Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
Michael's is one of the only restaurants in town where we don't mind if we can't get a table right away. Because while we're waiting, we can head upstairs and settle in at his high-class bar. It's almost like our own private dining area, plush with long cushy sofas, overstuffed armchairs, an incredible selection of wines and spirits, lovely views of Scottsdale's sunsets, and, if we're lucky, musical selections from our favorite lounge talent, David Grossman (he does a meltingly tender rendition of Kermit the Frog's "Rainbow Connection" and "It's Not Easy Being Green").
Plus, we can order selections from Michael's menu, like his always amusing amusé of Michael's "Silver Spoon" hors d'oeuvres, shrimp-stuffed rigatoni in Chardonnay tomato thyme sauce, seared foie gras on Sauvignon poached pear duck confit salad, or soy-glazed calamari on gingered crab risotto.
Hmm. Maybe we'll just table those dinner plans and stay right where we are in the bar.
BEST POOL HALL
3227 East Bell
BEST BREW PUB
Four Peaks Brewing Company
1340 East Eighth Street, Tempe
BEST DIVE BAR
The Coach House
7011 East Indian School, Scottsdale
BEST SPORTS BAR
230 West Fifth Street, Tempe
BEST BAR TO BE SEEN
7316 East Stetson, Scottsdale
BEST BAR FOR CONVERSATION
Zipp's Sports Grill
7551 East Camelback, Scottsdale
BEST GAY BAR
718 North Central
BEST LESBIAN BAR
Ain't Nobody's Bizness
3031 East Indian School
BEST BEER SELECTION
Timber Wolf Pub
740 East Apache, Tempe
BEST HAPPY HOUR
several Valley locations
BEST BAR FOOD
Zipp's Sports Grill
7551 East Camelback, Scottsdale
BEST PLACE TO DROWN YOUR SORROWS
5110 East McDowell
Requirements: Darkness. Wood wall coverings a plus; and a wood bar itself, better. A hard-to-define but present odor, either coming from the belly-up buddy next to you or the ancient, labyrinthine pipes also preferred.
Plus: a sense of history (in Phoenix, this means at least 25 years old). Draft beer, of maximum three flavors. A less than six-dollar pitcher. A cold-ass bottle of Bud for around two bucks. Affordable shots of your favorite amnesia. At least one pool table and one pinball game; shuffleboard and darts a bonus.
Finally, a jukebox featuring '70s rock, tear-in-my-beer country and eclectic oldies. And a good, take-no-shit bartender.
Mecca fills the bill. It's dark and smoky, old and wonderfully worn. The indoor/outdoor carpet was once burgundy, the patrons range from neighborhoody to weekend hipsters to indigent.
Having opened in 1933, it boasts the second-oldest continuous liquor license in the county. The paneled-cum-patchwork ceiling droops poetically in the right places, making the average Joe feel 10 feet tall. The bar has a seasick quality to it, seemingly designed by munchkins with a desire to add on, like a vortex house on the side of the highway.
And if you have to break the seal, the rest room features a green shower curtain tween urinal and toilet for moments of reflection.
Is it nostalgia? Or maybe the sing-along factor? Something about the music at TT Roadhouse (oh, and that hot poster of Brigitte Bardot in leather hiphuggers) sets the place apart from being an ordinary pub. Guinness definitely goes down more easily with a little Ramones, some Bad Brains, and a healthy dose of Misfits. And you can't help feeling camaraderie along with your buzz when everyone around you knows the words to the Johnny Cash song on the jukebox. Throw in some ska and reggae tunes and you've got the perfect soundtrack to your night.
It usually takes more than a discounted pint of cheap beer to lure us into an entertainment venue defined by its amateur status, but out of loyalty to our readers, we braved the karaoke scene. Bill and Twyla, the poster children for the axiom "there's someone for everyone," guide the full-capacity crowd to find their muse with karaoke tracks of everything from "Peggy Sue" to Peggy Lee. Here, the waiters wear cummerbunds, the men dance without coercion, and no one would dare try to sing Linkin Park. Twyla even teaches the Electric Slide during the breaks. Folks with an overly developed sense of cool should avoid the place, but for anyone out for a good, completely unpretentious great time, Bill and Twyla have room in their lineup for you.
Among the titty bars, porn parlors and machine shops of East Washington, it's hard to resist its charms. In the giant asphalt pasture that is the parking lot of the Stockyards steak house, you'll find the 1889. And once you reach its swinging saloon doors, you just might feel like you've stumbled from a dusty frontier street into a Tombstone-style watering hole, complete with card games, whiskey by the bottle and painted ladies.
Only if. But still, while everything outside is blinding heat and stark industry, inside the 1889 is an antiquarian's fantasy of Old West atmosphere. The back bar is a colonnade of cherry wood, mirrors and brass. A baroque glass chandelier hangs overhead. And below, fat guys in neckties drink Bud Light, and girls'-night-out types drink Burgundy by the balloonful. Maybe best known as a happy-hour spot for east-downtowners, the 1889 still earns its keep as the standard-bearer of the frontier-saloon mystique, which it flaunts with the bar's most famous trademark: the antique-style murals you find on every wall -- scenes of vaudeville starlets turning away suitors, coquettes in neck-to-ankle swimsuits retaining their virtue, and the like. Plus, it features one of the Valley's truest and fastest-vanishing bar experiences: coming in from the blazing sunlight and into a windowless darkness so total that you have to stand at the door for 30 seconds, let your pupils dilate, and then step up to the bar for the business at hand.
We all want to be rock stars, even if we frighten children when we sing in the shower, can't play an instrument, and have the stage presence of a banana slug. At Hollywood Alley's Sunday night open mike, you get your best shot to feel like a real live rock star, if only for three songs. Facilitator "Optimist" puts together a great slate of folks of all levels of talent. From a talent-free "wanna-be" to the occasional, fabulous "could-be," the evening is entertaining regardless. If you don't like one performer, just order a beer, count to 10, and it's all over. If you want your shot at 15 minutes of microcosm fame, this is the best place to do it. There's even a prize for the best act -- though rumor has it the award has more to do with Optimist's eyes than ears.
Slinging sauce since 1959, the Coach House is purportedly the oldest tavern in Scottsdale. In a city obsessed with places new and fabulous, how refreshing it is to find oneself in a charming, friendly, old-fashioned shit . . . er, watering hole.
Its homespun character rises in part from the collages lining the wooden walls, displaying the drunken-to-varying-degree visages of thousands who have passed through -- or out. And because liquor and literature are natural complements, a shelf full of paperback books sits within reach of the bar.
Singing the House's praises, perennial patron Greg mentions its "tight-knit group" of regulars. Indeed, when ex-bartender Tim enters, his name rises in a Norm Peterson-style chorus. The place is, above all, accessible. It opens at 6 a.m. daily, except on Sundays, when the sobriety of the Sabbath is observed until 10 a.m.
Though the calendar says the '80s are long dead, the decade of Sarah Jessica Parker, hair product buildup and economic recession lives on. (Hey, wait a sec . . .)
On Saturday "Retro Nights," Anderson's marks the spot for a handful of phenomena that left the building when Reagan did: $2.50 Long Islands, Duran Duran videos and Robert Smith-grade eyeliner. Yet somehow, this place revisits the '80s without getting cheesy, campy or Scottsdale-swanky. There's no attitude here -- just sweaty young people sporting everything from Nikes to neck spikes.
Yes, Anderson's attracts a faithful throng of somber goth kids, and it only makes things more interesting. As the lighthearted revival rises in the Main Room, the goth group mopes about the Elbow Room, weaving in and out of elevated cages and wondering how soon is now. The rooms' opposing moods make for a nice contrast -- Aerosmith vs. The Smiths, AC/DC vs. ABC -- but the overall vibe is so laid-back that any spot on either dance floor is fair play, whether you're doing the dance Safety, Neutron or Humpty; walking the dinosaur or walking on sunshine; dancing on the ceiling or dancing with yourself.
Oh, no, you're thinking. Not another theme night, like "Pimp-n-Ho" or "Ghettofabulous," where normally well-dressed crowds pull out the ol' do-rags and wife beaters, or the boas and stilettos. Well, you don't have to worry about that here. No, Devil's Martini, which gained recognition as the place with the hairdresser in the ladies' room, has "Carnival," when the champion "flair bartender" has often been seen flaunting his skills by juggling bottles Tom Cruise-style. Overall, Carnival's vibe is creative and flamboyant instead of trashy and stagnant. Finally, a theme night with class!
Since 1946, the Bikini Lounge has been the Valley's most unabashed tiki bar, and well it should be. It has everything that those Swingers-style posers would give their martini shakers for: the fake thatched roof over the bar, the bamboo light fixtures, the black-lighted batiks on the walls, and in the place of honor behind the bar, a giant painting of a topless hula girl. Or is it the Girl from Ipanema?
Then there are the added benefits: $1 Kamikaze shooters, $2 mini-pitchers of Milwaukee's Best, Roy Orbison and Tony Bennett on the jukebox (four plays for a dollar), and the knowledge that if you show up, tip well, and buy your tee shirts untested, you can still do your part to keep the posers at bay.
We love wine-tastings but are turned off by what often adds up to high prices. What's up with the $65 tab for a nice dinner paired with three-ounce pours? We'd rather skip the châteaubriand and go for another cork.
Sun Devil Liquors supports our penniless status, hosting tastings of approachable wines like Kendall Jackson for a low $5. But the best deal is every day in the basement, where a cozy brick-floored wine cellar awaits. Grab one of the few wooden tables, or take a seat at the bar and groove to piped-in jazz. Sample as much wine as you like, priced from just 50 cents to $3 each. Nibble on complimentary cheeses, or pack in your own snacks. Still too rich? There are free tastings every day from 3 to 5 p.m., from a more limited selection. Cheers!