The Shanty, a bona fide Tucson institution and the state’s longest continually operating bar still run by the founding family, marks its 80th anniversary on Friday, March 17 — St. Patrick’s Day.
The true anniversary is actually a couple days earlier, but the bar has always celebrated on St. Patrick’s Day.
And the thought did cross owner Bill Nugent’s mind to combine the landmark anniversary with the annual St. Patrick’s Day throwdown — The Shanty is known for its luck o’ the Irish bashes.
But 80 years is kind of a big deal, something you don’t want to see overshadowed by the traditional booze fest that comes with St. Patrick’s.
So instead, The Shanty, where Nugent has spent the past 47 years, pretty much seven days a week, will fete itself throughout the year with events being cooked up by the staff, from promotional souvenir T-shirts to tastings with vintners and local producers.
“Each one of the staff members is taking ownership in what they would like to do, which I kinda like,” Nugent said Tuesday.
But you can expect on Friday to hear stories from longtime staffers, maybe Nugent himself, about The Shanty’s history and its place in Tucson. Nugent wasn’t in the picture when his dad, Owen, opened the bar near the Ronstadt Center in 1937. They moved it to a spot on Fourth Avenue in 1943, and a few years later, when Nugent was a year old and his big sister was 8, Owen died. Mom Donna jumped in and kept the business and family going, changing locations for a third and final time in 1953.
They’ve stayed put since, making some changes to the building that dates back to 1905 and once served as a grocery store and later a church. Donna added a sprawling patio, and The Shanty, 401 E. Ninth St., just off North Fourth Avenue, became a Tucson destination.
Bill Nugent, who once flirted with a career in developmental psychology, has watched Tucson grow and contract from his North Fourth Avenue perch. The children and later grandchildren of his employees became customers. Community groups regularly hold meetings there. Tucsonans crossing generations add their stories to the narrative of a bar that has grown to be much more than a beer joint.
“I just don’t feel like it’s just another bar,” Nugent, 71, said. “It really has identity to people. We try to become sort of what bars and taverns used to be in the country 200 years ago, where they are kind of the community centers of their communities.”
The Shanty’s St. Paddy’s Day party gets started at 2 p.m. Friday and runs through closing time. The Tucson Highlanders will be on hand to perform Irish jigs, and they’ll be pouring Guinness, Jameson, Smithwick’s, Magner’s, Baileys, Irish Car Bombs, Baby Guinnesses, Irish Cuddles and other Irish cocktails.
Details: facebook.com/theshantyon4th, where you can also find details about future anniversary celebrations.