The three-month-old creation of veteran bartenders Damian King and Grant Naugle, both 34, the Tower Tavern is a laid-back neighborhood sports bar. It occupies the western corner of the rambling brick building at 31st Street and Oak, a structure that predates the Pendergast era. Over the past century, it's been home to a drugstore, a chocolate factory and Robert Salsman's popular R.T.'s Deli. In 2003, nightclub owners Chris Seferyn and Vince Rook gave the interior a sleek makeover for the ill-fated Café Trocadero; when the Troc — which I loved — folded, it became the short-lived Dragonfly Grill.
"Those concepts were too upscale for 31st and Oak," says the smoky-voiced King, who had workers rip out Trocadero's fussy blond-wood bar and replace it with a macho steel-and-glass construction by Aaron Ray (who's better-known for building custom choppers than designing saloons).
King and Naugle installed 14 TV sets and have tuned all of them to sports stations. They've stocked the bar with good beer and booze and have wisely hired 32-year-old chef Tim Daggid (formerly of the Kona Grill) to come up with a casual menu that puts a creative (but not too creative, you know?) spin on bar food. Daggid's spicy buffalo wings are phenomenal, and my friend Bob swears by the hefty, meat-filled stromboli. Daggid had some experience in the kitchen of a gourmet pizza joint in Colorado, so he's also baking six luscious kinds of pie; I'll swear by the Philly-steak version.
To jump-start lunch business, King and Naugle are offering a $7 weekday deal: two slices from any of those pizzas and a small salad. It's a great deal and you can hang out with affable bartender Nick Rochelle. Many years before he worked with King at the Granfalloon, Rochelle spent some time at the old Bristol Bar & Grill on the Plaza — where he worked with King's mom, Shayla. These days, you'll find her a few blocks north of the Tower Tavern, at Lidia's.