If a University of Arizona student wanted to put on their cowboy boots, enjoy a cold drink and dance the night away to country classics, they would have to endure a 20-minute drive and a $30 Uber to The Maverick or Whiskey Roads.
Thankfully, the country drought on University Boulevard has come to an end.
Mobeen Moslem and Rick Cano are bringing the hoedown to Main Gate Square with their new bar and restaurant Bourbon Bent, specializing in a country theme with Southern comfort food and refreshing cocktails at 820 E. University Blvd.
“Rick and I kind of brainstormed, what does University need? What does it have?” Moslem said. “You have a lot of cool places already with No Anchovies and Frog & Firkin. We thought there was a place for a bar with different bourbons and whiskeys that brings a country twist to Main Gate.”
Moslem is no stranger to the restaurant business. As a Tucson native, he grew up in his father’s restaurant and took on many roles, including bussing, cleaning and serving.
Despite the restaurant business in his blood, Moslem’s father urged him to avoid the tough industry, instead pushing him to go to school. So, Moslem did a complete 180 and got a degree in pharmacy from the University of Arizona.
Although Moslem described pharmacy as an “awesome profession,” he still found himself drawn to the restaurant business.
“It's in our bloodline to be involved in restaurants and I missed that impact that we could have,” Moslem said. “So I decided to combine my alma mater and my love for restaurants. When this place opened up on University, I knew I had to go for it.”
Moslem remembers spending countless hours on University Boulevard during his time at the UA. Whether he was studying or hanging out with friends, Moslem loved being in Main Gate Square. When a spot opened up in Geronimo Plaza, it was too good to pass up.
With the perfect spot available, Moslem enlisted the help of his longtime friend Rick Cano, a 20-year industry veteran who has operated various restaurants and bars around Tucson.
On University Boulevard, you can get sushi, Mexican food, hamburgers, pizza, Italian and barbecue — but something was missing. There’s not a place near campus that has a bar dedicated to whiskey and bourbon, or a spot where students can stop by and enjoy a good old-fashioned steak dinner.
That’s when the light bulb went off for Moslem and Cano.
“We wanted it to be, kind of like a modern dive bar feel that's still clean and safe for students,” Cano said.
With that in mind, Cano and Moslem did a lot of research to nail the dive bar theme, making sure it had that dark-but-warm feel to it. Since the space is a historic building, it already had a lot of the quirks that classic country bars have.
“We walked into this 100-year-old building and it already has this, kind of like, rustic saloon feel to it. So, we embraced that instead of trying to modernize it too much,” Cano said. “We preserved the wood floors that were in there already. There's a lot of exposed brick in there that just adds to the whole feel of the restaurant.”
After executing the country theme, it was time to tackle the menu. To help make their Southern comfort vision come true, Cano recruited local chef Justin Stewart to help. Stewart is known for his work at the Wooden Nickel Tavern, plus he was the one who taught Cano how to cook in a commercial kitchen, showing him that bar food doesn’t just have to be mozzarella sticks.
Since Stewart’s specialty is in comfort food, it was a match made in heaven. They put their heads together and came up with dishes like chicken and waffles, which includes crispy chicken paired with a corn waffle, topped with bourbon maple and rosemary butter.
Other menu standouts include their chicken sandwiches; a steak and fries plate; their bourbon balls, which are chicken and beef meatballs with bourbon barbecue sauce and crispy onions; and their Not-chos, which are potato chips topped with brisket, cheese sauce, sour cream and green onions.
Their real forte is the wings tossed in your choice of buffalo, barbecue or honey hot sauces. Stewart’s Coca-Cola brine makes them shine. Cano said this particular brine helps tenderize the chicken so it gets nice and crispy when fried.
Of course, no country bar is complete without themed cocktails. Moslem and Cano worked together to come up with their cocktail menu, serving drinks like a classic Old Fashioned and a Peachy Rita (their take on a margarita) in mason jars.
Their most popular cocktail is the Porch Swing, which is made with peach whiskey, house-made lemonade and black tea. Bourbon Bent also has 12 beers on tap and you can even enjoy your drink in a 30-ounce glass shaped like a cowboy boot if you really want to embrace your country side.
Since the restaurant is on University Boulevard, the duo has to keep up with the vibrant nightlife. They built a DJ booth so people can dance the night away to a mixture of country music and EDM.
Once it gets warmer, Moslem and Cano plan to start Party on the Porch, where customers can grab brunch on their scenic patio while listening to music.
Positive reviews have already started rolling in for Bourbon Bent, and Moslem and Cano are taking in all the feedback from customers who are saddling up and heading to the eatery where they can unleash their inner cowboy.
“We put a lot of effort into making sure we have a unique experience for our customers,” Cano said. “It's that neighborhood feel which I feel like was missing a little bit.”