"tucson underground"
Navigation border corner

The Shelter

places / the shelter

The Shelter, Tucson, Winter 2002 (above); the landmark sign, below.

images © Cia Romano 2003


4155 E. Grant Road
Tucson, AZ

The neon-lit rock exterior evokes stained glass; combined with pure white concrete, it might look like a church. Except for the large yellow sign advertising drink specials and its "go-go boot wearing, martini drinking, swanky, groovy lounge." That, in short, is The Shelter, a landmark whose habituŽs cross most ethnic and socioeconomic lines.

-Cia Romano, spring 2003

Club denizens 411:

Most nights build reliably as the hour wears on. Ridiculous movies (such as the original Batman feature and Faster, Pussycat, Kill, Kill!) are usually running on the house set. Sunday is 80s, Monday and Wednesday is disco, and Tuesday is requests from the 60s to the 90s.

Drinks and amenities:

Happy hour is 3 to 7pm every day (specials consist of 5 cocktails, 4 beers, and 3 shots. They make damn good martinis, too.

Friendly words of advice:

Bring lots of quarters - the Shelter houses a rare WORKING 4 player tabletop Pong game. Be sure to give your friends a pixilated whupping.

Unique features:

You'll rarely be so lucky as to find décor this retro (or tacky) in public view. The doorway is flanked by two ancient pinball games that, miraculously, work. Sit in sparkly vinyl chairs at the bar, surrounded by ancient advertisements as your cigarettes burn in huge boomerang ashtrays. Behold an outstanding collection of lurid lamps behind the bar.

In keeping with the Cold War theme, The Shelter boasts an outstanding collection of RFK/JFK memorabilia, including an extruded plastic bust of JFK with a light-up smile.

Black velvet is also well represented at The Shelter, especially in the billiards area. Black velvet conquistadors and their ladies look down on the pool table, a black velvet poodle is on the far right wall, and velvet paintings of scary large-eyed children designate the bathroom doors.Inside the bathrooms the management has taped tons of unbelievably bad jokes.

Past lives:

Reputed to have been a "real bomb shelter," or a refurbished church, it is neither: The Shelter was built and opened in 1961. With the exception of the lava rocks in the entryway the Shelter is built entirely out of concrete blocks (a rarity in Tucson at the time). It was the height of the Cold War . . .and for some strange reason the owner wanted to recreate the friendly bomb-shelter atmosphere.


520 326 1345