Best Place To Play Scrabble 2001 | The Thirsty Camel at the Phoenician | Bars & Clubs | Phoenix
The fairly nerdy game of Scrabble is riding a chic wave at the moment, but some of us have been playing all along -- at home, where no one but our closest friends and family could scoff and roll their eyes at our linguistic exhibitionism. But no more. We're outing ourselves, taking our boards to public spaces, unafraid and (dare we say it?) proud. Playing the game in a coffee house has become a bit of a cliché, but the new wave in Resort Scrabble has bolstered our confidence in public spelling. And there's no better place than the Phoenician's beautiful bar, where you can set up your game on a table outside on the terrace, order a cocktail or a frappuccino and enjoy the scenery. The view is great, the people-watching even better. And as you eye the other patrons of this lovely bar, waiting for your turn, you'll be stared at in return. Your Scrabble game will be met with much curiosity. Enjoy the attention and be proud.

Gosh and Begorrah, isn't this where you'd expect to find great hip-hop? At a strip-mall hangout with an Irish name on the west side of town? O'Mally's has long juggled its two identities: sports bar by day, dance club by night, shifting musical genres depending on the day of the week. A year ago, O'Mally's gave hip-hop a shot on Tuesday nights, and the results have been explosive. The Tuesday night freestyle contests -- in front of packed, hyped-up crowds that form circles around the competitors -- have been so fierce that at least one freestyler had to be carried out of the place when he took umbrage at a rival diss. And the club has become home to Kitch Kitchen, probably the Valley's most charismatic MC and surely the best rapper ever to play point guard for ASU's women's basketball team.

Dark and sultry like a Sinatra song, the Famous Door practically beckons you to pull up a barstool and blow smoke rings toward the bass player. Cigar smoking is almost expected in every dark corner of this swank supper club, with waiters ready to serve -- alongside a chilly martini -- almost any cigar brand you can name. Stogies are burning at the dinner table, at the bar, and all around the jazz performers who play in a haze every night after 8 p.m. Instead of a quiet, smoke-filled cigar room, the Famous Door makes its entire establishment a pseudo-cigar bar.

Added extras like a reverse happy hour every Thursday from 11 p.m. to midnight and a Sunday night jazz workshop have made the Famous Door a happening hangout for the have-a-Havana crowd -- for men both young and old and a surprising number of women.

If you can't afford to live up at Pinnacle Peak in some of the world's most spectacular desert settings, you can at least afford to rent the lifestyle for a few hours. It's easy, actually: Simply head up to Acacia, the Mobil Four-Star restaurant at Four Seasons Resort. Grab a table on the patio and enjoy cocktails in an oasis framed by the 40 acres of towering saguaro, ocotillo cactuses and sagebrush that are Acacia's backyard. Sure, you could grab a seat at the adjacent patio bar, too, but then you would miss out on a fine dinner to follow: Southwestern cuisine like tortilla lobster soup, sautéed jumbo sea scallops with wild forest mushroom ravioli in braised fennel saffron cream with vanilla-bean infusion. Or the roasted California squab laced with salsify and applewood-smoked bacon gratin, served on shallot sage jus. Cheers.
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No soggy mozzarella sticks or oily potato skins here. Four Peaks offers imaginative appetizers like Arizona chicken rolls (pastry-wrapped chicken, cheese and chiles) and spanakopita (phyllo dough stuffed with spinach, cheese, pine nuts and dill). The soups are homemade, and the salads come with a distinctive sweet jalapeo dressing. Other too-good-to-be-bar snacks include the Bleu Light Special Burger, topped with an amazing amount of tangy bleu cheese; the portabella veggie beer-bread sandwich; and the zippy, slightly sweet barbecued-chicken pizza. And of course, for a Peak experience, don't order any of the above without one of Four Peaks' home-brewed beers. That would be as tragic as missing the food.

Courtesy of Roaring Fork
The terrific food at Roaring Fork is no secret -- chef/owner Robert McGrath was named this year's Best Chef in the Southwest by the James Beard Foundation. But fewer folks know about his J-Bar, smack dab in the center of the restaurant and serving a killer, low-cost happy-hour menu Mondays through Saturdays from 5 to 7 p.m. Food and drink specials are such a deal, they're available at the bar only, and no to-go orders are allowed. How can we resist such high-cuisine bargains as chipotle-and-honey-glazed crisped chicken wings ($5), a blackened tuna BLT ($6), Amy's Texas-style queso (Velveeta with sausage, onions and jalapeos, $5) or mahi-mahi tacos ($5)? Those who know, though, go for the "Big Ass Burger," a 12-ounce monster topped with green chiles, longhorn Colby and smoked bacon served with French fries for just $6. It's all the tastier with a half-price margarita; our favorite's the Huckleberry, blending a frozen drink with huckleberry purée for just $3.25. J-Bar's our choice for upscale noshing, bar none.

Enough with the overdone beverages featuring four kinds of rum, six kinds of juice and a sugar cane swizzle stick. And ditto for those so-called "martini" menus, on which every imaginable concoction is called a martini, even when licorice or chocolate is involved. And don't even get us started on the horror of blue drinks. We're looking for something tasty, easy to drink, strong (but not noticeably strong), not out of a can or a mix, and not too gender-specific (scotch is such a guy thing, and cosmos are just too Sex and the City). Given these exacting criteria, then, the perfect drink is the Merc Bar's version of a Caipirinha. It's a refreshing, rum-based cocktail, simple and deceptively strong, just a little sweet, and flavored with lime juice and an abundance of sliced limes. It's just a matter of time before this lovely indulgence is co-opted by an annoying sitcom character, so enjoy it now while it's still kind of cool.
Mermaids, manicures and specialty martinis usually don't mix with the aesthetic of a dimly lighted, seedy dive bar, but the Emerald Lounge pulls it off with panache every Monday night. That's when the Emerald, known for its nightly live music, strikes up the song of Lorelei and transforms itself into "The Mermaid Lounge." The decor is strictly Polynesian-a-go-go: multicolored strands of lights, hula girls, tiki gods, mermaid collages, kitschy ashtrays and vintage tablecloths. Add a personal manicurist doing $5 nail jobs, a live DJ, and a friendly hostess/bartender serving colorful martinis that go down smoother than ice water on a blistering Arizona afternoon, and you've got the Mermaid Lounge -- the ultimate evening for girls who wanna have fun and be pampered at the same time.

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