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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Playground blends nostalgia, nightlife

    Gordon Bates
    Gordon Bates / Arizona Daily Wildcat The Playground Bar and Lounge on East Congress Street, in downtown Tucson, is a new lounge and bar that opened in January of 2012. The also has a menu of food available, and a rooftop floor arear suitable for groups to socialize.

    Have a beer at recess. Order a brown bag lunch off the menu. Sip on a cocktail that tastes like grape soda.

    At Playground Bar and Lounge, fond memories of our yesteryears are part of this downtown nightlife gem. Under the same ownership and located next to the acclaimed Hub Restaurant and Creamery, Playground’s inventive atmosphere is a bold take on Tucson’s bar scene.

    With an expansive interior, a modern and cozy outdoor area, and a rooftop for special events, Playground is radically different from most bars in that it appeals to the college demographic while maintaining an atmosphere of cool sophistication.

    But make no mistake — there’s no pretentiousness here. Rather, owner, creator and UA alumnus Kade Mislinski said he wants to see downtown Tucson become a district of its own, much like University Avenue or Fourth Avenue’s dominant bar scenes. A creative bar like Playground helps to create that niche.

    “There’s a psychological barrier underneath Fourth Avenue, with kids getting over to Congress,” Mislinski said. “The feeling of the businesses over there might be a bit different, and what we’re trying to do is be approachable.”

    Playground’s outdoor element, labeled Bar Cinema for its projector showings of childhood and film classics, a feature that provides the approachable feeling Mislinski describes. Muted, warm tones dominate the decor of this patio setting, which is filled with open-air fireplaces integrated into tabletops and artificial grass flooring.

    Playground’s interior is just as quirky, with exposed brick contrasting the polished elements of the bar and the expanse of north-facing windows. The bar, even when packed, feels accessible and social. And unlike most college bars, it’s possible to have a quiet conversation at Playground.
    Conceptually, Mislinski said he draws specifically on memories from his youth to inspire the themes of his endeavors.

    “Coming off more like ‘Cheers’ is more important than coming off like a high-end Vegas club,” Mislinkski said.

    This goal puts Playground in a class of its own by offering Tucson a different kind of nightlife — a budding new scene that may eventually rival Scottsdale’s reputation as a vacation spot, without the overly extravagant patina.

    From lava flows to a happy hour affectionately branded as “recess,” there’s no shortage of nostalgia at Playground. As a Tucson resident for 31 years, Mislinski said he has witnessed a number of trends flourish and wither within the community. From them, he said he has instilled a vision for what the city lacks and what he wants his creation to become. While he acknowledges UA cornerstones such as Frog & Firkin and The Auld Dubliner, he said he ultimately hopes to place Playground within those ranks of fond college memories.

    “I want it to be the happy hour spot, the after hours spot, or the spot on Fridays,” Mislinski said. “I want UA students to say, ‘You have to go to Playground when you come here.’”

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