Restaurant Review: McKenzie’s Midtown Tavern

Without Reservations | July 2018

Story and photos By Rachel Verbits, July 2018 Issue.

If there’s one thing we know for certain, our readers love community bars. Whether it’s somewhere you go for family, food, drinks or drag queens, these establishments are as much a part of Arizona’s LGBTQ history as the people and the progress we’ve made together.

But change is inevitable.

And just as Amsterdam has become Grand Central Coffee Company, Apollo’s has become The Womack and a portion of the 307 Lounge has become The Dressing Room, so too has Roscoes On 7th become McKenzie’s Midtown Tavern.

After 20-some years as a sporty haven for boys and beers, Roscoes closed its doors last July. The space reopened in November as PHX Sports Grill, a mainstream sports bar, which was short lived. And, with hardly any fanfare, McKenzie’s Midtown Tavern showed up as the new kid on the block – the southeast corner of Seventh Street and Minnezona Avenue, to be exact.

New owner Ryan McKenzie and his team have poured their hearts, souls and – subsequently, a new life – into the unmistakable building.

The first thing anyone who ever visited this space before will notice is the brighter vibe – both inside and out. New paint, complete with murals of the business name and its signature pop of orange make the unassuming white brick building easy to spot from the street. When we walked inside, I was pleasantly surprised to find a bright, lively bar that felt like a contemporary neighborhood hangout.

Upon entering, we went to seat ourselves and realized that one side of the tavern houses darts and a pool table. The other side is home to their full bar, with tables throughout. Strategically placed TVs ensured that we’d have a great view of any of the games that were on, no matter where we sat.

The building’s renovations may look new to regulars, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the people that bring McKenzie’s to life. We were surrounded by lively groups of friends enjoying Sunday Funday (we even spotted a former Roscoes employee enjoying a cocktail at the bar and a massive rainbow darts trophy). So, it wasn’t a surprise to see the bartenders greet new visitors like regulars, and regulars like friends.

Hummus and veggies.

McKenzie’s is quickly becoming known for its happy hour, which already earned them a nomination in Phoenix’s Magazine’s “Best Happy Hour” category. Happy hour pricing is 3 to 7 p.m. and all day long for those who ride their bike in. Daily specials vary but are frequently updated on the bar’s Facebook page (facebook.com/mckenzie.midtown).

Since my first visit was on a Sunday, it seemed only appropriate that I start this experience with a visit to the Bloody Mary bar (remember Roscoes’?), which turned out to be one of the best Bloody Mary’s I’ve had in a long time, thanks to the perfect blend of spice, sweet tomato flavor and a generous pour of vodka (unfortunately not pictured due to my own excitement).

Just in time for summer, McKenzie’s has introduced a frozen Jameson ginger ale and a fresh watermelon vodka slush – both exceptional inventions by a staff that never shies away from trying something new (don’t believe us, ask about the shotski).

Along with whatever cocktail you can dream up, the tavern offers the most popular domestic and imported beers on draft and in bottles, as well as such seasonal brews as Leinenkugel Summer Shandy and Papago Orange Blossom. You’ll also find favorites from number of local breweries, including Four Peaks, Huss Brewing Company and Two Brothers Artisan Brewing, available – score!

Totchos (pictured without cheese or pork).

Expect a pretty standard selection of bar fare to accompany your beverages. Shareable starters include breaded mozzarella bites, fried mac ‘n’ cheese bites, fried pickles, hummus and veggies, chicken fingers, onion rings and quesadillas – all available with your choice of sauce.

But don’t make your decision before checking out the tot & fries menu. Totchos or dirty fries are a basket of either topped with white queso sauce. Order either of these “loaded” and they come with ranch beans, pico de gallo, green onion, jalapeno and sour cream on top. But why stop there when you can add grilled chicken, ground beef or green chili pork for another $2.

Honestly, we didn’t know where to begin, so I asked our server for a recommendation. Without hesitation, she insisted we try the loaded totchos with green chili pork added. (Pictured without cheese, pork and the sour cream.)

The tots were hot, crispy and served as a perfect foundation for a mountain of fixins’. In conclusion: add the pork. Don’t think about it, just do it. These totchos definitely toe the line of overindulgence, but a cheat worth trying. Best worked off by a bike ride home.

Honey hot bone-in wings (left) and barbecue boneless wings.

McKenzie’s takes the traditional finger food to the next level with their signature jumbo bone-in wings that are twice as messy, but twice as delicious. We customized our wings with honey hot sauce on our bone-in selection (order of five) and BBQ sauce on the boneless wings (order of eight), which, were surprisingly served “naked” style with no breading at all – a welcome discovery after the mound of totchos.

Beef burger.

My only disappointment was, as first-time customers, realizing there were two different types of bone-in wings available: the typical-size wings as well as the signature option. While I was in no way disappointed with the tender and juicy wings that arrived at our table, I was initially confused, having seen a neighboring table with what looked like a literal handful of the delicious meat. Just a tip, should you follow in our footsteps: make sure you specify which bone-in wings you want.

Veggie burger with onion rings.

The kitchen at McKenzie’s offers takes a no-frills approach on an assortment of build-you-own entrees. The menu offers burgers, grilled cheese and salad options in an uncomplicated and straightforward format.

While both burger and grilled cheese offerings come with your choice of brioche buns or sourdough, your choice of America, pepper jack, cheddar/jack, Swiss or bleu (burger only), that’s where the similarities end.

For the burger types, there’s beef, turkey, chicken breast or veggie burger options. And for the grilled cheese peeps, there’s bacon, ham, fried egg, grilled chicken, or green chili pork available to kick your sandwich up a notch.

The secret, however, is to ask about customization you’re curious about. For example, guacamole is available on the burger menu but does not come standard on the totchos. And I’m sure they’d be happy to throw one of their savory veggie burger patties on top of a grilled cheese or salad for you – just ask!

Chicken burger with side salad.

If you’re looking for a cold drink and an unpretentious burger, without all the hassle of firing up the grill this summer, McKenzie’s is an easy-going neighborhood option – and not just for dinner …

On our visit, we discovered the tavern is expected to roll out lunch specials and extend business hours for lunch accordingly sometime in July. The owner’s excitement about smoking new meats and developing new parings is contagious, and we’ll be back on a future lunch break!

 


McKenzie’s Midtown Tavern
4531 N. Seventh St.
Hours:
3 p.m.- 1 a.m. Mon-Thurs
3 p.m.-2 a.m. Fri
10 a.m.-2 a.m. Sat-Sun
mckenziesmidtown.com


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