When the phrase “sports bar” comes up, it’s all too easy to think of grungy floors, grimy tables, gross food, grainy video screens and grumpy waitresses.
Not at Payton’s Place.
At this Kyrene Corridor favorite, located on the southeast corner of Elliot and Kyrene Roads in Tempe, class meets comfort.
The sleek interior’s neutral colors and modern design – free from busy beer poster or neon signs – set the stage for a more upscale, yet still relaxed, experience. Servers are friendly, easy-going and efficient.
A large U-shaped bar seating about 30 to 35 in the center of the space makes it easy to strike up a conversation about whichever team is playing. Families or groups of friends can settle into one of the oversize, cozy booths.
Have a large party? At no charge, reserve one of the two secluded lounge areas. Big screens everywhere you look ensure you won’t miss a play, no matter where you sit – even on the smoking patio.
And if you’re a Chicago Bears fan, this is the place to be on game days: The bar is named after owner Ken LaCivita’s oldest son, who’s named after Bears legend Walter Payton. (LaCivita’s youngest son, Sayers, is named after Bears great Gale Sayers.)
They also support all of the local teams – meaning no Arizona Wildcats. But Arizona State University fans are welcome.
Payton’s Place is “just a good neighborhood restaurant and bar,” said manager Matt Naderer, who was born and raised in South Tempe.
A graduate of Marcos de Niza high school and ASU, he said restaurants are in his blood: His grandfather and father before him owned and operated restaurants.
LaCivita, Naderer said, opened this location of Payton’s Place on Labor Day 2008, after selling the former Payton’s Place in Ahwatukee a few years prior. LaCivita also owns a Payton’s Place in Gilbert.
He bought the former Half Moon Sports Grill “turn-key” – meaning that all furnishings came included – so it looks almost exactly the same, but he added larger projection screens and changed the artwork. The racy photos were replaced with pictures of professional athletes and teams from Corona del Sol, Marcos de Niza and other schools in the area.
Suds lovers can choose from 16 beers on tap, and daily drink and food specials make it easy to become a regular. The $10 prime rib on Friday nights is particularly popular, as are “meatloaf Mondays” ($6) and 25-cent wings on Thursdays.
Also, the menu changes every six months or so to “spark the interest of customers,” Naderer added.
At least half of the patrons are people he sees in the bar two or three times a week, he said.
“I see new faces almost every day,” Naderer said, “but I would say our bread and butter are our regulars.”
He’s in the process of updating the regular menu, but said he would keep the popular “10-minute lunch” menu. It features favorites such as a pulled BBQ pork sandwich over cornbread topped with spicy cheese sauce and “onion hay;” or, for a lighter option, grilled honey-glazed salmon salad over baby spinach topped with cucumber, shaved red onion and honey raspberry dressing.
“They’ve got some bar food, but they’ve got some stuff you don’t expect,” said customer Slim Smith of Tempe.
In addition to gourmet burgers and fantastic wings with a choice of eight sauces, the regular menu includes pasta, entrée salads, sandwiches, wraps and dinners.
Further setting Payton’s Place apart from competitors: Almost everything, except the catsup, is made in-house, Naderer said – even the sauces, dressings and soups. Nothing is pre-packaged.
“We don’t have any gimmicks,” Naderer said. “We cater to the people who live in this area. We’re very unpretentious. Everyone who works here is down to earth… We like to keep it upscale, but not hoity-toity.”
Where: 325 W. Elliot Road, Tempe. Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight or later Monday-Friday; 9 a.m. to midnight or later Saturday and Sunday. Information: 480-456-0811; paytonsbar.net.