Story and photos by Niki D’Andrea
The sign on the school bus read “FREE BEER” in big, bold, black marker. The giant, flaming orange vehicle with the cocky rooster sculpture atop it stood out in the strip mall at Thunderbird and Scottsdale roads. It was long after dark and I was on my way to a fitness class, but I made a mental note to stop at this place again during the day and check out its happy hour.
Turns out, the chicken-on-a-bus gimmick barely scratches the surface of the eclectic, attention-grabbing décor at The Rooster Tavern. And there is no “free beer.” But there are some good happy hour deals on tap.
But first, let’s talk about the giant bear in the room. There’s a stuffed grizzly hanging from the ceiling over the bar. There’s also a giant moose head mounted on a plaque in one corner of the bar, next to a massive, wall-size projection screen showing sports (there are about a dozen flat-screen TVs mounted throughout the bar, all showing various sports). The corner with the moose head also features a motorcycle mounted atop the side of a booth. The owner of the bar says he and a friend put it together from scrap parts. There’s also a taxidermy fox wearing sunglasses in another corner, another rooster sculpture constructed from scrap metals perched under a TV, and several other fun and funky touches throughout (like fake and artistically embellished bullet holes in the door that leads to the kitchen, Venetian décor in the ladies’ restroom and a graffitied alley aesthetic in the men’s room).
The Rooster Tavern touts itself as “your luxury neighborhood dive bar,” and that’s a pretty accurate description. It doesn’t feel high-brow or low-brow, but more unibrow.
There’s nothing fancy about the beer menu. In fact, there is no beer menu. Just ask the server what’s on tap or check out the chalkboard at the back of the bar. The expected domestics like Bud Light and Miller are always available, along with Arizona’s go-to brew, Four Peaks Kilt Lifter, and a handful of other in-demand brands (like Dos Equis and Heineken) and rotating craft options from around the U.S. During happy hour – noon to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday – domestic beers are $3, and house wines and well drinks cost $5 (they make all the standards great here, but don’t expect complex craft cocktails; keeping your mixed drink requests to things with three ingredients or less is your best bet).
Sliders go for $3 during happy hour, and they are scrumptious. The food menu at The Rooster is pretty impressive, composed mostly of elevated bar food like baked and grilled (never fried) chicken wings, pretzel bites with house-made cheese sauce and memorable burgers like the Boursin Burger with its namesake cheese, Applewood bacon and caramelized onions piled on a 1/2 lb. patty.
But there are some unexpected twists, such as fried fish tacos packed with cod and coleslaw, blackened chicken and quinoa, and lobster mac and cheese. Other popular noshes include the French dip, a salty and toothsome sandwich served with a side of au jus and nostril-singeing horseradish, and the Hatch green chile hash on warm flour tortillas.
The chef’s daily specials are worthy, as well, ranging from pozole popping with hominy to barbecue dishes. It seems there’s always something new to taste, or see, at The Rooster. Repeat visitors will find that every time, there’s something they see on the wall, or the ceiling, that they hadn’t seen before. And there are many regulars, because this is a quintessential neighborhood bar – not necessarily totally “dive” or “luxury” at all, but certainly a singular spot with its own special vibe.