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[Other culinary reviews]

Plaza Liquors and Fine Wines

There are plenty of reasons not to want to live in Tucson these days. Linda Ronstadt, a third generation Tucsonan her ownself, pointed some of them out recently when she finally packed up and moved to the Bay area. The "strip-mall culture and right-wing mentality" was the way she put it but she could have just as easily mentioned the crime, aggressive terrible drivers, the increasingly illiterate populace, the hedonistic snowbird influx, the no plan is the best plan expansion, and the stifling heat. Someone told us that at a recent local Republican debate, three of the six candidates hoping to fill Jim Kolbe's seat said that they thought the earth was 6000 years old or less. Jesus! Where did these people go to school? Probably in TUSD where increasing budget cuts and a short sighted and ever graying sunbaked citizenry continues to vote down any bill supporting education that might take a small pittance out of their pockets and put it back into the common good. Anyway, we don't blame Linda one bit for getting out and seeking greener and more civilized pastures. We at the Goliard however are stuck here at the moment and find it more therapeutic to focus on what's good about the Old Pueblo than to sit around crying in our beers about it's cultural deterioration.

And speaking of beers, we were reminded recently that one of the things that definitely falls on the good side of the quality of life in Tucson column is the midtown beer emporium known affectionately as "Plaza". If a Goliard is going to reside is Arizona and be forced to put up with the cultural and meteorological drawbacks listed above, (not to mention the current global situation and this country's depressing role in it) then dammit a good purveyor of quality spirits is going to be required. Luckily, Plaza Liquors and Fine Wines is just that kind of place and more.

Located at 2642 N. Campbell on the east side of the street between Grant and Glenn, Plaza doesn't look like much on the outside (as illustrated by the picture we snapped while driving by this morning). A toping fellow, unfamiliar with the area and just cruising around in search of a particular six pack, might either miss the place altogether or not think a stop would be worth his time. Unlike some of the other great liquor stores in the country such as Applejack in Denver, Charles Street in Boston, or Liquor Mart in Boulder, Plaza is not an expansive place and isn't located in an ex-Safeway or Walmart. Far from it in fact but somehow it doesn't lose anything to these giants of the trade in the selection department. We understand that this seems unlikely but enter the place and see if we don't speak the truth. Showing an ongoing knack for spatial creativity, Plaza stocks over 600 different beers, 100 different tequilas, and 75 single malt scotches. They have an extensive wine collection as well, devoting the limited shelf space to quality and value over the quantity they don't have room for. Almost all their beer is displayed cold and in singles so a person can mix and match their own six pack which allows an imbiber with a curious palate to grab an empty cardboard tote and try some new stuff without paying through the nose. Plaza only charges a sixth of what would be a full six pack price for each beer instead of jacking it up for singles which makes it easy for those interested in staging personal tastings of different styles or for someone wanting to bring a diverse but genre similar six pack to any kind of theme dinner. No you can't get a 18, 20, 24, or 30 pack of Bud Ice but who the Hell cares. Go down the street to Walgreens if that's what you want. 

Another thing that makes Plaza great is that M
ark Thomson, who owns the place, is the type of guy who we feel like we've known for years and is a good friend of ours even though we had to look up his name to write this piece and have never officially met him. He's almost always at the store and will notice what customers are buying and comment on the choices with the kind of knowledge that makes one realize what snobs and posers most people who try to discuss such libations are. He'll often tell you a quick story about his family or pet or mention a trip he went on and effortlessly transfer these tales from one customer to the next, without seeming in the slightest like he's being disingenuous or cares if you are buying anything from him or not. He can recommend a wine or beer for any occasion and for each specific taste without sounding pretentious and will happily offer to order any beverage for you that he doesn't have in stock. He looks you in the eye and listens to what you say and we don't know how he does it but we've seen him stand there carrying on extensive conversations with all manner of windbag and jackass that the little impromptu wine tastings he often puts on seem to attract. The weird thing is he even seems to genuinely enjoy it. The rest of the staff is always friendly and reasonably knowledgeable as well and it's clear that he takes the time to hire quality people rather than just put cheap help behind the register. In the twenty years we've been going to Plaza, we've never had a bad experience with the staff and they often end up seeming to us just like the owner does, as if they are old friends of ours even though we've never actually gotten to know any of them personally.

Another thing Plaza does a great job of is
rotating stock for the changing seasons. When the air begins to nip down a bit at night we always start watching the sign out front for some form of the inevitable "Holiday Ales have arrived" message. When it appears there's nothing better than yanking your ride into the parking lot, mixing and matching a case or two of that year's seasonals, and driving off with a trunk full of Xmas brews to sample from around the country and world. Plaza dabbles in seasonal wines as well and the staff offers helpful, hand written descriptions of any vintners and labels that they've tried and enjoyed.

Which leads us to why we decided to sit down and pound out this review last night instead of getting some much needed shut eye even though we've been going to Plaza for years. After a particularly trying day at the mines, an afternoon of battling Tucson back to school traffic and dodging Friday afternoon jack offs tailgating and weaving to get from their depressing strip mall or office park cubicle jobs to their depressing new tract homes on the Northeast side, we happened to pass by Plaza and decided on the spur of the moment to pull in. We'd been reading about Petite Syrahs lately (there's nothing petite about a petite syrah) and we were thinking one might go rather nicely with the Fioritos pizza we were on our way to pick up. We didn't have a certain vineyard or price range in mind but knew we were in good hands and let the little staff recommendations lead the way. We hadn't seen the owner when we came in but the place was pretty crowded and we soon could hear his voice somewhere among the tight aisles discussing the term "organic" with a customer. Sure enough, when we eventually approached the counter, Mark was there, listening politely to some bloviater explain how his supposedly upper crust buddy told him that orange bitters was the ingredient he lacked to make the perfect cocktail. He had been disappointed to find that Plaza didn't stock it. 

"Well they might have it up at AJ's," Mark said to the guy's back as he was leaving, adding to us with a side smile as we placed our selection before him, "As much as I hate to promote the bastards." He then looked over what we had chosen as he was bagging it up and placing little pieces of cardboard between the bottles for what he called "clink protection." 

"Ah the McManis 04 Petite," he said smiling. "This is one full wine. Be careful when you drink it that you don't end up with one of those red clown mouths. You'll feel like you have one anyway. I'm telling you this stuff is full!" We had noticed Plaza tee shirts hanging overhead as he was ringing us up and a sign that said "10 percent off when you're wearing your shirt". When he saw us looking up at them he pointed out that if we picked up one of the shirts now, he could give us ten percent off what we were buying right then and the shirt would half pay for itself. "Can't beat that," he said smoothly tossing us one in blue, completing the transaction and moving on to the next customer. "Take it easy."

And as we left the store and got back on the road, we felt as if a certain weight had lifted. Traffic had thinned a bit, a spectacular sunset was flitting through a rosy western monsoon sky and Tucson didn't seem like such a bad place to be all of a sudden. And ironically enough, as we pulled into Fioritos to pick up our pie, we just happened to hear on the radio that Linda Ronstadt herself had moved back to town. Apparently she'd needed a sudden minor operation and had wanted to be in Tucson so she could "rest and recover."

One thing's for sure. It is much easier for us Goliards to take it easy and rest and recover in this town knowing there's a Mark Thomson and a Plaza Liquors located smack dab in the middle of it with us.

Plaza Liquors and Fine Wines
2642 N. Campbell Ave.
Tucson, AZ
 520-327-0452

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