When the Sun Goes Down, Exotic Nightlife Locales Light Up
Even if you're forced to settle for a staycation this year, it doesn't mean wasting away poolside. In fact, you can party like they do in L.A. or New York without ever leaving the Valley. Some local joints mimic the sights, sounds, and feel of nightlife found worldwide, whether it's tango and tapas in Scottsdale or Hawaiian-style mahi-mahi and Mai Tais in midtown.
Space is at a premium at bars in Manhattan, particularly smallish dives like subterranean speakeasy Jimmy's No. 43 or the West Village's 124 Rabbit Club, where many Gothamites retreat for a cramped repast of libations and conversation. A similar scene develops at the tiny, rectangular Wok Star Bar (7136 E. Shea Blvd., 480-483-1939, www.facebook.com/chopandwok), which typically is overflowing with urbanites fighting for elbow space during happy hour or on weekend nights. A variety of concert posters, band photos, album covers, and broken instruments adorning the place give it a rock 'n' roll ambiance not unlike the Bowery's legendary CBGB. And its odd thrift-store décor and the eerie red glow cast by kitschy paper lanterns — not to mention the neighboring Chinese food joint serving cheap noodles and egg rolls — offer a taste of funky New Yorker nightlife in the heart of North Scottsdale.
The warm breezes of early summer evenings blow through Hula's Modern Tiki (4700 N. Central Ave., 602-265-8454, www.hulasmoderntiki.com) when the staff opens the garage doors leading to the patio, which helps add to the tropical aura of the Hawaiian restaurant. Ditto for its sleek and chic mix of Midcentury Moderne style and South Pacific kitsch, including numerous movie posters for classic surf flicks like The Fantastic Plastic Machine, the five-foot tiki statues, and other bits of Polynesian ephemera decorating the joint. This extends to a drink menu that's filled with two-dozen specialty cocktails, including the Mai Tai (natch), the signature Dr. Funk (served in a Fu Manchu-inspired, head-shaped container), or the rum-filled Scorpion Bowl (typically served flaming). Be careful not to set your Hawaiian shirt on fire while taking a sip.
The flashing lights and cacophonous clamor of the pachinko machines near the front door of Scottsdale's Geisha a Go Go (7150 E. 6th Ave., Scottsdale, 480-699-0055, www.geishaagogo.com) compete with the sound of singing coming from the private karaoke rooms. Meanwhile, talented chefs slice away behind the sushi bar creating sumptuous sashimi and gorgeous-looking spicy tuna rolls. If that isn't enough of a Japanese feel — a pastiche of the country's numerous izakaya and karaoke bars — Geisha's drink pixies can pour you a snifter of sake or some ultra-potent shochu. They also can whip up any of six signature cocktails inspired by the Asian isle — including the Hello Kitty, Pikachu, or Harajuku Lover. Be sure to offer a hearty arigato afterward.
The swank dance parlors and colorful clubs occupying Miami's night scene are considered some of the best after-dark destinations in the world. And it's no surprise, considering such upscale establishments offer weekly performances by world-class turntablists, pimp sound systems, million-dollar décor, and a packed house composed of both celebrities and young-and-beautiful types. Same goes for haute Old Town hotspot The Mint (7373 E. Camelback Road, Scottsdale, 480-947-6468, www.themintaz.com), which differs from such top-shelf Miami danceterias only in the fact that it's located in Scottsdale instead of South Beach. Owners Les and Diane Corieri spared little expense in creating the posh adult playground, whether we're talking the high-tech touches like a crystal and LED cube over the bar or the illuminated rafters crisscrossing the space above the dance floor. Spend the night dancing and drinking here and you'll feel like a million bucks.
When five o'clock rolls around in factory towns or other hardscrabble East Coast cities, many members of the blue-collar brigade typically knock off work and knock back something strong at nearby watering holes. It's much the same at the Ice House Tavern (3855 E. Thomas Road, 602-244-1179, www.icehousetavernphx.com), where you can sit shoulder-to-shoulder with deliverymen, industrial fabricators, or other salt-of-the-earth drinkers downing pints of PBR or Leinenkugel. Ice House's well-worn digs evoke some comfortable East Coast dive, with its threadbare carpet, den-like décor, and pennants for teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers and other working-class favorites. Views of Arcadia Ice's adjacent rink next door afford the chance to watch hard-hitting hockey games in progress while chuckling with your new buddies when some player gets body-checked against the plexiglass.
Taking a guided tour through some of the finest wine cellars of France's Bordeaux region, Italy's Tuscany province, or any other far-flung European destination will cost you a pretty penny. Paying a visit to the darkened cellar-like oenophile paradise of Kazimierz World Wine Bar (7137 E. Stetson Dr., Scottsdale, 480-946-3004, www.kazbar.net), however, will set you back only a tank of gas. Walls covered with rough-hewn stone and faux casks give Kar Bar the musty atmosphere of a cellar beneath a medieval castle where the local nobleman has stashed his wine. As does the voluminous vino from behind the bar, which features more than 350 varietals from around the globe, including hard-to-find wines from throughout Europe. Flip though its 75-page menu or consult with its resident cork dorks, eager to recommend a crisp Louis Latour Chardonnay from France or perhaps a glass of crimson Bründlmayer Saint Laurent from Austria.
To get inside the ultra-exclusive L.A. lounge The Edison, patrons must navigate the twists and turns of a darkened alley and look for a door painted black (cue the Rolling Stones). Getting to the equally swanky MercBar (2525 E. Camelback Road, 602-508-9449, www.mercbar.com) is almost as convoluted a process, requiring one to wander around the mostly vacant Esplanade in search of its entrance marked with a small gold plaque. Once inside the shadowy speakeasy-style drinkery, you'll be rewarded with high-end (and high-octane) handcrafted cocktails, nosh offerings like artisanal cheese plates, and astounding martinis.
Next to imbibing, the preferred pastime is people-watching, as an eye-catching cross-section of both hipsters and well-heeled types congregate here while DJs spin downtempo tracks and ambient house. Just memorize its location, in case you'd like a return visit.
Get the Arts and Theater Newsletter
Weekly information keeping you in the know when it comes to the Phoenix art and theater scene. Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events.