In the wake of Black Friday madness and family dinner drama, we could all use a strong drink. You can easily up the merry ante with some truly craft concoctions courtesy of the city's best bars and bartenders. While the mixology craze is saturating the scene in other places, it's an up-and-coming art in Phoenix. However, we can show you 10 of the top places in the Valley that stir, shake, and muddle to impress, whether you're trying to treat your own taste buds or maybe find a place to wow those persnickety in-laws.
Crudo Regardless of whether you're craving a classic cocktail done right or an inventive new drink to add to your imbibing repertoire, Bar Crudo can oblige you with craft spirits and handmade and infused syrups and tinctures. Mixologist Micah Olson curates the bar menu at the Arcadia restaurant with a culinary mind toward pairing flavors and creating balance. Drinks like the Tongue Tied ($11) transforms mezcal with strawberry, lime, lavender tincture and Luxardo Abamo Amaro into a smoky, tart masterpiece, while the Milano Gimlet ($11), made with gin, Fernet Branca, grapefruit, basil and cinnamon syrup, seeks to showcase the spirits heartier herbal qualities. Like the food menu, Crudo's cocktail menu strives to be the standard in town for all other menus to live up to.
Jade Bar When we said mixology was a big deal in other scenes, we meant it, and one of the biggest deals on the mixology scene in any town today is Ryan Magarian. Some of Phoenix's biggest cocktail contenders were trained under his tutelage when he came to Jade Bar the first time. Recently, he did a massive overhaul on Jade Bar's cocktail menu to accompany the renovation of the bar's interior at the Sanctuary resort. His mission was to create the iconic Arizona cocktail experience, and with crisp, clean, and refreshing drinks like Shiso Sexy ($14) with shiso leaves, vodka, Yellow Chartreuse, lime juice and chilled green tea, we certainly think he's on the right path.
Mabel's on Main This Old Town Scottsdale hangout has been a stronghold for the craft cocktail scene for the past four years. While the Aaron May-owned lounge and bar adopts the barkeep knowhow and den-like atmosphere of a Prohibition-era speakeasy, they ditch the kitschy gimmicks and stick to making delicious drinks. Much like Jade Bar, Mabel's has become a proving ground for bartenders around the city to strut their stuff and eventually go on to mix up their own menus elsewhere. The simple drinks usually pair three to five ingredients, proving that if you know a lot about combining flavors, you can do a whole lot more with a whole lot less.
Virtu Honest Craft This year Virtu Honest Craft exploded onto the Valley restaurant and bar scene with a lot of rave reviews. It even garnered a spot in Esquire's top new restaurants list. While chef Gio Osso's modern Mediterranean cuisine is a breath of fresh air in our food scene, mixologist Clint Spotleson is behind the bar ensuring that the same care and quality goes into the drinks as it does the dinners. From the perfect Sazerac ($10) to inventively sweet and frothy Dutch Blues ($11) with genever (a blueberry-sherry shrub), lemon juice, egg white, club soda and Boston Bittahs, Spotleson's menu has something for everyone.
Citizen R+D Speaking of speakeasies, if you're looking for a bit of that gimmicky vibe, without all of the kitsch, Citizen R+D is just the back alley/secret entranceway/ insanely limited seating joint for you. With Richie Moe as the brains behind the beverages, you're sure to get have an exposure to the cocktail world unlike any other. In the wild ride that is the Citizen R + D choose-your-own-adventure experience, that could mean gin distilled tableside from 100-proof vodka ($17) or a cocktail with pearl dust or a popcorn tincture or even a flame-mixed drink. Actually, getting into the bar (you literally have to walk on Citizen Public House's roof) is the hard part, but the mixology is a show worth the trek. Just make sure you read all the rules before entering.
Cowboy Ciao Cocktails don't always have to stand alone, and over at Cowboy Ciao in Scottsdale, head mixologist Alexa Bowler has kept the flavors of the new menu -- and the season in general -- in mind while mixing up the new menu. Take, for instance, her Pastrami and Rye Old Fashioned ($12), which uses the spice rub of the kitchen's pastrami short ribs to infuse the bitters for a flavor kick while contrasting those hearty, spicy flavors with maple syrup and sweet vermouth. Plus, any drink that utilizes a mustard-brined fried pickle as a garnish is good in our book.
Blue Hound Kitchen and Cocktails Next up on the brand-new cocktail menu train is Stephanie Teslar's culinary-minded program at Blue Hound in the Hotel Palomar. The new menu features a host of unique ingredients from berry gastriques, Eastern European spirits and liqueurs, and even a cherry-almond-infused tobacco smoked glass. The deconstructed three-shot cocktail called the TLC Sangrita ($11) is a must-try for the experience alone. The shots of Don Julio blanco, savory cucumber and spicy and sweet strawberry juices all work together to create a one-of-a-kind imbibing experience without all the mixing and muddling.
Last Drop Bar You can't really call yourself a big cocktail nerd in the Valley if you haven't geeked out over a Travis Nass cocktail at the Last Drop Bar at the Hermosa Inn. While the hillside surroundings are great for relaxing, the well-executed cocktails don't hurt either. Precision and balance is the name of the game at the Last Drop, with crisp flavors often based on classic drink recipes. The Bijou ($12), with gin, chartreuse, Cocchi di Torino vermouth and AZ Bitters Lab's orange sunshine bitters, is the ideal example of Nass' style of straightforward drink making. Plus, the ever-changing house specialty drinks and teetotaler-friendly mocktails make the Last Drop Bar a place to frequent.
Windsor Although Windsor is known to be an uptown hipster watering hole, that's no reason the bartenders can't stir up some tasty, drinkable cocktails between ironic mustache combs and bowtie adjustments. Known simply by numbers, the house specialty drinks ($9.50) are eight of the most straightforward yet deliciously creative craft drinks in Phoenix. The No. 04 is a mix of gin, grapefruit, hop bitters, and cardamom syrup, served over a large rock with citrus frozen in the center, that just blows us away with its unique flavors augmenting the gin, rather than trying to hide it away. Its whiskey cousin, the No. 63, offers quite a different experience with bourbon, grapefruit and honey syrup.
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Barrelhouse American Kitchen and Cocktails Get ready, Chandler, things are about to get a little weird. Over at the Barrelhouse, Kenta Usuzawa (formerly of Petite Maison and Tottie's Asian Fusion) made sure the cocktail menu is as robust and experimental as the food menu, using hip ingredients and unique flavor combinations. One such drink you'll just have to try to believe is the Good Goddess ($9). Featured on the menu's "bitter and herbal" section, the drink combines anisey aquavit and rosemary simple syrup with frothy egg white and a hint of celery, garnished with black pepper. It might sound odd, but it totally works.