As time pushes us forward, there is something especially comforting about the familiar past. Our legacy lies there, inviting us to revel in the good ol’ days when the clock ticked slower and friends lingered.
Flagstaff’s downtown was built upon its railroad, which still boasts tremendous activity, while iconic Route 66 wends a parallel journey to the tracks. Amid this history, Paul Joerger and Lynda Fleischer planted a ski pole to found Altitudes Bar & Grill.
After hanging out for years at a favorite bar and grill, the couple wanted to replicate the atmosphere.
“We had in our minds a place to meet friends and relax,” Fleischer said. “Our priority was comfort food made the best way possible.”
After a couple years of planning, the opportunity to locate in the notable Anderson Building arose. Originally housing the Warehouse Company, the structure was that of Chester Anderson, who brought Flagstaff’s south side to life via trade. Fleischer and Joerger continue that tradition at Altitudes Bar & Grill, celebrating 18 years of juicy burgers, cold beer and live music this summer.
The owners met at Arizona Snowbowl. Fleischer managed the ski team for 14 years, and Joerger acted as food and beverage director for the resort. They married on the mountain, so Altitudes’ ambience embraces the San Francisco Peaks.
“Everyone brings us their skis and other kinds of things,” Fleischer said, pointing at a row of skis, laid side by side like paneling along the lower east wall inside the restaurant. Some are even signed. Above, framed art, photographs and antique equipment lend honest kitsch to their past. Ski team members donated gear as technology advanced, while trophies and plaques boast of good seasons. Guests sit at the bar and point to family names. A case of ski passes, sporting the couples’ fresh faces in their snowy heydays, offers perspective.
Intrinsic to Snowbowl’s ski resort history were Gertrude “Jerry” Nunn, a U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame member, and husband Jimmie, who founded the Arizona Ski Museum. A striking photo of Jerry at 18 years old marks what Fleischer affectionately calls the Nunn’s shrine. Fleischer’s mentor, who was like a second grandmother to her daughter, passed away a few years ago, and Jimmie died in March. Jimmie donated vintage boots, wooden skis, leather bindings and other period kit for display in the eatery.
Burgers at Altitudes are legend, but the fish fry is the top seller and specially priced every Friday. The walleye, a local fish that can be caught in Lake Mary, is beer battered and crumbed in panko for a light bite. Served with fries, lemon, tartar sauce and coleslaw for lunch, the dinner meal also includes a salad.
The Southwest chicken wrap nestles sautéed red and green peppers, chilies and onions among crispy hand-breaded chicken chunks in a fluffy pita with a side of chipotle ranch dressing for dipping. The handful comes with a side of onion straws or salad to round out a filling plate.
The taco salad’s deep-fried bowl is handmade, alongside the scratch sauces and more at Altitudes, and filled with red or green chili, lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, olives and jalapenos. Salsa, sour cream and guacamole top the classic with additional chicken, steak or a smoked chipotle plant-based meat available.
Complement your meal with a selection of drinks worthy of a hearty cheers. Altitudes offers a full bar, including draft beers, local porter and seasonal ales. Daily specials, like a pound of wings and two tallboy PBRs, tempt passersby. Or refill a growler with Wanderlust brews or any draft beer for $5.
Train shots are the signature slam as staff T-shirts remind: “Trained to do shots at Altitudes.” The restaurant’s prime location near the tracks is both novel and noisy. Before the wayside horn was suspended, it was fingers-in-your-ears loud. Instead of complaining, the bar encouraged friends to take a shot when the train came through.
“We’re a stones’ throw away with a train every four and-a-half minutes and over 100 a day,” Fleischer said with a grin. “It’s a pleasure to be part of it and a great draw.”
Live music is an institution at Altitudes. On a typical Friday night or Sunday afternoon, the tunes float through the open door and envelope the patio. The indoor stage was expanded in 2013 with the back room remodel plus an enormous mural of the peaks by Ashley Kahus. Music kicks off again on Aug. 14.
“It’s always been a part of our business model to support local talent,” Fleischer said. “It’s an honor to work with them.”
With ample parking, a generous patio offering a view of the peaks plus new shade kites, it’s all about enjoying the mountain. As Altitudes’ reputation confirms, people come for the food, beer and music, and stay to become part of the story.