BEST DIVE BAR 2004 | Bikini Lounge | Bars & Clubs | Phoenix
Benjamin Leatherman
The Bikini Lounge is the kind of watering hole Charles Bukowski would have immortalized in poem or Jack Kerouac would have lived across from while banging out On the Road. A place where the beer is cheap and the chicks are extra-friendly. The sort of taproom where you can meet anyone from a teamster to a mad artist to a street philosopher all in as much time as it takes you to amble the length of the lounge. This is especially true on First Fridays, with all roads leading to this 57-year-old tiki tavern with its regulation pool table, jukebox, and grass-skirted wahine painting hanging behind the bar. There's the feeling that anything can and probably will happen, like being in a central London pub on a Friday night or playing blackjack on the Strip in Vegas. Off nights, the Bikini Lounge reverts to a neighborhood hang, but on First Fridays it's like a little bit of New York's East Village right here in Phoenix. And for our money, it's the greatest dive bar ever. Readers' Choice: Chez Nous

We were hooked after just one sip, ordering another before the first glassful was even gone. Our waiter refused to give us the exact recipe for the espresso martini, but he did kindly volunteer the ingredients: Bailey's Irish Cr'me, Frangelico, vodka and cr'me de cacao. And, yes, a shot of espresso. The waiter also described the espresso martini experience: "Your body shuts down but your mind keeps racing."

That's a little deep for us. All we can say is, that's one hell of a buzz!

Our thirst for knowledge is equaled only by our thirst for beer. We quench both at Tempe's Rio Salado Brewing Company, where Saturday-afternoon brewery tours impart "a sensory experience of Rio Salado Brewing Company beer." Beer buffs get to "taste and smell the raw materials, learn how they impact the beer, taste the steps of production, as well as the finished products." RSBC's "25-hectoliter brew system" pumps out German-style ales and lagers, all available in kegs and cases and on tap in the Tap Room, where action includes live music on Friday and Saturday nights, "Two fer Tuesdays" and "Manic Mug Mondays." The Company has even taken to sponsoring a yearly spring prom. And with a new outpost on Mill Avenue (no tours, but plenty of suds), it's even easier to consume Rio Salado's specialty, "beer with passion" -- which, in our opinion, is second only to beer with peanuts. Readers' Choice: Four Peaks Brewing Company

Let's say for the sake of this Best Of that Pam Grier's character Jackie Brown from the 1997 Quentin Tarantino flick of the same name appears before you, cuddles up next to your sorry ass on the couch, and says, "Baby, let's go out." Where should you take her? Why, to Chez Nous, of course, where you and Jackie will feel right at home amongst the faux-rock, dark vinyl booths, and decor straight out of those Jack Hill blaxploitation flicks Grier starred in back in the early '70s, like Coffy and Foxy Brown. There's almost always some smooth R&B being played up on the stage, and the AC-cooled inky blackness of the club lends itself to romantic groping, if you're lucky and Miss Brown feels obliging. Plus the drinks are tr's cheap, so it won't kill your wallet getting Jackie blotto so you can take her back to your pad and make sweet love. Yeah, with Chez Nous, the '70s are only a few minutes away, and you won't find any better place to kick it old-school like the mack you are, either with Jackie Brown, or without her.

Sometimes, karaoke is good -- if we've had enough to drink. But often it is very, very bad.

If only we had a gong. Wait, we do, at Hamburger Mary's. On Tuesday nights, friends and foes alike pack the popular gay and lesbian establishment, and pay a buck for the privilege of banging the silver saucer-shaped instrument. Whichever musically impaired maestro is cattily caterwauling at that moment then gets a 30-second countdown to double the donation or be cut off. Usually the victim will plop down the money, only to get even louder in defiance, because usually it's not about talent, but enthusiasm. The stakes get higher and higher as non-fans continue to drop in dollars, and this dance repeats itself long into the night. By the time last call is shouted, the till is overflowing and will be donated to charity.

Remember that stunning, brunette bombshell you saw shopping in the produce section at Albertsons the other day? Remember how you thought to yourself, "I'll never get next to anything that fine"? Well, think again and pay a visit to Skin, where for a mere $10 lap dance, you can not only have that dime piece snuggle up next to you, she'll practically be wearing her birthday suit, as long as you don't count the G-string or the eight-inch heels. That's right, even an average Joe like you can feel like a playa for a day at Skin, which, hands down, has the best bods in the Valley on display in a dark, upscale environment where you can kick back, enjoy a Scotch and pretend you're in your own personal harem for the evening. The best part about Skin is that, unlike at other dollar ballerina parlors in town, you aren't pressured constantly to buy a lap dance. Maybe that's because Skin's management knows that with such an embarrassment of riches at its disposal, it's only a matter of time before you cave and empty your pockets. How else are you gonna get to rub up on Brooke Burke and Halle Berry look-alikes? Face it, bub, Skin is your only path to paradise.

Tom Carlson
The classic martini -- not those pink, blue and yellow frou-frou concoctions that bottle blondes imbibe at chichi clubs -- has had many champions: everyone from FDR and Richard Nixon to W.C. Fields and James Bond. But we'd like to cop a quote from surrealist director Luis Bu--uel, who wrote in his memoir My Last Sigh that the making of a dry martini "should resemble the Immaculate Conception," especially when it comes to adding the vermouth. At Durant's, if you don't watch carefully, you'll miss the barkeep's addition of that "whisper" of vermouth to your martini. See, everything is done traditionally here. The glass is chilled, and the martini itself is stirred, not shaken, to prevent the "bruising" of the gin, which supposedly happens when too much water gets into the damn thing. Normally, you get two fat olives as a garnish, unless you're one of those oddballs partial to Gibsons, in which case you get two cocktail onions. (We won't even go into those heathens who prefer vodka over gin.) See, in the case of the martini, its beauty is that of a simple thing done well, and that's a lot harder to find these days than you might expect. Unless, of course, you go looking for it at Durant's. Readers' Choice: AZ 88

In our opinion, the only sports worth playing are those that don't get in the way of creature comforts like watching TV, drinking brewskis, eating potato chips, and smoking ciggies. Sure, we'd love to compete in the decathlon, but you try doing the pole vault while puffing on a Camel and see how easy it is. That's why we'll stick to the sport of kings and rogues alike, pocket billiards, a game wherein "sinking balls" is actually a cause for celebration for most guys. When it comes to shooting a little stick in the PHX, we prefer a clean, unpretentious spot where you can enjoy some suds, inhale as much tar and nicotine as your lungs can handle, and avoid breaking a sweat in air-conditioned bliss. That's why we love Clicks. Not only does it have 22 pool tables, darts, air hockey and foosball, it's got a dozen beers on tap, all of which are invariably served to you in a frosty mug; and a full bar, including frozen margaritas -- a must for any serious pool shark. Clicks boasts a genuinely fun atmosphere, with attentive waitresses and barkeeps, as well as a general manager who's featured in a sci-fi/fantasy comic book series called The Villikon Chronicles. (Check the Web site if you don't believe us.) All we need now is for Clicks to install some La-Z-Boys so we can sleep off a drunk when need be, and the place'll be perfect. Readers' Choice: Clicks Billiards

Kazimierz Wine & Whiskey Bar
The wine list here truly boggles the mind. Even the most jaded wine geeks would be tickled about the offerings, which include not only topnotch reds and whites, sparkling wines and dessert wines, but also a stellar selection of sake (hey, it's rice wine, after all). After you've found a choice bottle, sink into your cozy couch and take in some live jazz (if it's Monday night, when Margo Reed hosts an open jam, or Thursday, when different local groups make monthlong appearances), or just enjoy a dimly lighted setting for intimate conversation and gourmet menu picks, like the Barossa flatbread with pancetta, onion, apple, Gorgonzola and rosemary. It's all in good taste.

Benjamin Leatherman
Where's the beefcake? Ladies 18 and up can make like Wendy's -- and get hot and juicy, indeed -- at Club Dwntwn, where the U.S. Male Revue lets 'er rip every Friday and Saturday from 8 to 10:30 p.m. And going postal never seemed like such fun. "The best of the West . . . undressed," these boys give new meaning to the term "lap" dance, licking ladies from leg to lobe. While the movie, uh, takeoffs range from hot (Dallas takes the stage -- and our breath away -- in a white Top Gun uniform) to not (the guy in the scarecrow getup? If he only had a clue . . . ), the Vin Diesel look-alike certainly knows how to fill a pair of tighty whities . . . and "Sexy Chocolate" left us more than a little curious about the contents of his wrapper. Think the best things come in small packages? Not with this male service.

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