado and Texas, but was very comfortable with setting foot in Tempe first, he said. 

"We wanted to be in a community that represented sports and had collegiate values," Plew said. "We also liked the fact that craft breweries are on the rise here and it hasn't been overpopulated like in the Pacific Northwest."

The new bar is quite immense. With dark wood-paneled walls and 16 plasma screens playing a heavy rotation of sports or music videos, the vibe inside Thirsty Lion looks upscale but remains quite casual. Heritage rock posters line the walls, reflecting the music playing over the sound-system. Two bars, including a wrap-around centralized bar and an indoor/outdoor bar with retractable windows, make it so there should be no struggle to score a pint here.

Although dubbed an English pub, Plew said the bar is not really "English" by definition. Instead, Thirsty Lion should be considered a gastropub because of the gourmet food served in a pub environment.

"I think there are a lot of consumers that want the higher quality food component that a lot of chains are giving," Plew said. "We really feel like we have the front end of an independent restaurant with the back end of a chain."

Thirsty Lion is certainly not the kind of bar to go to for your standard pub grub. Serving up half-pound burgers and brick oven artisan pizza, the food is actually quite appetizing and the menu has a great assortment that caters to all types of palates. 

"We live in a global society," Plew said. "If you look at the menu, we have things from sushi to Latin, Italian and American food."

Thirsty Lion taps 52 local, craft, import and domestic beers. It was really important to localize the brand to each market, Plew said, so the Tempe location will pour brews from Arizona's Oak Creek, San Tan, Four Peaks and Lumberyard breweries in addition to its vast wine list and hand-crafted cocktails.

Happy hour pricing will be in effect Monday through Friday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday through Thursday from 10 p.m. to close.

Thirsty Lion has a definite collegiate feel to it and sports are a big part of the identity of the bar, Plew said. The bar will air both ASU and Cardinal games for the remainder of the season. With a state of the art sound system and plasma screens located all over the bar, there is really no bad seat in the house.

The concept behind the bar is really all about building a foundation for a long term community gathering spot, Plew said. That's what a pub is all about – creating a place where people can go for lunch, dinner, happy hour with friends, or to catch their home team in action, an atmosphere Thirsty Lion strives to provide.

A grand opening celebration is planned for the bar on November 5 at 10 p.m. The event will feature music from entertainment band B Platinum and a VJ.

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