Mill Avenue has always been a hot spot for tourists, students, and locals alike. With the constant flow of people and changing demographics, it is typically no surprise when a new restaurant or bar opens.
Unless of course that bar is the only country whiskey bar in the city of Tempe – like Moonshine Whiskey Bar and Grill which recently opened on March 15.
After a soft opening of just longer than two weeks, the establishment is set to host an official grand opening on April 3. The event will feature a “Red Solo Cup – Beat the Clock” special starting at 8 p.m., while Nina D with KMLE Country 107.9, and JD with 101.5 JamZ will be on hand to host the event.
“I’ve always wanted to do this,” said Lars Havens, 31, one of the bar’s owners.
The three-story, 11,000-square-foot space is fully equipped with four bars, two of which will become indoor/outdoor bars in the near future if the city approves the bar’s patio expansions.
With access to Hayden Square Courtyard, Moonshine’s owners are hoping it will become a live music venue as well. Its owners plan to feature acts such as country music star, Lee Brice.
Havens, an Arizona State University alum, has been working in the food and beverage industry since he was in college. He has worked at multiple locations, such as Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill in Mesa and School of Rock, also located on Mill Avenue.
So why open a country bar – and a country-whiskey one, at that?
“Our business model is to reach a variety of people,” Havens said. “Country music draws a large demographic, unlike other genres.”
Havens, a preferred whiskey drinker, also said that whiskey sales are on the rise more than any other spirit on the market. He said the goal was to tap into that rising market. For Havens, the decision to open a country whiskey bar seemed like a no-brainer.
A recent study NPD Group, a consumer research firm, detailed that country music was America’s most popular genre in 2012, surpassing the previous top music genre of classic-rock.
In the United States, bourbon and whiskey sales are also on the rise.
Since 2007 there has been a 13.2 percent increase in bourbon and whiskey case sales and a 28.3 percent increase in United States bourbon revenues, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.
Moonshine Whiskey Bar and Grill offers 39 different whiskeys, bourbons, moonshine, and scotches. The prices range from $3 at happy hour to $13 for a limited production Jack Daniels Moonshine. A variety of beers and other spirits – all served in mason jars – are also available.
In addition, Moonshine is working with a local Tempe distiller to get its own brand of moonshine, which owners hope to serve in the bar by the end of April, Havens said.
Moonshine’s owners are determined to keep their bar as local as they can, from the full staff they hired to their decorations.
The bar is equipped with a flag flown in Arizona during the prohibition period – the time that served as inspiration for the bar’s name, Moonshine – as well as a local, custom-made chandelier inspired by Footloose.
Moonshine also offers a full menu starting at lunch.
Chad Holmes, head chef, recently relocated from Jackson Hole, Wyo. to work at Moonshine Whiskey Bar.
“They’re serious about food,” Holmes said. “I make everything from scratch.”
All of the food served at Moonshine Whiskey Bar and Grill is local, from the bakery goods to the produce as well.
“The best thing is we don’t own a freezer,” Havens said. “Everything is made to order.”
“It’s elevated bar food,” Holmes said. “I do everything the right way.”
Their menu has a variety of distinctive options such as apple wood smoked bacon with a homemade blueberry moonshine syrup and cowboy burger complete with a homemade bourbon peach BBQ sauce.
“The food is really, really good,” said Amy Harmann, a Tempe resident. “It’s the best food on Mill that I’ve had.”
Moonshine also offers bottle service and keeps its doors open until 3 a.m. – a rarity on Mill Avenue.
After last call, patrons are given free soft drinks and water so they can enjoy themselves for an additional hour. They also have the option of ordering from a late night menu, complete with pancakes, breakfast burritos, and cowboy fries.
And of course there’s Willie.
Willie is the bar’s mechanical bull, free to ride for anyone at Moonshine, so long as patron signs a waiver beforehand.
“The bull is a huge attraction,” said bartender Reginald Groves. “People come in groups and it gives them something to do besides just drink.”
Moonshine also offers free line and swing dance lessons every Thursday night.
“The clientele is not all country music fans,” Groves said. “A little bit of everyone comes in here.”
According to Havens the bar’s soft opening on March 15 went “fairly well”. Owners hope to get a greater demographic reach in the near future and plan on increasing their advertising.
“We opened in four and a half weeks,” Havens said. “We didn’t want to be overwhelmed.”
The bar will continue to expand in the upcoming months to attract more customers. Plans are already in places to add televisions so it is able draw more of the sports crowd in for football games and NASCAR races.
“(Moonshine) is going to draw a lot of customers Mill never had before,” Harmann said. “Mill needed a country bar.”