The Shelter Cocktail Lounge – Tucson, Arizona - Gastro Obscura

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Gastro Obscura

The Shelter Cocktail Lounge

This bomb shelter-themed bar has barely changed since it opened. 

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Many places are described as time capsules, but few live up to the description like The Shelter in Tucson, Arizona. This dive bar has served thirsty Tucsonans since 1961, and despite the passage of time, it’s as funky as ever. 

The name, exterior, and decor are all nods to the Cold War. As in, the whole place was designed to look like a fallout shelter. Like a “real” fallout shelter, the exterior is windowless and clad in white stucco and stone, albeit topped with imposing neon signage. Inside, the walls are covered in old mirrors, patterned wallpaper, velvet paintings, period advertisements, and kitschy JFK memorabilia, including hand-crafted tapestries in his image. The U-shaped bar is surrounded with comfy red stools, and a Sputnik-inspired lamp orbits just above the vodka selection.

The drinks are cheap and stiff, and the martini menu extensive. At last count, The Shelter offered 13 signature martinis ranging from traditional (vodka, dirty) to absolutely confounding (cucumber vodka, melon, cream, cayenne). The entire bar is suffused with red light, which adds to its vintage charm. Whether you find yourself staring at the blinking plastic visage of JFK or the martini-shaped bike racks outside, there’s plenty to look at. So if you find yourself in Tucson, get out your go-go boots, grab a few friends, and head to The Shelter for a boozy trip back in time.

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February 10, 2022

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