Exploring Phoenix: the University Club
I confess. I have a leisure time activity, a favorite hobby. I love to explore the unique, the quaint, the curious in my new hometown. Two absolutely delightful lunches at the University Club of Phoenix inspired me to share this captivating restaurant with my neighbors and literary friends here in the Valley of the Sun. Dining here reminds one of the Orient Express somehow, without the train, of course. This small but elegant establishment in the very heart of central Phoenix is a welcome start to the day for breakfast and a delightful retreat from the hustle and bustle for lunch and special events. The club extends reciprocal hospitality to members of other private clubs and has excellent access and service for the disabled. As a very small venue, the staff is able to lavish care on all their clientele. It is one of the very few private dining city clubs left here.
I’m still exploring, so with the requisite letter of introduction in hand, GPS plugged in and in the company of a trusted friend, native to the area, I set off to visit. I was most pleasantly surprised by this charming 1940’s style club located in the Alvarado Historic District. If you go, don’t miss a short walking tour of the district with its’ posh older homes, a reminder of times long gone.
I hear that it’s raining again in the SF Bay Area. With frequent, short and inexpensive flights from SFO to Sky Harbor, one could enjoy breakfast at the Marines Club, jet to Phoenix, soak up some sun, have lunch at the University Club and still get back to SF in time for happy hour. Just a hint, mind you.
The UCP was founded in 1965 and moved to its current location across from the Heard Museum in 1970. The staff takes great pride in preserving the atmosphere of elegance and privacy despite rapid growth and constant change in the city. The menu is extensive, far beyond what one would expect from the size of this jewel. I’ve had the blackened salmon salad and the eggplant and portabella parmigiana and both were both superb. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the service must rival any premier restaurant in the city. At any rate, it’s memorable.
The club can seat 150 guests throughout its several dining rooms. It also has a lovely garden area which can enable a guest to forget being in the center of the fifth largest city in the U.S. I was definitely made to feel at home, even doted on, my very first visit. To top off the experience, prices were modest and you just won’t find such in central Phoenix.
Oh yes, did I mention they still serve desserts created in their kitchen the old-fashioned way? Our server brought the masterpieces out for our selection. The atmosphere is mid-century elegant and uncomplicated which succeeds in being very restful if you’ve been touring the downtown attractions. If you’re not a fan of the sweet stuff, there is also a cozy little bar decorated like a pub that one might imagine comfortable for university professors and staff in the days before televisions became wall decor.
My lunch companion, Bonnie Walker, remembered the club well and was delighted that the “parlor” had not changed. She regaled us with stories of times past when she taught at the university. She even entertained us, playing the grand piano beautifully after the lunch service closed.
It’s definitely a place to linger, although the dining room is open only for breakfast and lunch. It’s also the kind of place that leaves you feeling grateful for the experience….so grateful in fact, you just might want to join.
The UCP offers special buffets that feature holiday menus, a children’s table with some favorites and the pastry chef’s special dessert station. The UCP is a private club, in the sense that one becomes a member, but it’s available to members of other clubs on a reciprocal basis and to customers for special events such as weddings, anniversaries, romantic private dinners, rehearsal dinners, memorials, awards ceremonies, family reunions and professional meetings.