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The Depot

For the sports fan and habitual bargoer, The Fort Lowell Depot, or we guess just "The Depot" is what they're trying to call it now, seems like a great place to be when you first walk in to it. From the outside it has these two train cars pulled up next to it giving it a quirky appearance and from within it almost has the feel of a casino sportsbook (although without the wagering, at least as far as we know). With a huge well stocked bar and tendresses easy on the eyes, it would seem to be a fantasy sports players dream spot. Six big screen TV's are afixed along one wall, many smaller ones hang over the bar and around the room, and there are little speaker boxes on each table which you can adjust to listen to the game of your choice (which, since they have the satellite capabilities to tune in any game in any sport from around the country, if it's being shown anywhere, they should be able to bring it up). Multiple beers are featured on tap (including some that actually have some flavor) and they offer a fairly extensive menu that includes everything from fish and chips, to pizzas, to chef salads. One end of the bar holds multiple pool tables where they often have tournaments, they feature NTN trivia on at least one TV, Karaoke three nights a week, and the space is expansive and, for the most part, comfortable. Something for everyone and you can usually find a seat. Sounds like a great place and a new staple in the bargoing rotation are we right? Not so fast my friends. Under closer inspection, The Depot, although not a bad spot to meet a group of work buddies or catch multiple games simultaneously if you've made a parley, often leaves much to be desired in the areas of service, clientele and food.

One quality of The Depot that potential patrons might want to consider if they are not familiar with the part of town where it sits is that just down the street to the north resides what is quietly one of the sketchiest neighborhoods in Tucson - that being the Kleindale corridor north of Ft. Lowell between Dodge and Country Club. And while we at the Goliard are certainly in no position to cast dispersions on others especially for lifestyle and housing choices, it stands to reason that in the process of filling it's role as a corner watering hole to a neighborhood where trailer parks and meth labs abound, some of the Depot's regulars and local stumble ins are bound to be complete degenerates. There's something for everyone like we said and, in the Depot's case, those everyones often include a gap toothed and scraggly bunch of no account losers, many of whom pull on can's of Natural light and drag constantly on generic cigarettes while tuning their little sound boxes as loud as they can in to anything NASCAR. These characters seem harmless for the most part but the resulting haze of foul air that they leave in their wake engulfs all patrons (despite the numerous fans that hang uselessly turned off over the dining area). So potential health considerations, not to mention the aesthetic unpleasantness of the inherent scene, are things to keep in mind if planning a visit. And this is especially true if you're thinking about eating a meal since choking down a plate of fried food can be something of a challenge when you can barely breath if you're not accustomed to dining in such conditions. 

Another thing to figure in if you are thinking about booking a ticket at this particular Depot is the often crappy service. Perhaps due to the health issues, tipping behavior and leering personalities of the clientele mentioned above, there is a high turnover amongst the waitresses and, while occasionally one of them will demonstrate a modicum of competence, you can be sure she won't last long if she does. For the most part you should consider yourself lucky if you get anything close to what you ordered and have it delivered in any sort of timely manner. We'll provide a couple examples of our experiences so that you might make up your own mind about the place.

On a recent visit, a group of us arrived 15 minutes before the start of a trivia game and were looking forward to competing on a national level against friends in other towns while enjoying a cold beer or two and maybe some bar food to nibble on. We placed our order for a pitcher of something dark, decided on some nachos with chicken to share, and let the waitress know that we required NTN game boards. Knowing that we had allowed ourselves plenty of buffer time before the trivia game began, we sat back to enjoy some of the various basketball being shown. We found it hard to relax however since our eyes were continuously drawn to the Fox news channel which was on one of the big TV's right in front of us for some reason and was showing repeating footage of Scott Peterson sitting in court and shots of bombing aftermath in Iraq. By the time the trivia game was set to begin, we still didn't have our boards and the waitress finally arrived with a pitcher of Bud Light or some other "making love in a canoe" type swill that clearly wasn't even close to what we'd ordered. One of us had to go up to the bar and wait in line to finally get situated with an acceptable beverage and missed the first few questions of the game because the nitwit never brought the boards and we had to get them ourselves. When the nachos finally showed up they were, of course, without chicken and seemed like they had been sitting in the pick up window for way to long. The waitress had no clue that the type of beer we had said we wanted wasn't light in color, that the nachos didn't have the toppings we'd asked for, and that we were trying to participate in a game where time was of the essence and that, when we eventually won it despite punting a few thousand points at the beginning, would bring national attention and free publicity to the establishment.

On another night, one of us ordered fish and chips which arrived ice cold and when they were sent back, the kitchen person or perhaps the waitress herself apparently put the whole plate in a microwave since the cole slaw and lemon wedge were sizzling when they finally made a return appearance ten minutes later. Also on that occasion, the grumpy girl who had been serving us badly all night finally completely disappeared without ever bringing us our check. We probably should have simply left at that point but instead we finally flagged down another server so that we might settle up. This girl proceeded to run our credit card through twice which we didn't realize until weeks later when two identical totals for the same date appeared on our statement which meant we had to file a bunch of paper work with our bank to get that cleared up. And almost any night you go in the place the managers on duty seem clueless about which games are available and have a tendency to let some egregious train wreck of a program like Fox's "You Gotta See This" run on three TV's for an hour until somebody complains and they finally get around to tuning into the actual game that people came there to see. They also often leave these bright lights on in the dining area for some reason until they get around to turning them down which tends to exacerbate the unpleasant view of the other patrons and magnify the smoke filled air.

Differing mutations of the above scenarios have been repeated in various forms so often at the Depot that we are able to report with confidence that such episodes are not isolated incidents. The frustrating thing is that they do just enough things well so you come back one more time just to be irritated all over again. The dining area could and sometimes does have a pleasant atmosphere depending on the other customers that have wandered in and, due to it's size and the ability to move tables around, can be a comfortable place to meet a large and diverse group, especially one that might be interested in different visual entertainments. It is also not a bad spot to hunker quietly in a corner and watch an event which is only being shown on some obscure station. The food that comes out of the kitchen isn't bad as far as bar food goes (the dragon wings are excellent and the chicken philly is fairly tasty as well) and the beer selection is good for this type of place even though something like a Fat Tire or Sierra Nevada is likely to be stale since the regulars all drink watered down domestic and the same keg of anything decent might sit for months or years. With the fans turned on to suck up the smoke, the lights dimmed, the TV's all tuned to different games, and a waitress that isn't a complete idiot, the Depot has the makings of a fantasy sports player or casual wagerer and trivia player's perfect night spot. 

More often then not however, the fans aren't on and the smoke is so thick you can barely see, the lights are too bright, a few of the TV's are tuned to some distracting news show that you can't look away from even though it's the last thing you want to be watching when trying to relax after a long day, and the waitress botches your order completely or it takes forever to come out of the kitchen. Such is life at the Depot on Ft Lowell road, often a train wreck itself, that for some reason, we haven't been able to look away from long enough to go looking for a more pleasant place to play a few rounds of trivia and catch a hard to find game.

 

Ft. Lowell Depot
3501 E Fort Lowell Rd 
Tucson, AZ 85716 
520-795-8110

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