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Historic Phoenix tavern for sale as owner’s health declines

Ailing health has led Tom's Tavern owner Mike Ratner to look for new owners for the venerable bar and restaurant known for attracting politicians and power players. (File photo)

Ailing health has led Tom's Tavern owner Mike Ratner to look for new owners for the venerable bar and restaurant known for attracting politicians and power players. (File photo)

Tom’s Tavern, a local hotspot among politicians, businessmen and lawyers, is up for sale, owner Mike Ratner said.

After owning Tom’s for more than 18 years, ailing health has led Ratner to look for new owners. He said he hopes to find someone willing to safeguard the traditions of the diner, which celebrated its 80th anniversary last year.

“It’s an institution in so many ways,” he said, “It needs to be preserved.”

Ratner has begun to look for new owners more seriously as his health has declined, Manager Brian Oliver said. Ratner doesn’t talk about his health problems, but he has been coming in a lot less than he used to, Oliver said.

“He yells at me a lot when he feels good, but lately he’s been saying ‘thank you,’ and that means he’s been feeling bad,” he said.

The restaurant has had a few offers in the past, Oliver said, but Ratner was asking for more money then. The diner has since weathered the recession, the growth of new restaurants in the downtown area – like Five Guys Burgers and Fries – and a dwindling customer base that trends toward older patrons who’ve been coming in for the last decade, he said.

The average customer at Tom’s Tavern is between 45 and 60 years old and they come in to talk business and politics, Oliver said.

The younger generation of professionals and college students isn’t looking for a diner; they’re looking for a sports bar with waitresses in tight outfits, he said.

The lack of business may prevent buyers from wanting to take over the restaurant, Oliver said. But its location may entice corporations looking to convert the building into something other than a diner, he said.

Richard Gierloff, a regular at Tom’s for more than 15 years, said people will keep coming as long as it’s open. Gierloff works as an attorney across the street and comes in so often the diner has a seat at the bar with his name engraved on it.

“Mike is a typical New Yorker, feisty but hospitable. He genuinely enjoys being with people,” Gierloff said.

Peter Valenzuela, who is the president of a public affairs agency, said he started his business out of the payphone that used to be in the back of the restaurant in 1998. It’d be a sad day in Arizona politics if anything were to happen to Ratner or to the restaurant, he said.

“Mike has been the cornerstone to this place. Everyone would be disheartened to see if something unfortunate were to happen to him,” Valenzuela said.

Tom’s Tavern, which has had two locations and changed owners multiple times, has been a part of Arizona politics since 1929.

The Tavern is named after its original owner, Tom Higley, who opened the restaurant at 136 W. Adams Street. It moved to its location on the street level of the Renaissance building at Washington Street and First Avenue in 1988.

The new building is decorated on all walls by political memorabilia.

The wall of fame toward the back has photos of Arizona’s congressional delegation, commendations from the city of Phoenix and historic newspaper articles. It even has seating areas known as the governor’s corner and the mayor’s corner.

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