The last few years have been big for the Valley's cocktail scene. Newcomers including Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour and Counter Intuitive are proof, but they're not the only indication of how much things have changed.
In a town where the restaurant bar often reigns supreme, there's even more good news. Phoenix's bars are now, more than ever, embracing cross-pollination of talent, staff, and ideas, and are doing their best to bring up the next generation of bartenders. Here are our 10 favorites.
Tiki drinks begin with rum, and there’s no better place to sip on rum in all of its varieties than at Downtown Phoenix’s aptly-named Rum Bar. Go and sit at the dark bar, and you’ll realize this spot's been serving excellent, unfrozen daiquiris and mojitos since before tiki cocktails popped up all over town. The bar also serves rum flights, a rum old fashioned, and Jamaican cigars — plus it stocks ingredients inspired by owner Dwayne Allen’s native Jamaica including mauby bark tinctures, horehound bitters, and Irish moss, all of which come from the island.
Counter Intuitive may be metro Phoenix's most interesting bar. The cocktail destination just released its fourth menu, called Agua Caliente Racetrack, which promises to dive into agave spirits. Plus, the team behind the concept is a hodgepodge of who’s-who around town, a merger of Phoenix’s veteran bar talent and some promising new names. Together they select some three to four dozen new cocktails to star on each new menu, which rotate (along with the bar's decor and food menu) about every six months. Counter Intuitive offers, without a doubt, some of best cocktail drinking in the Valley — and the bar recently changed its hours to open at 8 p.m. instead of 10 p.m. each Friday and Saturday, so you’ve got four more hours to belly up each weekend.
Crudo will turn four this summer, which gives the Arcadia neighborhood restaurant and cocktail bar some seniority compared to other spots on this list. The menu stays hyper-fresh with updates every season, but also retains the signature drinks that fans have come to love over the years. During happy hour, which occurs every day, you can get classics drinks like an air mail, bee’s knees, paloma, caipirinha, or an old fashioned for a measly $7 — and some salty, truffled popcorn or crispy pig ears for $5 to pair. With excellent quality and value, you can see why this spot remains one of the best all-around restaurants and bars in town — and if it means anything, the #tipsforjesus guy thinks so too.
When Barrelhouse shuttered in early 2015, the East Valley lost its only craft cocktail destination. And that's why it’s such a good thing The Ostrich opened this year under the leadership of charismatic bartender Brandon Casey. Before heading south, Casey spent time honing his skills at Citizen Public House in Old Town Scottsdale. From the get-go, the bar was a hit, aiming to serve Prohibition-style cocktails in the basement of the San Marcos hotel, where city-founder Dr. AJ Chandler is rumored to have once kept an ungodly amount of ostrich feathers. As time goes on, Casey says the bar will continue to branch out slowly from classics into more signature drinks..
The Clever Koi
Pairing cocktails with rotisserie chicken is easy. Or, at least, it’s gotta be easier than pairing cocktails with The Clever Koi’s one-of-a-kind take on Asian cuisine. But Joshua James, who's responsible for the spot's reputation as a cocktail destination, has always had a firm grasp on how to fold unexpected Asian flavors into his beverages. Since the restaurant first opened at the tail end of 2013, the cocktail menu has pivoted ever-so-slightly. The once large menu has been leaned out, helping to make the bar a haven for those seeking good tiki drinks. The spot also has one of the prettiest cocktails in the Valley. And good news: The East Valley won’t be missing out much longer, since The Clever Koi is set to open up its second location in Gilbert later this year.
The Bee's Knees
The lobby-adjacent bar in the trendy Camby Hotel may not have earned its stripes quite yet, but Bar Manager Libby Longlott certainly has. In fact, she’s holding it down for a rising number of female bartenders in Phoenix’s male-dominated craft cocktail scene (we're also waiting for Stephanie Teslar to open up her highly anticipated Honor Amongst Thieves later this summer). As the bar's name should all but guarantee, The Bee's Knees serves one of the freshest-tasting bee’s knees cocktails in town. The honey used in each drink drips slowly from a raw honey comb encased at the bar.
Okra Cookhouse and Cocktails
In some ways, Okra mirrors the quality and creativity that its team continues to be applauded for at their first concept, Crudo. But while Crudo aims to be classic, Okra aims to transport its drinkers with Southern cocktails crafted for modern times. The bar first made its mark by dedicating an entire section of the menu to juleps — the classic mix of bourbon, sugar, crushed ice, and fresh mint — which hadn’t been done before at any other bar in town. O.G. cognac versions bump up against mezcal juleps garnished with a pineapple leaf and a refreshing, bubbly version that swaps out Four Roses bourbon for champagne. Across from the julep list lies some new-school stuff, including a boozy, spicy take on the Orange Julius. The bar calls it the Julius Freezer, and it might be the most fun cocktail in the Valley.
The Parlor Pizzeria
The Parlor Pizzeria had good reason to worry, years ago, when Joshua James left the bar to open The Clever Koi in Downtown Phoenix. Luckily, James had a stellar mentee in Michael Allmandinger, and ever since, the spot has steered steady as a cocktail haven in the Biltmore neighborhood. It's been a destination for good, Italian digestifs — in fact, it boasted the town’s best collection. But Allmandinger left recently along with running mate Libby Longlott, so The Parlor's managers kept an eye out for a promising bartender, eventually finding one in Riley Jones, who'd spent time at Okra and Crudo. On the heels of a new summertime menu, we’ll see how things go — but whatever happens, The Parlor has a stellar track record and the right people to keep it on a good path.
Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour
Some might call Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour uptight, but it's also our city's best example of a full throttle cocktail experience — the kind you’d be more likely to find in cities like Manhattan and London. The immense menu, the brainchild of proprietor Ross Simon, is updated yearly. Called the The Book O’ Cocktails, it's meticulously illustrated with themes that vary from pop-culture and sci-fi to its current iteration as an ode to the early days of arcade gaming. The menu has space to include not only signature drinks created by Simon, but also nods to famous signature cocktails from world’s most trailblazing bars and classic drinks like infused-negronis, the world’s coldest martini, and sharable drinks like the Duck Bath Punch, a tiny ceramic tub filled with tea-laced booze and cucumber bubbles.
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Tratto/Pizzeria Bianco Town & Country
How could the bar program at Tratto, Chris Bianco’s new restaurant, already make a list of the Valley’s best cocktail bars? Simple: Barman Blaise Faber has been putting in work next door at Pizzeria Bianco all year and last. Just as Tratto chef Anthony Andiario has been slowly testing dishes for Tratto, Faber has been testing drinks at the bar at Pizzeria Bianco Town & Country. What was once a serviceable set-up for cocktail making has become a place for excellent and innovative drinks and a solid selection of bitter Italian amari. Plus, no one in town is doing fizzy, dry, citrus, and fruity drinks quite like Faber, and it's a refreshing, cold, and complex style that's perfect for summer.
Originally published June 15, 2015. Updated May 16, 2016.