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The Luhrs endures: Adaptive reuse, retail breathe life into iconic downtown building

Nestled among the steel and glass high rises in downtown Phoenix, the Luhrs Building stands as a symbol of the iconic brick-and-mortar structures that once graced the inner city.

As the City of Phoenix embraces the concept of adaptive reuse, the Luhrs Building, constructed in 1924 at a cost of $553,000, is part of this trend to repurpose existing buildings with retail or office additions.

According to the City of Phoenix website, the number of adaptive reuse projects – renovating buildings and turning them into new spaces – has increased since it started its adaptive reuse program in 2008. There were 17 projects in the first year. That number jumped to 48 in 2013.

“Historic, unique buildings are excellent prospects for adaptive reuse,” says Summer Jackson, associate director with the retail services division at Cushman & Wakefield of Arizona, the brokerage firm handling the retail leasing assignment for the Luhrs Building.

“Many restaurateurs are taking advantage of these spaces to create new concepts that cater to the demand in the area. It’s an opportunity to do something innovative – something different,” Jackson adds.

Bitter & Twisted

Bitter & Twisted

One such establishment that has taken advantage of the opportunity is the Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour, 1 W. Jefferson. Owner Ross Simon says he was looking for a space with a great history and some genuine “wow factor.” A space, he says, that had a real city feel for a concept that would be at home in any major city around the world.

“Also something that could lend itself well to the cocktail-centric concept,” Simon adds.

Adaptive reuse is evident elsewhere around Phoenix. Some of the more notable examples include:
>> Culinary Dropout at the Yard, a former motorcycle dealership built in the 1950s on 7th Street;

>> Taco Guild at Old School O7, the former Bethel Methodist church on Osborn Road;

>> Southern Rail and Changing Hands bookstore at the Newtown Phx, the former Beef Eaters restaurant built in 1961 on Camelback Road;

>> Windsor and Churn, which share a restored 1940s building on Central Ave.

“Consumers are looking for an experience,” says Courtney Auther Van Loo, Associate Director with the Retail Services Division at Cushman & Wakefield. “While maintaining historical architecture styles and a building’s unique iconography, developers and tenants have created one-of-a-kind experiences and breathed new life into these landmarks. This style of reuse combines a contemporary feel with a touch of the classic.”

When he was selecting a site, Simon says he wasn’t necessarily looking for a space in an adaptive reuse project. “But after I revisited the space and thought about the layout a bit more to know it would work, I was sold on it,” he says.

Bitter & Twisted, as well as Subway sandwich shop have become retail tenants at the Luhrs Building.

“I had a real idea of what I wanted the overall place to look and feel like from an operational standpoint and from a guest experience point of view,” says Simon, who adds that Bar Napkins Production worked on the initial layout and all the architectural plans. Southwest Architectural Builders was the general contractor.

As the light rail whizzes by the Luhrs Building on Jefferson, it’s evident a sense of “newness” is also being felt downtown. An $80 million, 19-story hotel – the 320-room Luhrs City Center Marriott – breaks ground later this year at the northwest corner of Madison Street and Central Avenue.

The project is being developed by the Hansji Corporation of Anaheim, Calif. It’s the same family-owned company that purchased the “Luhrs Block” in 2007.  For the past 38 years, Hansji Corp. has developed more than 2MSF of office, retail and hotel space.

“It (the Luhrs Block, which also includes the Luhrs Tower) was really our first historical building,” says company President Rajan Hansji. “We knew it was something special. You can’t recreate this. It’s history. It gave me a new appreciation (for historical properties).”

Hansji says he is pleased with the outcome of Bitter & Twisted and its historical feel, including exposed original walls and beams.

“That corner is going to define the block,” Hansji says. “It (Bitter & Twisted) will be the catalyst for the rest of the block. It’s an amazing and unique space. The hotel’s exterior will utilize different brick colors and utilize the Luhrs’ history.”

The not-so-secret ingredient in Bitter & Twisted's house punch is tequila!

Thirsty Thursday: Bitter & Twisted

photo 1The Luhrs Tower, aka the majestic old geezer nestled behind CityScape, aka downtown Phoenix’s first high-rise, just got a double dose of dapperdom with the grand opening of Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour on its ground floor. For those who enjoy a bit of trivia and irony, it’s said the Luhrs Tower was the nerve center of Arizona’s prohibition headquarters. Bitter & Twisted, indeed!

 

Phoenix has a lot of great mixologists. But Bitter & Twisted is perhaps the city’s first bar solely dedicated to craft cocktails. And rightly so — the brains behind the bar is Ross Simon, a co-founder of Arizona Cocktail Week and former winner of the Finlandia Vodka Cup and Don Julio Tequila cocktail contest.

 

The parlor has a loft-bar feel with high ceilings, exposed ductwork, brick walls, a large mural of a martini-clutching ladyzilla crouched over Phoenix and large windows with a street view obscured by the high-back booths within.

 

Solero

Solero

Seating was incredibly limited on its media preview night and the pedestrian channel between the bar and parallel high-top seating had a lot of congestion issues. The seating issue is a problem for a first-timer because of there’s no logical space of repose in which to thumb through the extensive, impressive and exciting “Book o’ Cocktails.” This is not a drink menu — it’s a pamphlet you can buy for $5 of concoctions with chapters, an index and stories behind most drinks. It’s something you want to sit down with and thumb through, then pass to the next person in your group. Each drink has a detailed description and personality. It’s quite a remarkable menu, featuring every drink you never knew you wanted conceited with house made infused spirits, tonics, syrups and other ingredients. The bar is tapped with wine and bottle beer is also served.

 

Disregarding libations, Bitter & Twisted is situated in an enchanting space where even designated drivers will enjoy grabbing a light snack. It has a bit of an alternative personality without being uncool and cluttered about it.

 

Vibe: Alternative loft with craft cocktails

Dress code: You can probably get away with wearing what the patrons of the original Luhrs Tower would have worn.

Crowd: Hipsters, young professionals, people who work nearby

Price: The average drink will cost you more than $10

Hashtag: #drinkbetter

Led by the Scottish-born Principal Barmen & Proprietor, Ross Simon, Bitter & Twisted’s expert bar staff will be performing cocktail theatre nightly while whipping up a selection of globally inspired concoctions.

Bitter & Twisted moves into Luhrs Building

Tucked into a corner space inside the city’s first-ever high-rise, the new Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour (1 W. Jefferson St.) is set to help make downtown Phoenix once again the epicenter of the Valley’s dining and drinking scene when it opens on May 30. Housed in a soaring, window-lined space inside the historic Luhrs Building – an elegant 10-story brick and stone early 20th century engineering feat that was completed in 1924 – Bitter & Twisted combines a world-class cocktail lounge with a neighborhood bar’s sensibilities.

Lime and the Coconut, courtesy Bitter & Twisted

Lime and the Coconut, courtesy Bitter & Twisted

Led by the Scottish-born Principal Barmen & Proprietor, Ross Simon, Bitter & Twisted’s expert bar staff will be performing cocktail theatre nightly while whipping up a selection of globally inspired concoctions. As the past winner of the Finlandia Vodka Cup (USA) and Don Julio Tequila (AZ) cocktail contests and a co-founder of Arizona Cocktail Week, Simon says Bitter & Twisted will be a “fantastically welcoming cocktail bar where you can leave your pretentions at the door. It will be a great start and end to any evening.” Here, guests can flip through a prolific Book o’ Cocktails featuring a globe-straddling collection of new and classic drinks, all expertly-crafted using many house made infused spirits, tonics, syrups and other ingredients. “We’ll still have a nice selection of craft beer and wines, but we want to inspire the uninspired into finding his or her new favorite tipple (drink of choice),” Simon explains. “We’re lucky enough to be living in a second golden age of the cocktail, and we want to bring a great sense of excitement and exploration in the form of a great night out any night of the week.”

While Bitter & Twisted will firmly plant itself in the lexicon of the modern cocktail establishment, the space itself carries a rich history in the city of Phoenix, serving as the former nerve center of Arizona’s prohibition headquarters back when the residents of this desert metropolis (all 30,000 of them) dressed in top hats and risqué ankle-baring dresses and commuted to downtown via electric streetcars and Ford Model Ts. In a natural, progressive nod to today, guests can sip and dine while savoring the sights and sounds of Phoenix’s downtown rebound, even arriving just outside the door on the Valley Metro Light Rail.

Step inside the stylishly redesigned space and guests can slip into a mix of cozy banquettes and high-top table seating overlooking the exhibition-style central bar, as well as nosh on a worldly collection of bar bites and other great tasting dishes led by executive chef Bob Tam, including a late-night menu served until 1:30 a.m. On the weekends, the good vibes will be turned up a notch with live DJs spinning the night into the perfect twist, bringing yet another late night layer to downtown Phoenix’s diverse entertainment offerings.

Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour will be open Tuesday to Saturday from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., and will be closed Sunday and Monday.