19th Hole: Lou’s Bar and Grill at Papago in Phoenix surprises with unique approach

19th Hole: Lou’s Bar and Grill at Papago in Phoenix surprises with unique approach

19th Hole

19th Hole: Lou’s Bar and Grill at Papago in Phoenix surprises with unique approach

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PHOENIX – Racing to find some air conditioning after 18 holes in the desert heat of July at Papago Golf Course, I was ready for one drink and one drink only: water.

I quick-stepped out of the sun and into the stylish new clubhouse, where the pro shop windows look onto the Papago Buttes at the end of the driving range, on my way to Lou’s Bar and Grill. I wondered where I might grab lunch later, away from the normal golf course fare.

Wait a second … am I in the right place? This joint is full of people in suits and business-casual wear who clearly haven’t teed off in the heat. Tables are crowded with young adults laughing and discussing lunch menus fit for a gastro pub. There’s not a premade turkey sandwich on white or hot dog spinning behind a greasy little window anywhere in sight.

Somehow, in the 20 steps down the hall from the pro shop, it’s as if I’ve left the golf environment altogether and entered a business-casual hot spot for urban professionals. Unlike almost every other public-access golf course restaurant, Lou’s wasn’t intended for golfers – at least not entirely.

“We love that!” said Joe Martin, director of food and beverage at Papago. “That was a very specific goal of ours when we opened, to not be fully reliant on golfers but to promote Lou’s as a standalone restaurant. … It’s definitely not your typical 19th hole. We didn’t want to be. We want to be a real, legit culinary destination.”

Tacos at Lou’s Bar and Grill (Courtesy of Papago)

Lou’s opened in 2018 as part of a renovation brought about in a three-way, public-private partnership between the city of Phoenix, Arizona State University and the Arizona Golf Community Foundation with the help of a large donation from the Lou and Evelyn Grubb Foundation. The restaurant was named in honor of Lou, who died in 2012. Papago’s events venue, Evie’s Pavilion, was named for Lou’s wife, who passed in 2014.

The $5 million project included a new restaurant, but no ordinary golf course bar would do. This place has garage-style doors that roll up during nice weather, creating a continuous flow to the large patio and lawn beyond. The atmosphere has been dubbed “Brews and views.” It’s all concrete and wood, entirely modern and hip. There’s live music on the patio four nights a week during the best weather months, and kids play on the lawn while parents sample trendy dishes dreamed up by executive chef Brian Cooper.

Culinary options include beer-battered cheese curds with citrus chipotle aioli, truffle deviled eggs, steak frites with herb chimichurri and goat cheese truffle dipping sauce, and a mozzarella prosciutto salad with pickled grapes. No plain golf course burgers here – even the L.B.G. Burger has smoked bacon jam and horseradish mayo.

Breakfast at Lou’s (Courtesy of Papago)

The bar is less a place to argue about scorecards and more about sampling a wide range of taps and specialty cocktails, including the Frozen Evie-rita with tequila, agave and lime.

It’s enough to make a golfer skip the course altogether and head straight to the 19th hole. Most of the crowd has done exactly that – Martin said at lunch it’s about 60-40 non-golfers to golfers, and that percentage rises to 80-20 in the evening.

“There obviously are a lot of things that are designed for the golfers, and we have a separate turn window where we do a lot of fast, golf type of food,” Martin said. “But our main goal was to promote and run a standalone restaurant that just happens to be at Papago Golf Course.”

In a golf world where so many restaurants look the same, smell the same and offer the same old same old, Lou’s has taken a welcome approach.

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