When Arizona Cardinals President Michael Bidwill heard Tom’s Tavern was up for sale in September 2010, he decided that someone had to step in to carry on the restaurant’s traditions. Owner Michael Ratner was struggling with pancreatic cancer, and the tavern, which had served as a popular meeting place for politicians since 1929, was in danger of closing.
In its 82 years in business, Tom’s Tavern has served 21 Arizona governors and 25 Phoenix mayors, said Eileen Klein, chief of staff to Gov. Jan Brewer. Many hold the street-level eatery, occupying the southwest corner of the One Renaissance Square building in downtown Phoenix, close to their hearts.
“I told him how sorry I was that he was losing his battle with cancer, and I said that if he didn’t have a buyer, I didn’t want to see Tom’s close,” Bidwill said to Ratner in September 2010.
Bidwill had known Ratner since 1990, when Bidwill was an assistant federal prosecutor in Phoenix and a frequent tavern customer. He hadn’t visited as regularly since the Cardinals set up shop in Glendale.
Ratner passed away in November 2010, and his widow Terry Ratner finalized the sale to Bidwill in February 2011. In July, Bidwill closed the restaurant for renovations and it is scheduled to reopen Oct. 13.
Bidwill said the renovated restaurant showcases its history. Many of the old photographs of high-profile politicians who visited Tom’s – including some with Ratner – still adorn the walls. Bidwill left some room for more pictures to be added.
“I think we’ve done a good job preserving and highlighting the history, but we want to add some new history there over the decades,” he said.
Bidwill also said the renovation brought Tom’s back to its original tavern aesthetic. “I want it to have that real, authentic feel that people associate with the name and the history,” he said.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said he visited Tom’s regularly before it closed for renovations and that its central downtown location attracts people of all political stripes. “I see my friends here and my enemies,” he said. “I see a lot of lawyers, and a lot of them are suing me.”
Arpaio said he thinks the well-known Bidwill name will add to the restaurant’s reputation. He appreciates that Bidwill stayed true to Tom’s history and legacy. “I give Bidwill a lot of credit for keeping the tradition going,” he said.
In keeping with the place’s history, Bidwill said he wants the restaurant to continue to be a meeting place for prominent members of the community. “I’m certain there will be many business deals and political discussions across the tables in the future,” he said.
The restaurant held a pre-opening charity event Oct. 6, benefiting the Jason Schechterle Beyond the Flames Foundation. The event raised more than $31,000, according to Bidwill. It also brought back some of the prominent figures who visited the tavern regularly before its temporary closure, including Arpaio, Secretary of State Ken Bennett and mayoral candidate Wes Gullett.
Klein presented Bidwill a framed letter from the governor wishing the restaurant continued success.
Even though he’s gone, Ratner will remain part of the restaurant’s legacy. General Manager Greg Freed said Ratner made the tavern welcoming and was well liked among customers. “He was very connected to the community,” he said. “He knew everybody in town.”
To honor Ratner, Bidwill will add a margarita called the “Ratnerita” to the menu.