Last call: closure of longtime Tucson biker bar, Bashful Bandit | Economic news
In the good old days of not so long ago, tricked-out motorcycles with shiny chrome and leather seatbacks lined the front end of the Bashful Bandit, Tucson’s historic and rough biker bar on East Speedway. at North Dodge Boulevard.
For more than 40 years, the bar, with its memorial wall dedicated to longtime patrons, its bras hanging from a ceiling pipe, and its reputation for a bar brawl or two, was the unofficial biker headquarters of Tucson, a watering hole and a gathering place for those who rode on weekends and those who rode for life.
But it all ended on Sunday, June 13, when the Bandit shut down for good.
In the fall, Toby Kyte, who bought the bar this week, will be opening a barbecue restaurant that will incorporate the Bashful Bandit name in one form or another, he said.
But before starting a $ 250,000-plus construction of space that will include maintaining the bar and wraparound wooden stools, creating an outdoor kitchen, expanding the restrooms, and repaving the parking lot, Kyte is opening. the Bandit for one last hurray on Friday, June 18.
The bar will open at 11 am for a final call and to give patrons who have photos or other memorabilia on the memorial wall a chance to take them home; other memorabilia from license plates, posters and inflatable dolls are not included, Kyte said. The bar will remain open until 9 p.m.
Kyte said he plans to retain the character and historic location of the building in Tucson when he embarks on a major project that he says could take six months.
“It wouldn’t be the same block without the Bandit over there,” said Kyte, whose family owns the Bisbee Breakfast Club and whose father owned and operated 40 Pizza Hut restaurants statewide for 65 years before moving on. sell them last year. “The Bandit can have a new life; maybe it will last another 80 years.
The Bashful Bandit was the third bar to occupy the 2,875 square foot building that Bertha Lester constructed at 3686 E. Speedway in 1947. Lester, who had inherited the Rio Rita bar from her husband when he died in 1941, moved on East Speedway and North Tucson Boulevard bar after its lease ended in mid-1947.
According to her second husband’s divorce papers, Lester bought the land at Speedway and North Dodge Boulevard and built the building, which she opened as Rio Rita on Christmas Eve 1947. She sold the bar to the summer of 1948 and it remained the Rio Rita until 1977, when Sherry’s Retreat took over for two years.
The Bashful Bandit opened in 1980 and has drawn a mix of people from its downtown neighborhood, including bikers and students from nearby Arizona University. Kyte, from Tucson, remembers his first time at the bar when he was home for the summer after his freshman year at NAU. He was a miner and his friends had challenged him to go to the Bandit and order a beer.
“I think if you walk into a bar that can seem a little rough, if you go alone and sit at the bar, no one will bother you,” he said.
It was the early 1990s and the Bandit had cemented his reputation after attracting more than his fair share of trouble. Police were called in for brawls and other complaints of public nuisance and at least one murder: On July 11, 1981, James T. “Big Jim” Nolan, a member of the Outlaws motorcycle gang, shot dead another bar patron. from the Bandit’s parking lot. Apparently, Nolan and the victim, John McQuillen, had argued because Nolan was continuing to play the same song on the jukebox, according to Star archives.
Nolan was eventually acquitted at trial.
These are the kinds of stories that cemented the reputation of The Bashful Bandit and, over the years, kept many people from wandering around the bar. But Kyte said he hopes his plan to open a barbecue restaurant will change that narrative.
“My favorite thing about barbecuing is the way it brings people together,” he said, outlining plans to create an outdoor kitchen and dining area where patrons could watch the pit masters. at work. “If you think of the outdoor barbecue, I think the best burger I have had was on the outdoor grill, taken right from the grill. The barbecue is a common experience.
Kyte said he wanted to keep small pieces of the Bandit aesthetic, including the L-shaped wooden bar with the names carved into it over the years. But he also wants to create a new more accessible space, with dining inside and on the patio, which will be extended with the outdoor kitchen.
“I know how important the Bandit is to everyone, and he is to me,” Kyte said. “I want it to be a place accessible to everyone. It will be a different place. He will feel different, he will look different. It will change a lot of things.
Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at [email protected] On Twitter @Starburch