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 jalapeño 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.

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 jalapeños, $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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