Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
What's that, you say -- aren't all open mikes equally hellish? Sure, buddy, and all aspirin are alike. The difference is that this one knows it's from hell and has two hosts, Matt Strangewayes (formerly of Windigo) and Page the Village Idiot, on hand to gladly fan the flames.
With his bizarre stage introductions, Strangewayes will try to convince you the young hopeful onstage has some fleeting connection with Starcastle and Foghat. In truth, most of the musicians who perform free of charge are members of heavy bands going light for a few songs, musicians passing through town or rock-rap hybrids of the slim or shady variety.
Sure, there's an occasional "earnest" folkie who makes it through the blockade, but to counteract them there's Page the Village Idiot with his self-penned paeans about Joe Arpaio, crystal meth freaks and people with bad hygiene.
One Tuesday night when things were winding down, we caught members of Big Blue Couch backing up a guy named Russel Walton on a free-form William Shatner tone poem called "Fire the Lasers." Beam us down, Scotty -- way, way down!
Any place with Guinness on tap is already worth its weight in gold, but this place has more than great beers to recommend it.
It has regulars, loud Irish ones, and more than enough traditional Irish and Scottish performers, including an occasional bagpipe player and a group of acoustic guitar wielders on Tuesdays called the Claire Voyants that plays mixed traditional Irish fare with Sarah McLachlan and Live covers. And make no mistake, people here are friendly indeed at the Dubliner.
All of this makes you feel like Tipperary ain't such a long, long way after all.
Located directly below the Golden West, one of Phoenix's last remaining downtown flophouses, Newman's Lounge could never be confused with Cheers or any other homey sitcom bar. Bleating cell phones, thumping karaoke machines and blaring techno music are conspicuously absent at this throwback to a bygone era -- when bars were designed for hard-core drinking and slurred story-swapping.
At Newman's, you're more likely to run into the Barfly types (you know, wizened regulars with wheezy coughs sporting barroom pallor and stringy hair perfumed with the fermented scent of booze and cigarette smoke). Ain't no Norms perched on barstools here -- and we seriously doubt anyone really wants to know your name, either. Maybe because of the divey, live-and-let-live ambiance, we recommend it as a viable atmosphere for uninterrupted confabulating, not to mention bullshitting and crying in your beer.
Readers' Choice for Best Bar for Conversation: Casey Moore's Oyster House
It's a good thing that libations master Serafino won't share his secret for making the perfect cosmopolitan. If he did, we'd soon be organizing happy hour for our fellow members at a 12-step program meeting.
This is the most exciting cocktail we've had the joy of sipping. And we do mean sip -- only someone with no appreciation for beauty would slam a drink like this. No, it's so much better to let the alcohol in slowly, to warm our tummies, our hearts and our heads.
Perhaps the secret's in the Grey Goose vodka. Could be the slender ice shards that slip from the sides of our martini-style glass, bringing pure, ice cold pleasure. Or maybe it's the way Serafino handles the silver shaker, deftly blending the cranberry juice for a liquid that's the palest pink of sunset.
The garnish of dried cranberries floating in the bottom of the glass adds to the experience. But the best part is at the end, when Serafino pours "just a little more" from the shaker, giving us a bonus like the leftovers from a fresh-blended milk shake.
Seems like some bars clang a bell, give it another shake and before you can say "Doc Otis Hard Lemonade," your happy hour is terminated. But at Faye's Green Room, happy hour lasts longer than most part-time employment.
This establishment has a happy weekday-afternoon-early-evening sorta deal. Mondays through Fridays, from 1 to 7 p.m., there is a "two-dollar-you-call-it" special on imported beers, as well as "dollar jumbo domestic" specials. Even this generous beer bonanza is exceeded by Friday's perks, such as an invitation to dine on two-fisted portions of a three-foot sandwich from Hogi Yogi on University Drive and enjoy the acoustic musings of Dead Hot Workshop's Brent Babb from 5 to 8 p.m.
With bonuses like these, it's not hard to imagine people having their mail forwarded to a barstool. Or make that two barstools.
Readers' Choice: Applebee's
Chef Michael DeMaria has raised the bar on bar food. His sophisticated upstairs bar tops off this high-class restaurant.
We're talking cushy sofas, overstuffed armchairs, a discreet but well-stocked bar and inspiring views of Scottsdale's spectacular sunsets. These are way-above-average bar bites, exquisite eats like potato-and-prosciutto-wrapped scallops with roasted pears and balsamic shallots; and crab-stuffed cannelloni on asparagus with horseradish tomato jam.
Tossed back with some Krug Grande Cuvee Brut champagne, it's the most elegant experience we can imagine, bar none.