Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
The name Long Wong's is legendary, and the wings have little to do with why. The old location on Mill Avenue birthed some of the state's biggest and best bands, including the Gin Blossoms and The Refreshments. Okay, so the new Long Wong's at the Firehouse isn't on the old strip. And, sure, though the owners are the same, the people booking shows are different. There's still some magic in this venue, which claims a piece of the bulldozed bar's history and is committed to the credo that "Arizona still produces some of the best music in the entire US of A." We like some of the new traditions — like the "Fire Drill," during which any drink at the bar is $1 when a fire truck drives by with its lights on — and we're confident the joint will grow more homey as it ages.
So you've had a couple of drinks and someone hands you a microphone while a canned instrumental track of your favorite '80s song starts to play. You're ready to tear it up, but it's hard to feel like a rock star when you're following a bouncing dot across a TV screen. If you really want to feel like a superstar (or just a glorified drunk), get onstage at Blue Martini Lounge on a Monday night, when local cover band The Instant Classics will back you up. This solid, seven-piece band has an extensive repertoire of songs, from Lady Ga Ga and Pat Benatar to Bob Seger and Snoop Dogg. They even have a keytar player with a mohawk, so you can rock that Flock of Seagulls song. The audience at Blue Martini is generally very enthusiastic and supportive, and they'll cheer for you whether you burp into the microphone or not. And if you get up there to croon Sinatra's "My Way" and find yourself frozen with stage fright, never fear — there are three singers in The Instant Classics who'll be happy to make it sound like you're just, uh, harmonizing.
Before its unveiling in January, Revolver Lounge was hyped as one of the hottest new clubs to hit Old Town. Thanks to an air-conditioning eff-up on opening night, that literally was the case. The sheer number of tanned and toned bodies crammed inside the Western-themed Stetson Drive swanketeria caused things to get steamy. (Guess everyone had to cowboy up.) While the snafu was fixed double-quick, the place hasn't cooled off since. Formerly home to the similarly stylish SIX, it's just as in vogue as its predecessor. Conceived by owner Steve McDonald as an upscale dancehall with a Scottsdale twist (hence, antique chandeliers sharing space with posh couches), it's had packed weekends all year, hosted a SMoCA shindig in the spring, and welcomed pop star Rhianna on her 22nd birthday. Revolver's proved so popular, in fact, that Southern-style Shotgun Betty's opened up down the block mere months later. Those copycat cowboys!
There are plenty of delish cocktails we could recommend at Sens, Johnny Chu's always-fabulous Asian tapas hot spot, and we're delighted that they've finally built a bigger bar to accommodate our cravings. But if you're looking for a new twist on an old favorite, we humbly suggest the Hot and Dirty. It's got all the dirty martini basics — olive juice, vodka, ice, and a big, fat olive — but it's also got a nifty lil' addition that will blow your mind. Namely, shochu, which is ostensibly the Japanese version of vodka. At Sens, they infuse this liquor with the hottest of Thai chilis, so you get both hot and cold in every sip. If you're not a fan of hot and spicy, don't order this drink. But if you're willing to give the heat a try, just ask the bartender: He or she'll be happy to work with you by adding more vodka and less shochu. They may push the envelope at Sens, but they're not sadists.
These days, everybody wants to prettify the martini with rose petals or gold flecks or God knows what else. But what the hell is a martini except a way to convey the maximum amount of gin? And that's why we've been increasingly enjoying martinis at bars that would never dream of listing a martini as a house specialty. At an old-school watering hole like downtown's Seamus McCaffrey's, the focus may be on the Scotch, but we guarantee they'll pour you a perfect martini should you order one: icy cold, slightly dirty, and with at least three shots of gin. God bless Seamus McCaffrey.
During our probably-too-long drinking career, the bloody Mary had ranked near the bottom of our desired beverage list, hovering somewhere around a Smoker's Phlegm (Jägermeister and mayonnaise) in the gross department. That's until we hit up Carly's Bistro during its weekend brunch and ordered the eatery's version of the drink, which includes V8, vodka, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, pickle and olive juices, various spices, horseradish, and hot sauce. And, wow, Carly's version of this hair-of-the-dog remedy actually rocks, especially when a lovely bartender by the name of Ann makes the beverage.