Dr. Gil & I meet over lunch or dinner 2-3 times a year to solve the most pressing problems of the world. He’s a successful Tucson physician, and his interests are wide-ranging, including politics, religion, & international travel. So conversations tend to be lively. They usually begin with a discussion of his most recent guest column in the Arizona Daily Star.
Gil let’s me choose the restaurant because he knows I prefer to dine at establishments that I have not yet reviewed. Yet, I don’t like reviewing places that are less than a year old because I don’t like writing negative reviews. It takes most restaurants at least a year to reach their optimum performance, both for food & service. During that initial shakeout period, it’s not unusual to have a complete turnover in staff or to close their doors.
I was running out of new places to review having critiqued over 80 restaurants in the last year & a half. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of established, locally owned restaurants that have received consistently high praise over a long period of time.
So, last Saturday found Dr. Gil & me downtown at the new Saint House Rum Bar about 11:30 AM. This new eatery, which features Caribbean fare & rum-based cocktails, had been open a whole week. Thus, I was not expecting much. Yet I did have some reasonable hope for a good experience since it’s owned and operated by the experienced folks at 47 Scott.
I had made an online reservation anticipating a Saturday crowd. As it turned out, it wasn’t necessary since we were the only customers despite the fact they had been open for a half hour. This permitted the hostess to greet me by name, which felt artificial, yet oddly reassuring.
Our waiter, a slender, soft-spoken young fellow, inquired as to our drink preferences. Dr. Gil was happy with his water. That was fine for him, but I had a review to write, so I wanted to sample a rum drink. Now, it had been at least 30 years since I enjoyed a rum drink, probably a daiquiri on some island in the South Pacific. Or perhaps a rum & Coke in Mexico City when I was a young student at the University there. It didn’t matter. I am not a rum connoisseur. So I asked him for suggestions.
He excused himself and trundled off toward the bar. In a few moments, he returned to our table with a bartender in tow. She, the bartender named Dale, inquired as to my usual drink preferences. I told her I like a dry white wine, usually a Sauvignon Blanc with dinner. I added that my after-dinner drug of choice is Jack Daniels.
With only that information to go on, she suggested a Hemingway: white rum, maraschino liqueur, limes and grapefruit juice ($8). I have no idea how she made this determination.
Apparently, this particular drink was inspired by a little-known alcoholic, suicidal writer by the same name who was most famous for quips, such as:
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
As a writer myself, I feel his pain. So, I ordered the Hemingway.
That serious matter settled, Dr. Gil ordered the Stew del Mar: mussels, scallops, shrimp, and mahi in coconut curry broth, & cilantro rice ($17).
I would have been fine with this dish as well, except I’m not really into mussels. So I ordered the more modest fish tacos: pan-seared basa, shredded cabbage, fresh avocado, diced tomatoes, mango salsa crema, in (2) flour tortillas ($12).
Moments later, my Hemingway arrived. The first thing I noticed was the size of the glass in which my rum-based cocktail had been poured. Shall we just say it was “smallish”. Certainly, my drink was not going to last through lunch. But, what little there was, was delicious!
I wondered, if drinks are this small, will our lunches be sufficient? Later, neither of us would describe our respective portions as “generous”, but Dr. Gil found his seafood stew to be quite tasty & satisfying. My fish tacos with rice & beans were OK, but a bit bland. Certainly not as flavorful as the superb buffalo tacos Neighbor Roy & I experienced last year in the Ritz Carlton bar at Dove Mountain.
So, do we recommend Saint House? Yes. Moreover, in restoring & re-purposing this old Downtown building at the corner of Congress & Arizona, Tucson has yet another trendy eatery that adds to the diversity & enjoyment that locals & visitors can enjoy along the route of the Modern Streetcar, which should be operational soon … as in sometime in 2014.
The revitalization of Downtown is coming along nicely with many new shops & restaurants opening this past year despite the mess & detours caused by rail-laying construction. It’s still very much a work-in-progress, but along with the new Diablo Burger, & Proper, and the slightly older Hub and Playground, this once-blighted area is beginning to feel almost … dare I say it? “fashionable” … something it hasn’t been in over 70 years. Just recently, hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested here. I find it fascinating to watch this incredible transformation.
Note: We are sorry to hear that the new Monkey Burger downtown on 6th Street has already died. That’s a shame because (a) Monkey Burgers were very good and, (b) Monkey Fries were the best. In our rating of the Best Burgers In Tucson, Monkey Burger had ranked #5.
Saint House Rum Bar
256 E Congress, Tucson, Arizona 85701
Hours: 11:00 am – 12:00 am