BEST PICKUP BAR 2003 | Bikini Lounge | Bars & Clubs | Phoenix
Benjamin Leatherman
Crowded on Friday and Saturday nights, as you push your way through the Bikini Lounge toward the bar, you'll find a mix of pseudo-intellectual artists, wanna-be underground college students and hooker-chic women and men who look like truck drivers. Tiki torches line the back walls around the deep-seated booths and the pool table in the back while the jukebox roars anything from '50s doo-wop to early '90s hip-hop -- it's all smooth, and it's all good for the hook-up train. The place is noisy and loud, so most of the "picking up" here goes on in the parking lot or out on the street in front of the bar, but the "come hither" looks from the lip-glossed, doe-eyed chicks remain inside.

Readers' Choice for Best Bar for Conversation: Copper Canyon Brewing & Ale House

It takes more than scantily clad gyrating women to make a good strip club. Try finding one with a variety of great music, a low cover charge and good drink specials. Add friendly waitresses, clean rest rooms and, oh yeah, beautiful dancers and the list gets pretty short. The Bourbon Street Circus has all of this and more, which puts it at the top of the list for local gentlemen's clubs. Have a cold drink and admire the scenery while you're seated in the dimly lighted background near one of the two stages or, if you have the cash, in the champagne room. Lovely ladies will politely ask if you'd like a dance, and if you have the interest (and money: $8 before 7 p.m., $10 after) your senses will be in for a treat.

Call it novel inspiration: On many a sweltering Havana day, Ernest Hemingway kept cool at his favorite watering hole, La Bodeguita, with a steady supply of ice-cold mojitos. Not surprisingly, the famous Cuban concoction helps beat the heat here as well -- if it's good enough for the literary legend, it's good enough for the parched souls of Phoenix. A tall, refreshing glass of rum, fresh mint, sugar, lime juice and soda, the mojito's been popping up on drink menus around town. But let the drinker beware. While it's hard to screw up cocktails such as gin and tonic or whiskey sours, there is absolutely a right way and a wrong way to make a mojito. And Merc Bar -- a dimly lighted, low-key-chic lounge discreetly located in the Camelback Esplanade -- does the drink justice, keeping it tart but sweet, strong but slurpable.

Readers' Choice for Best Happy Hour: Applebee's Neighborhood Grill & Bar

Feel the passion, dust off those dance shoes and drop into the hottest gay Latin club in the Valley. Whether you are looking to cha-cha or for muchachos, this club spins dance hits that are en fuego. The mostly male patrons (although there are a number of trannies that work and hang out here) are hot, hot, hot! If you're seeking Ricky Martin or Ricky Ricardo, this is where he'll be. Paco's also features weekly drink specials, Thursday night CD release parties and drag shows that keep the music going until the break of dawn (well, 1 a.m. anyway). Find that hot Latin lover and then hit the mirrored dance floor for some salsa or merengue. Maybe you'll want to stay by the bar and do some body shots; whatever gets your blood boiling goes here. All we can say is that Paco Paco is muuuuuy rico!
On Friday nights, the Sky Lounge in downtown Phoenix turns into a virtual Buena Vista Social Club, where young and hip Latinos throughout the Valley lounge downstairs and gyrate upstairs.

Afro-Cuban salsa jammers Cascabel (that's "rattle" to you) liven the atmosphere for the drinkers -- and themselves -- with their unique blend (for Phoenix, anyway) of Latin jazz, samba and Gypsy swing. Their stage sits literally outside of the club, acting as a sort of musical barker to Washington Street cruisers.

Upstairs, the place is pure salsa nirvana. The balcony is great for breathers and the back bar is jammed with cool alter-Latinos. The room routinely rocks, but not until 1 a.m., when DJs spin nonstop Latin techno-pop and rock en espaol for a packed and sweaty dance floor. If there's no room, and that's usually a given, people just make their own dance floors wherever they are. People walk, stop to dance, then keep on cruising.

Until that after-hours scene explodes, the night belongs to salsa and chicks -- lots of them. They're the prize that longhaired Mexican rockeros and Pan American salseros compete over for the honor of an electrifying dance.

Readers' Choice for Best Club for Latin: Pepin

Meagan Simmons
Tired of going out and looking for a beer but having a limited selection to choose from? Looking for a place that offers the full gamut to fill your goblet? The Papago Brewing Company knows your pain. The owners believe that there is more to beer than Pabst Blue Ribbon and Coors Light. Featuring 30 different beers on tap as well as two engines for cask-conditioned ales, this place aims high and soars. It has a wide variety of imported, domestic and microbrew beers (more than 450) to wet your palate. Not to mention more than 100 unique and hard-to-find wines, ports and meads to quench your thirst. So, all you liquid dieters who are looking for an extensive menu of the finest suds in the land, head over to Papago Brewing Company and knock back some of nature's bliss.

Readers' Choice for Best Beer Selection: Timber Wolf Pub

Readers' Choice for Best Brew Pub: Four Peaks Brewing Company

Any dive with more than one television, beer, a pool table, a Golden Tee machine and a couple of obnoxious drunks in hockey jerseys can call itself a sports bar. But to count as a really notable sports bar, there has to be something that grabs you. The Horse & Hound has a couple of things going for it. For one thing, it's freakin' enormous; the actual bar is like a figurine compared to the rest of the massive space, taken up by tables, memorabilia and more TVs than a police station property room. For another, it doubles up on the vices for its more adventurous patrons. An adjoining room serves as an off-track-betting parlor, with screens to monitor the ponies and the greyhounds (hence the Horse & Hound name). So it's not just a watering hole; it's more like a Chuck E. Cheese's for stressed adults in need of their own playground.

Readers' Choice for Best Sports Bar and Best Bar to Watch the Game: McDuffy's

Jennifer Goldberg
The Yucca Tap Room doesn't look like much from street level. The front marquee is nearly impossible to read at night from the street, and the entrance is obscured by rows of loading docks along the Southern Avenue strip mall where it resides. Open the door and walk in, however, and the place induces delighted shivers for the unpretentious faithful. The Yucca is a relaxed, redneck dive for straw-hat-wearing lovers of roadhouse rock and country music, a one-room joint with stage in the front, a central bar and shots of whiskey the size of washtubs. Gifted Sonoran troubadour Andy Hersey performs on Wednesdays, making for an enjoyable honky-tonk night of cavorting and snorting.

Benjamin Leatherman
Generally when Phoenicians get pissed, it's because it's 115 degrees and the seat-belt buckles are branding "GM" into their chests. Of course, back in the mother country, "pissed" means inebriated or just plain drunk. What better place to do that than the George and Dragon, where in the tradition of similarly named alehouses all over the world, you can work in a darts match, a steak and kidney pie, some fish and chips, and a Status Quo selection or two on the jukebox between pints. The pub's George and Dragon day bashes are an annual rock and bacchanalian ritual that's almost Christmas for "Blighty" and blottos alike.

But just how British is the place? Last year, Morrissey fans chose the Dragon as their after-concert meeting place to punctuate the evening's fun and drive everyone else to drink to the Smiths' canon of wonderfully miserable hits.

Readers' Choice for Best English Pub and Best English Restaurant: George and Dragon English Restaurant and Pub

Once upon a time, Angelo's Lounge must have been quite a bar. All the signs of past success are there: the dusty disco lights, a waterless fountain, woodland scene wallpaper stained gray with smoke. Customers still shoot pool and play "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town" on the jukebox, but the main draw to the place is the same as it has been for three decades: Mama Lita, Angelo's 69-year-old bartender. Mama, as she prefers to be called, holds court with regulars from behind the expansive bar, shuffling down to one end to check on the television, back to the other to refill drinks or swap out ashtrays. Mama's from Greece, she'll tell you. Her husband Angelo brought her here and they ran the place together from 1973 until Angelo's health interfered. Lita's attentive and friendly, and it's her robust sense of humor that makes Angelo's Lounge a place one wants to linger -- well, that and the stiff drinks she pours.

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