Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
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.
Best Bar Food
Native New Yorker
several Valley locations
Best Bar For Conversation
2501 East Camelback
Best Bar To Be Seen
7316 East Stetson, Scottsdale
Best Bar To Watch The Game
Goldie's Neighborhood Sports Cafe
10135 East Via Linda, Scottsdale
Best Beer Selection
Timber Wolf Pub
740 East Apache, Tempe
Best Brew Pub
Four Peaks Brewing Company
1340 East Eighth Street, Tempe
Best English Pub
George and Dragon English Restaurant and Pub
4240 North Central
Best Gay Bar
710 North Central
Best Lesbian Bar
Ain't Nobody's Bizness
3031 East Indian School
7295 East Stetson, Scottsdale
Best Pool Hall
3227 East Bell
and 93 East Southern, Tempe
Best Cigar Bar
The Famous Door
7419 East Indian Plaza, Scottsdale
With its cushy, '40s-era floral-print-upholstered furniture arranged into intimate clusters, its warm amber lighting, and its generous cocktails, the Royal Palms bar is the most inviting place in town to go when your focus is on the person -- or people -- you came with. There's no dancing, and there's no "scene," although the people-watching isn't bad. The pianist supplies a soundtrack for that evening that's spirited but not noisy, so there's no need to shout over his arpeggios. And consider yourself lucky to snag the highly desirable little room to the left of the bar, the one with the cozy couches arranged around a roaring fireplace. This elegant spot, like the rest of the small bar, offers atmosphere in spades.
Don't dismiss McDuffy's just because it's popular and smack dab in the weekend chaos that is Mill Avenue (next to the Bash on Ash). Be wary only if you have a phobia involving multiple TV screens. (McDuffy's has 77 screens featuring every imaginable sports event on the planet.) The vibe is comfortable and festive, the beer selection is ample, and the chicken fingers are licking good. McDuffy's is the ultimate haven for Valleyites who can't get enough athletic support at home.
The bar is almost an afterthought at Pink E's; there's no question the place is all about billiards. In the middle of a shopping mall, with darkened windows and grunge music pounding inside, Pink E's draws a young bar crowd looking for that old-time pool hall atmosphere. More than 60 pink-and-green pool tables circle the bar, but the action is in the outer ring of tables, which are packed so close together you're likely to jab a neighboring player before the night is over. Some customers complain that a few tables lean to one side, but the pool sticks are relatively new, and the atmosphere is relentlessly hip. Slide three quarters onto a table, and you're in; Mondays and Tuesdays are free pool nights, with pool sticks renting for a mere $2 each. You won't have to wrestle for space with snooty professional players or wait in line behind a local tournament.
If there's going to be a long, long wait for a table -- and Pizzeria Bianco still packs them in on any night of the week, so that's a given -- then the time might as well be spent in the comfortable confines of the little building next door known as Bar Bianco. Housed in an early 20th century bungalow, this lovely wine bar's selection is short and sophisticated, and the mood manages to be at once chic and relaxed. Imagine being invited to a small party thrown by an elegant, gracious friend whose greatest concern is your comfort. (Okay, we don't know anybody like that either, but here's a good place to pretend.) There's no straining to hear your name called, and certainly no vibrating pagers; they'll just call the bartender from next door when they're ready for you. After sinking into an armchair for a while, it's easy to forget that you came here just to kill some time.
Amsterdam is the gay equivalent of Scottsdale's trendiest hot spots, where some of the most beautiful and body-conscious people in the city hang out. This cozy, dimly lit room is light-years away from the seedy, back-alley bars that characterize much of the gay scene in Phoenix. Amsterdam is popular with gay see-and-be-seens who want to drop their dimes in an elegant establishment, where one can hold a lover's hand without being harassed. The posh furniture, baby grand piano and classy character of Amsterdam give its patrons the distinct feeling of being, well, somewhere other than Phoenix. This bar has style, attitude and expertly mixed martinis -- not to mention the cutest boy bartenders around.
Punk's not dead; it's alive and well at this friendly little dive that caters to the Mohawks-and-combats crowd, the local greaser kids and all leather-clad types in between. Something about the old Damned poster on the wall, the bartender wearing a dog collar and the Jaegermeister on tap makes us feel at home when we wanna be sedated. A great jukebox, pool tables and super cheap drink specials are just a few of the things that keep luring us back to Blue Ox. An even better incentive is the occasional live show, be it punk and garage rock noise or down-and-dirty rockabilly.
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.