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Arts & Culture Deal Family Featured Food, Restaurants & Dining Fara Illich January 14, 2010

Since my initial blogs on Crazy Good Phoenix Food, posted when this new site was launched several months ago, the “Crazies” and I haven’t lunched as regularly as we are oft inclined.  The holidays kept us busy with menu planning for our own tables. 
If you are not up to speed on the “Crazies” you can check out our older postings under the “blog” section in this Web site [Editor’s Note: Here and Here, for instance].  There, you can get a brief history on the “Crazies” and a little glimpse into their personas.
We did manage a few lunches over the holiday season, including a visit to Tom’s Restaurant and Tavern, a great joint in downtown Phoenix that has been serving since 1929. 
Over lunch, we enjoyed some fun discussion about the early days of the Arizona Club.
Consider yourself served…
Tom’s Restaurant and Tavern
TomsThis longtime Phoenix standby has had a few locations since it originally started in the late 1920’s. It exists to this day, serving many of the mainstay recipes that it has offered from its humble beginnings.
The restaurant was opened in 1929 by Tom Higley at 136 W. Adams St, which had previously housed the city morgue.  By the late 1980’s, the restaurant was located to One Renaissance Square. 
From the beginning, Tom’s has attracted Arizona politicians, attorneys and dealmakers. Now celebrating its 80th anniversary, it is a place worth checking out, if not for the food, then to take in all the photographs of decades’ worth of leaders, lawmakers and mover-and-shakers that have graced the restaurant.
The service here has always been solid. This day is no different. Our server is friendly, prompt, helpful and polite. 
Tom’s fare is mostly diner and comfort food – the standard burgers, melts, Rueben’s, and more – with “vanilla” salads and sandwiches, plus some requisite health-conscientious food for good measure.
At our lunch visit, the Crazies and I enjoy one of the old standbys – Tom’s Spaghetti Red, a concoction of angel hair pasta topped with red chili and a garlic toast on the side.  It is good enough, but nothing to come back for, these days, anyway. 
We also shared the fish and chips on our visit.  This serving is not what it used to be – not crisp at all and not much flavor.  The tartar sauce works overtime on this dish to give it some kick. Malt vinegar and lemon are put to hard labor to make the dish more palatable.
Arizona_Club“Daddy was a fan of the Spaghetti Red, but it was the burger with pickled onions that he raved about,” said Helen.  “The pickled onions have been off the menu forever, but I think they should bring them back.”
Anyway, the somewhat-par-food -withstanding, we enjoy a nice chat while we lunch.  From the restaurant, you can see the original Arizona Club, which had its origins atop the Luhrs Building, located at 11 West Jefferson.
The Luhrs Building was built at a cost of $553,000 by local businessman George Luhrs and opened on April 1, 1924. The building’s four upper floors housed the facilities of the Arizona Club, including dining rooms, lounges, a library, and bedrooms for club members. The ground floors were leased as office space. When the Arizona Club moved out of the Luhrs Building in 1971, the upper floors were also converted to offices.
The Luhrs Building is faced with brown brick, with elaborate marble ornamentation on the uppermost two floors.  The Luhrs Tower, adjacent to the Luhrs Building, was built five years later.  A magnificent tribute to Art Deco architeture, located at First Avenue and Jefferson Street, it was considered a “skyscraper” in its day, with 11 floors and a height of 185 feet.  The Crazies’ father [see photo] officed his insurance business in this building for several years.
Back to the Arizona Club.
“All the men of establishment in town went to the Arizona Club,” says Ann.  “At that time, the Phoenix Country Club was considered more of a ‘family’ place, but the Arizona Club was where the men congregated.”
According to the Crazies, in its earliest days, the top floor of the Arizona Club housed a dining room. “It was a great big place with huge picture windows looking on the east and west – it was very elegant,” said Helen.  “It had a big ‘round’ table that the men joined each other for lunch — sort of the ‘old guard table’.  It was considered prestigious to sit at the table and I remember Daddy always sat there with lots of other old-timers,” Helen added.
“We celebrated more than a few family events at the Arizona Club,” said Ann.  “We had great fun at my son’s 13th birthday party at the Club,” she said.  “And we had a huge family reunion at the club the Thanksgiving before I was married,” said Helen.
Another floor of the original Arizona Club were the “men’s quarters” explains Helen. “It was a place for men to live and ONLY men were allowed there,” she says. “It was mostly bachelors or men who had been recently divorced.  Plenty of movers and shakers lived there.”
“Yes, and lots of men-of-position would live there during the summer when their families moved to cooler locations to escape the heat,” says Ann.
“You have to remember in those days, most homes didn’t have refrigeration, or air-conditioning as you might call it, so many families essentially closed up their homes for the summer,” Helen said. “Women and children would leave for cooler climates in June and return when school started in September.  The men would take up living at the men’s quarters at Arizona Club.  It was much like a fraternity house – plenty of camaraderie, card games, and drinking,” she added.
“When Daddy was older and not well, we would still drive him almost daily to the Arizona Club to enjoy a meal, but by then it had moved to the First National Bank (now the Wells Fargo Building),” Helen said.  “He still ate at the round table with some of the old-timers and some of the younger members at the table kindly looked after him,” she said.  “Fond times for our dad and great memories for us.”
The great conversation this day rounds out the average food for a nice lunch experience.
Next week, we visit The District at the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel.