More Bang for Your Buckaroo
Roadrunner Restaurant & Saloon kicks up dust with bull riding, dancing and dining
By Lauren Wise
“Are you guys ready for some Saturday night buuulllll ridin’!” a voice hollered over the loudspeaker system. The desert breeze swirled through the stands, causing dust devils to rise and fall throughout the cheering crowd at Roadrunner Restaurant & Saloon.
“Slick Phelps, ladies and gentlemen!”
The two-time world champion for the Indian National Finals Rodeo – and the youngest competitor that held the title at the age of 18 – shot out of the Roadrunner’s arena gates, rigidly rising and falling on the back of an agitated, cocoa-colored bull with white streaks on its flank. The South Dakota bull rider of Oglala Lakota heritage bobbed up and down on the bull’s back, red chap fringe soaring, before deftly jumping off and racing to the side. The bull snorted and pawed at the ground, making a beeline for Phelps before eyeing a nearby rodeo clown, flapping around in a blue and red costume, and flipping around to charge him. Finally, the massive animal trotted toward the pen, satisfied with its aggressive display. The packed crowd whooped and applauded the champion, who went on to win the Roadrunner’s Saturday night bull-riding grand prize of “cash and buckles.”
“People – as a football player, you get a contract. As a baseball player, you get a contract. As a professional bull rider, you show up, you pay to ride, and you don’t get paid unless you wiiiin!” the announcer drawled, crackling over the speakers like distant fireworks.
As one of the more popular nightlife spots in New River (and one of few live bull-riding destinations in the Valley), Roadrunner Restaurant & Saloon offers more than just the opportunity to see the sport of cowboys. It offers a mix of old and new traditions for a range of generations, including line dancing, mutton bustin’, weekly concerts and themed evenings – think “urban cowboy,” ’80s throwback or a Grease night serving burgers, fries and milkshakes.
“Where else in New River can you bring the whole family, watch live bull riding, listen to live music, let the kids run free and participate in events and experience different events all year long for the entire family?” asks Becky Mullins, Roadrunner’s events and marketing coordinator. “Roadrunner attracts people from all walks of life while still being very family-oriented.”
The Roadrunner is hard to miss: Just look for the trucks spilling out of the large dirt parking lot, lining the shoulders of New River’s Frontage Road. Next you’ll see the gigantic friendly roadrunner, peeking out from behind a massive saguaro cactus nestled near the front door of the sprawling, red ranch, lit up in red lights once the sun goes down.
Once inside, it’s easy to feel as if you’ve entered another world, even as an Arizona native. Everything feels Western vintage and accommodating and classic, like a cross between a rustic ranch experience and sports bar.
On the outdoor patio, patrons overlook the dance floor from hi-top picnic tables and cozy wooden stools – all within easy walking distance to the main attractions. The patio’s wooden ramp leads down to the tin- and wagon wheel-bedecked Roadrunner stage, which hosts local and national bands overlooking a large dance floor that, on a typical Saturday night, is packed with dozens of patrons dancing a two-stepping line to the Steve Earle song “Copperhead Road.” String lights float lazily from the roofs across the open space of the dance floor, throwing a soft glow down on dancers, diners and drinkers. Mountain peaks tower in the distance, painting a striking backdrop for Arizona sunsets. Saguaros, ocotillos, agave and mesquites cluster around the outskirts of the dance floor and patio.
Not far from the dance floor is the bull-riding arena, which is surrounded by several rows of risers, towering upward to provide a clear view of the action no matter where one sits. The MCs banter over the crowd, the rodeo clowns take turns dancing to the vast array of music, ranging from Johnny Cash to Rihanna to Eminem, and local fans whoop and record the bull riding on their phones, waving bandanas and cheering on local rodeo celebrities.
“I’ve been coming here since high school with my family,” says Jose Garcia, 32. “It’s such a diverse mix of people. Laid back, but there’s excitement and energy in the air from the bull riding. Half the time, I’m just here to eat and relax with friends. At those times, even if bull riding is going on, it’s not a distraction because it feels slightly isolated from the rest of the Roadrunner, even though it’s only a few hundred yards away.”
There’s tall urban cowgirls and cowboys, tourists and families, Valley motorcycle club members and bikers, couples on a date night and groups of friends ranging from twenty-somethings to over fifty. It’s the vibe of come-as-you-are, experience the art of bull riding and country dancing, and make some new friends, which is what owners Jeff Riggs and Jennifer Beeman were going for when they purchased and revamped the Roadrunner.
But one of the couples’ most driving forces was for the Roadrunner – which was first built in 1974 – to provide support to the community.
In 2012, Beeman and Riggs purchased the Roadrunner; Beeman had a bucking bull business, while Riggs had an accounting firm. The couple merged their business specialties, wanting to bring a great family gathering spot to New River: good food and drinks, music, bull riding entertainment – and bull-riding education and availability.
“Their goal was and continues to be helping kids grow – not only in their bull riding ability but also boost their confidence in life. They want the kids in our community to be respectful, contributing adults,” Mullins says. “The owners actually give back around $50,000 to various charities that host events at the venue each year.”
While the bull riding every Wednesday and Saturday is a prime attraction at the Roadrunner, there’s an array of activities just about every night of the week: open mic Wednesday, karaoke Sunday, sport games on the bar TVs, concerts throughout the week. There’s also mechanical bull-riding events, dance competitions, costume competitions (like the famed Dolly Parton look-alike contest) and kids’ activities like stick horse racing.
Indoors, the intimate tables, tucked-away corner bars and a narrow dining room with walk-up ordering and attentive service are ideal for small groups and date nights. And the menu. For lovers of traditional Southwest or country fare, you can’t go wrong.
“The food here is fantastic – it might be some of the best Texas-style chili I’ve ever had,” admits Lisa Wenger, a New River resident. “There’s weekend brunch, with traditional dishes like chicken-fried steak, biscuits and gravy, flapjacks. But then there’s items like cola-braised barbecue sandwiches, Friday Night Fish Frys and Saturday Night Steak Outs.”
If you have never experienced a bull riding event or are looking for a great spot to bring out-of-towners, the Roadrunner Restaurant & Saloon is your hunker-down spot.
“You never forget the Roadrunner after you visit it!” Wenger says. “It’s such an important part of the New River community, and there’s nothing quite like it in the Valley.”
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