Michael Jacobson likes to call the major makeover of Putney’s Sports Bar & Grill a bar “rescue and rehab.”
And judging by the work still in progress — from the newly stripped and repolished concrete floors, new bar looking into the now open kitchen and trio of windows looking out onto a new 100-seat patio facing North Oracle Road — the description is pretty spot-on.
“It’s no longer like a dark, deep cave,” said Jacobson’s landlord Nick Genematas, whose father and grandfather built the Casa Blanca Plaza on Oracle and West Rudasill roads where Putney’s has been an anchor since the late 1970s. “It was worth, instead of mowing it down, to go ahead and take the existing bones and build on them.”
Jacobson and his partner, Greg Wexler, took over Putney’s, 6090 N. Oracle Road, soon after the previous owners closed it in early April. They immediately launched the extensive rehab project and renamed it Putney’s Pit Stop Sports Bar & Grill. They plan to reopen by late September.
For Jacobson, taking over Putney’s was an accidental homecoming. The Chicago native had lived in Tucson for several years in the 1970s before moving to Mexico, where he owned five sports bars and restaurants in Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta over a nearly 40-year period.
He had returned to Tucson last spring with the idea of resurrecting the long-closed Chad’s Steakhouse on the east side, but the property required too much work, he said. That’s when he got wind that Putney’s was up for grabs.
The rehab project has included gutting the restaurant, opening up the kitchen area and creating a secondary bar. The original wraparound bar will have two distinct bar stations, one of which will be used to serve patio customers. Drinks and food will be served through the patio windows bathing the dining room in bright natural light that Genematas said glistens off the shiny, polished concrete floors.
The off-track betting area on the other side of the room has been eliminated — Jacobson said he was not able to reach an agreement with the OTB operator, who had run OTB there since 1994. A pair of pool tables, which earlier this week were sitting not far from several bar coolers still in cardboard boxes waiting to be installed, will likely be set up in that space.
Putney’s walls are now festooned with all manner of sports paraphernalia, from NBA, NFL and NHL banners to University of Arizona Wildcat posters, vintage automobile and gas station signs, a Tucson Toros flier and a framed Pete Rose autographed copy of the Sept. 12, 1985, Cincinnati Post article of his record-breaking 4,192nd career hit.
Posters from Mexican sports teams also are represented, and there’s a spot devoted to the surfing exploits of Jacobson’s daughter Karen, a world-class standup paddle surfer that Jacobson said is ranked eighth in the world.
Jacobson said they are still weeks away from opening, but on Tuesday, workers were getting close to completing one of the biggest unfinished pieces of the project: laying the blacktop on the outdoor patio. And while that work was being done, Jacobson was discussing the menu and kitchen plans with his newly hired chef, Fernando Gomez, formerly the chef de partie at Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain.
Gomez will oversee the small kitchen, from where Putney’s will serve a limited menu of burgers, sandwiches, fish tacos made with red snapper, barbecue and ribeye steaks. Jacobson described it as a limited but well-crafted menu, something that redefines sports bar fare.
“It will be a small menu and it will not be just good; it will be great,” said Jacobson, who has cooking experience from his years running his Mexico sports bars.
Jacobson, who said he was one of the biggest reptile dealers in the world when he lived in Tucson in the 1970s, said he believes Putney’s new incarnation will be a popular destination not only for the neighborhood where it has been a landmark for four decades but for all of Tucson.
“I think this place is going to be packed. I think we’re going to get people coming from everywhere in Tucson,” he said. “Putney’s has always been a bar. This is now going to become a bar and a restaurant.”
Genematas said he is hoping the redo will bring new blood into the plaza, but also reinforce its place as the neighborhood bar and gathering place.
“I want it to be a contributing part of the neighborhood,” he said. “We’ve very conscious of our impact on the neighborhood and we want to make it positive all the way around.”