Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
Confession time: When Brannon Kleinlein announced he was reopening his bygone venue Last Exit, we had a few doubts. Not about the man himself, since the 39-year-old is dialed into the Phoenix music scene, but rather the location he was moving into. Not only is the cozy music venue located along a confusing one-way stretch of Central Avenue, it's also in the heart of a dodgy 'hood south of downtown Phoenix. Both issues seemed to vex patrons during its previous identity as The Ruby Room and probably aided in the rock dive's untimely demise. None of this mattered to Kleinlein, however. After all, his old Tempe venue — the original version of Last Exit — also was off the beaten path, but people always seemed to find it. (In fact, it probably would still be around had he not gotten a bad case of burnout in 2009 and decided to sell the place.) Such has proved to be the case with Last Exit's reincarnation after Kleinlein fixed the joint up, improved parking and security, and began getting the word out via social media. Scenesters and music gourmandizers alike have found their way to shows, especially those involving popular and tastemaking touring and local bands. Crowds have even shown up for concerts in the middle of the workweek, which Kleinlein cites as a good sign things are going well. "Weeknight shows in this town are very tough," he says. "So if you can get 50 people out, then you're definitely doing good."
A few years ago, the elegant but crumbling old El Chorro — a Paradise Valley icon — was completely redecorated. On the inside, it doesn't look the same, but one thing no one changed was the view, and the patio is and always will be the best place to enjoy El Chorro. Another constant: You're here for the drinks, not the food. That is, unless your server will sneak you a basket of El Chorro's signature sticky buns. Either way, the view of the north side of Camelback Mountain is breathtaking. And the cocktails aren't bad, either.
Scottsdale's cocktail lovers have been singing the praises of this tiny, semi-secret spot above Citizen Public House since it opened in 2011. Yes, the rules are strict and the prices steep, but then again, where else can you get a cocktail served in a freshly cracked coconut? And don't even get us started on the tableside gin or the flaming artistry that mixologist Kris Korf will perform with Jameson. While the cocktails are more than enough to keep us coming back — at least as often as our wallets will allow — the attraction is about more than just that. We love interacting with the knowledgeable staff who are always more than happy to help you select the right drink. Even the hulking doormen are pretty chill, as long as you follow their rules. You'll probably have to wait to get inside and wait to get your drink, but if you're looking for a cocktail experience that will actually live up to the hype, we promise it will be worth it.
It's a self-explanatory concept — a shot of well tequila, chased with a half-shot of leftover pickle juice. It may sound gross or weird, but the briny, sour pickle juice completely cuts the burn of the tequila (and masks some of the not so high-end flavor). If you're still not sold, think of it this way — you'd typically pair a tequila shot with lime and salt, unless you're trying to be European and use orange and cinnamon. The lime is sour; so is pickle juice. The salt is, well, salty; so is pickle juice. More commonly, you'll find picklebacks, which are pickle juice and whiskey and very hip in New York City right now, but we love Palo Verde Lounge for putting a Southwestern twist on this trend. Whether or not they knew it was a trend when they came up with it is anyone's guess, but the low-brow shot served at this dive in Tempe is still the best, regardless.
Chef Michael O'Dowd may have stepped down from Kai, Arizona's most decorated restaurant, but he didn't entirely leave the theatrical side of dining behind when he opened his own restaurant, Renegade by MOD, this spring. And while the "American West"-inspired eats may not be the most accessible offerings, we're happy to belly up to the restaurant's spacious indoor-outdoor bar, where drinkers will find a menu of amusing cocktails courtesy of talented house mixologist John Woo. We particularly enjoy the signature Renegade Punch in a Bag. The hot pink concoction of rum, juices, and champagne comes, as you might guess, in a bag. It's a little out there for sure, but if we close our eyes and let the strong booze work its magic, it's almost like we're transported to New Orleans' Bourbon Street for a night of hard partying. Plus, for whatever reason, the floppy bag makes us suck it up all the faster. And it has a Kool-Aid ice cube. How can you not love that?
Wake up! It's a new day — and last night seems to be ruining it with the gift of a massive hangover. Never fear, Dick's Hideaway is here to smack the sick right out of you. Dick's take on the classic brunch cocktail is kicked up with a hefty dose of spice in the tomato juice mixture prepared special by the chefs at Dick's sister restaurant, Rokerij. Added to Pinnacle vodka and garnished with lime, pickled asparagus, and celery, this Bloody Mary is in a league of its own when it comes to flavor. But the best part of this Bloody Mary experience is the shot of beer to chase the spicy concoction. It totally balances out the heat and eases you back into the normally functioning world, being the good cop to the cocktail's bad-cop cure.