by Jessica Suriano
Once known as the Reilly Funeral Home, Reilly Craft Pizza and Drink has found a way to maintain the historic building’s architecture yet drastically change its function, and now there’s nothing lifeless about it.
Reilly Funeral Home stopped operating in 1990, and by fall of 2012, brothers Tyler and Zach Fenton reimagined the site into an Italian restaurant and bar that juxtaposes a modern menu and décor with the familiar structural style of the existing building, located at 101 E. Pennington Street.
“Our building was built in 1906 and had incredible features we knew we wanted to preserve and highlight,” Tyler says. “The building was the catalyst for the whole project. We loved everything about it so our motivation was to respect the history as much as possible, and to add as little as needed.”
Tyler, who is the restaurant’s head chef, has curated artisan lunch and dinner menus, as well as expansive cocktail, beer and wine options. He said he and his brother chose to build a pizza restaurant specifically because Tucson was the ideal place to push the boundaries on a type of food most people are comfortable with. Zach is charged with the financial side of the business.
The lunch and dinner menus include small plates and salads, ranging from $6 to $16. For lunch, patrons can order sandwiches or pizza as the main meal. All the sandwiches exude Italian and Mediterranean flair, with ingredients such as eggplant, Italian cold cuts, fontina cheese and plenty of basil. Five sandwich options are priced at either $11 or $12.
The 11 pizza options are what most customers visit for, however. Fresh ingredients and contemporary recipes make skipping the usual delivery-style pizza a no-brainer. Ranging from $12 to $16, different pizzas include ingredients such as fennel sausage, truffle cheese, salami, prosciutto and eggplant. The pizzas are smaller than what some might be used to, but you get what you pay for when it comes to the quality of the ingredients.
“Outside of pizza, our single most popular item would be our Brussels sprouts,” Tyler says. “You can easily glance around and see an order on nearly every table. We have converted a lot of Brussels sprout haters to lovers! We have some newer dishes that are catching on, but I’m not sure if anything will ever surpass the Brussels sprouts.”
Dessert options during lunch and dinner times include a “tres leches” tiramisu in a jar ($8), chocolate budino (an Italian custard) with salted caramel and toffee ($9) and olive oil cake with whipped cream ($8).
Other features of the building that speak to its modernity are its two different spaces for drinks – the Beer Garden and the Tough Luck Club. The restaurant’s Beer Garden was once the space for the funeral home’s hearse garage, but now provides the perfect space for relaxing with friends at large, communal-style tables and chatting underneath Tucson’s ever-present sunshine and clear skies. The Beer Garden serves 28 beers and eight wines on tap. The openness of the sky above, expansive green wall of foliage surrounding it and simple string lights that hang above the tables make this space ideal for any group to unwind.
The Tough Luck Club is a smaller bar in the basement beneath the restaurant, and offers a different atmosphere for grabbing a drink with some company. Stone walls, wood paneling on the bar, no windows, and oversized, black leather booths create a more nighttime mood to the space, but an inviting one nonetheless. Tyler said the basement was the phase of construction for which he was most excited.
“We knew we wanted to do a bar, because a cocktail bar in the basement of an old funeral home was too unique to pass up,” he says. “So, much like the restaurant, we kept the natural exposed foundation, and tried to add as little as possible to create a distinctive space. The beverage program in the basement gets to be as creative as they want, and we don’t serve food down there so the focus is just on the drinks.”
The interior of the main dining area when customers first walk in the door contains the building’s original brick on the walls, the original hardwood floors, and the original arches and columns that give the space its picturesque character.
The transformation from Tucson’s mortuary to one of its most sought-after pizza and pub hotspots is an innovation as unique to the Tucson as the restaurant space itself.
Reilly Craft Pizza and Drink
101 E. Pennington Street