By Kristine Cannon
Social Tap Scottsdale enjoys being different
The restaurant bar that sits on the corner of Brown Avenue and Drinkwater Boulevard in Old Town has been known by a few different names over the years, from Firehouse Scottsdale to Hangover Grill and Bar.
But for the past three years, happy hour-goers and sports spectators have known it as Social Tap Scottsdale.
“We’re not your typical Old Town bar,” says Social Tap Owner Steve McDonald. “The music’s not blaring, and we don’t have a DJ. We don’t have girls standing on the bar in tutus blowing whistles. That’s what sets us apart.”
Social Tap’s mission is to offer an extensive menu of elevated, yet affordable bar food and drinks, and foster an environment where people can gather and socialize in a low-key setting.
But recently, Social Tap has officially broadened its demographic.
The sports bar opened its 1,900-square-foot rooftop patio and bar – a project that has been in the works since 2016.
“We had renderings done three years ago,” McDonald says. “It was in our original build-out plans when we opened this; the patio was designed to have a second deck on it.”
The rooftop patio and bar, called Balcony Bar Rooftop Lounge, has a bar and bar seating, booth lounge seating, high tops, a fire pit, outdoor televisions and speakers and plenty of standing room.
The patio can accommodate 85 to 100 people.
“We’re trying to brand it upstairs with a different name, but only to just give it a little bit of an identity because we’re really looking forward to doing private events up there, but also open it up to the public as much as we can as well on the weekends,” McDonald says.
With the opening of the rooftop patio – what McDonald describes as the completion of phase two of Social Tap – McDonald aims to cater to a different crowd: the late-night, post-11 p.m. nightlife.
“We’re still trying to carry the social tap brand upstairs, but we’re trying to give a little bit more of a nightlife vibe to it, draw a later crowd,” he says. “We hang our hat on our food – we’re a restaurant bar – but upstairs is going to be more cocktail lounge.”
McDonald says he wasn’t in a rush to open the rooftop lounge.
After much back and forth between McDonald and the city, the addition of the rooftop was approved at a city council meeting on March 20, 2018.
“It’s actually worked out better this way I feel because it rejuvenates it again, gives it a new, little boost,” he says.
Unbeknownst to many, the Social Tap brand didn’t start in California; it started in Scottsdale’s Entertainment District around 2012.
Located in the space El Chameleon now occupies, then-called Social Tap Pub and Grill was thrown together spur of the moment.
“When I had Revolver at that time, the space next door to me came available … so I signed the lease,” McDonald says. “All I wanted to do was open up a small little pub, put some lipstick on it, clean it up and play some great music and see where it went.”
At the time, McDonald also owned beachfront property in Ventura, California, so he decided to move the Social Tap brand to the coast.
“We went from a tiny little hub to this restaurant bar right off the beach in Ventura,” he says. “They were so opposite of each other.”
McDonald decided to close the Social Tap Pub and Grill in Scottsdale to focus on the Ventura location’s business model, which was more successful.
The pub and grill in Scottsdale was then turned into Cowboy Whiskey Saloon, which closed in October 2014.
From there, McDonald added a technically third Social Tap location in San Diego, and in 2016, Social Tap came back to Scottsdale.
“We took this small model and just blew it up into a really cool concept that was food-driven, and it was successful. And we were like, let’s not try to recreate the wheel,” McDonald says.
Since its rebirth in Scottsdale, McDonald says business has improved.
“Every year it gets a little better,” he says. “You come out strong out of the gate and then establish who you are and then you try to grow and make yourself consistent.”
He says what also makes Social Tap successful is its competitive menu prices.
For example, tacos are $4.50 each, burritos and bowls range from $11 to $13, sandwiches are $13 or $14, and burgers are $13 to $15.
“I just want people to come here because it’s a great value, and I’d rather have them come here three days a week instead of coming once every other week because that’s all they can afford,” McDonald says.
Social Tap Scottsdale’s most popular menu items include the wings and nachos appetizers and the filet mignon truffle tacos.
The restaurant bar has specials nearly every day of the week, too, with the most stand-out specials including $1 wings on Thursdays and $2.50 tacos on Tuesdays.
Happy hour runs from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., and patrons can choose from one of 24 craft drafts, 16 of which are local.
According to McDonald, Social Tap Scottsdale’s No. 1 seller is its Social Tap IPA and Social Tap Blonde brews, which are brewed from Golden Road Brewing in Los Angeles, California.
“We pride ourselves on being a restaurant bar that serves great cocktails and has a great beer list,” McDonald says. “All food is made from scratch.”
As of 2017, all three Social Tap locations serve over 35,000 customers each week.
Looking ahead, McDonald says he plans to fine tune the Scottsdale location and continue to grow the brand to different cities, but not right away.
“I have a house up in Flagstaff and I’d love to do something up there someday,” he says.
His wish list also includes valet.
“Eventually what I’d like to do is be able to valet here. That’s the biggest thing,” McDonald says. ν
Social Tap, 4312 N. Brown Avenue, Scottsdale, socialtapeatery.com.