BEST C&W NIGHTSPOT - 2006
The Herndon family has owned this landmark institution since 1975, when the late Brick Herndon and his wife, Gwen, sold almost everything they had to purchase the place where Gwen had worked as a waitress for eight years. Over the past 30 years, the family's turned Handlebar-J into the country capital of Phoenix, with the Herndon Brothers band (led by Gwen's sons, Ron and Ray) playing Wednesdays through Saturdays. Guest performers who've graced the stage include Jessi Colter, Kris Kristofferson, Hank Williams Jr., Toby Keith, Vince Gill, and Lyle Lovett. Getting ahold of the big country stars isn't hard for Handlebar-J, considering that Ray Herndon is a well-known Nashville recording artist who's played with Lovett's band for years. Handlebar-J has awesome steaks, too, but the best thing about the place is the unpretentious atmosphere. As one patron put it, "You don't have to be country to come in here, but you might be a little country when you leave."