Brother John's Restaurant: Arizona

Brother John's Restaurant: Arizona

Location: Tucson, Arizona

Year Completed: 2016

Square Footage: 10,000 sq ft


Photographer: Simon Photographic

Design Architect: Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

Architect of Record: Seaver Franks Architects, Inc.

Contractor: Epstein Construction, LLC.


The Wildcat House was established in 1977 as a 10,000 square foot rowdy college hangout. It was the center of University of Arizona student life for almost 3 decades until the success of the Downtown Entertainment District finally shuttered the dancehall’s doors in 2012.

As patrons of the landmark bar in their youth, Dave and John, two Tucson entrepreneurs approached Ibarra Rosano to help them transform the old Cat House into a new BBQ theme restaurant that continues to honor the building’s legacy: Brother John’s Beer, Bourbon, and BBQ.

The clients recognized the need to section the vast open interior into more intimately scaled experiences. At the same time, the space needed to maintain clear sightlines for use as a live music venue. 

The massive fir wood timbers that comprised the bar’s interior furnishings were constructed by the original owner, who also owned a sawmill in Flagstaff. These original timbers—the design team’s inspiration—are repurposed and are now the protagonists in the new space, composing the spatial sequences of the new interior. Stacked, they create screen walls that produce more intimate dining spaces and help to separate them from ‘back-of-house’ activities.

The space is now defined into three zones; the dining room serves the restaurant’s BBQ theme. The bar area hosts the “bourbon lounge”, a relaxed seating option. The Bavarian-style Beer Garden outside is intended to be a family-friendly, social play space under the shade of a new steel canopy.  This structure will be covered by deciduous vines, which will provide shelter from the summer sun. 

A fireplace wall in the beer garden is a focal point and source of heat in the winter. Within it, an evaporative cooling system is concealed for use during Tucson’s hot summers.  

In a humorous twist, two disco balls of the nostalgic Wildcat House dance floor are relocated to the restrooms. 

New entrances add natural light to the space and improve the interior connection to the exterior by reorienting the entry to receive people arriving from the parking lot. 

The new restaurant revives the Tucson landmark while serving as a catalyst in revitalizing Stone Avenue—a major artery connecting the downtown and foothills neighborhoods.

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