2020 is not a year to be normal or do things the way they’ve always been done. Downtown Phoenix Inc., an organization that works to promote and cultivate the downtown lifestyle, is taking that approach with its annual Urban Ale Trail, a food and drink focused event that aims to bring new traffic to downtown bars and restaurants. The big change this year involves moving it from a Saturday afternoon to a weeklong event that kicks off on Saturday, October 3. The goal is to encourage social distancing and not overrun the Downtown businesses that have been working with smaller staffs since COVID-19 lockdowns in March.
“Typically it’s a blitz of people, which makes it fun,” says R.J. Price, CMO of Downtown Phoenix Inc. “People love samples and free bites. This year we don’t want herds of folks coming Downtown. We want crowds to be controlled, diluted and spread out over a week.”
Now in its 7th year, the underlying theme of the week is “Spread Your Wings,” a slogan that alludes to both broadening your palate and literally spreading out in space and time. But you’ll still be able to get a taste (pun intended) of what Downtown Phoenix is all about.
“Typically it’s about the beer,” Price says. “But restaurants will set a menu and are urged to diversify the offerings so people can experience hard-to-find things. This year it’s more about unique quality offerings and how else can you showcase what you do?”
Bars and restaurants traditionally include flights of beer and free food samples for the Urban Ale Trail, but that’s not required this year. Instead, Downtown Phoenix Inc. is giving away free pint glasses for anyone who spends $25 and uploads qualifying receipts from the participating businesses.
“This allows Downtown businesses to open to new customers,” Price says. “Perhaps people who don’t normally come down here and enjoy these places.”
The Downtown Phoenix area has boomed in the past decade, adding 106 net new restaurants since 2008, according to Price, and approximately 85 percent of the bars and restaurants are locally owned and operated.
“Downtown has evolved into a fully formed neighborhood which was not predictable 15 years ago,” Price says. “There’s a level of emotional (as well as financial) investment in the neighborhood, and events like this are great ways to showcase our Downtown spirit.”
Price expects as many as 20 bars and restaurants will participate in the week-long festivities, but he’s really excited for one in particular. When I put him on the spot and asked him to pick his favorite go-to place, he went with Gracie’s Tax Bar.
“It’s like picking a favorite kid,” Price says. But Gracie’s is his favorite concert pre-game spot and where he takes his out-of-town visitors. Plus, one of the added bonuses to having the Urban Ale Trail go for a week, is a bar like Gracie’s is able to participate. In year’s past, it couldn’t because it doesn’t open until late afternoon or early evening. This year, there is no typical 1 to 5 p.m. start and finish time. Businesses will be able to operate under their regular hours to accommodate customers all week. Call it a 2020 silver lining.