Bar Smith
It seems like every place we go, owners are scrambling to come up with some sort of outdoor pit stop for the smoker patrons to light up. Meanwhile, smokers are often forced to hang in scummy parking lots, praying that no one roofies the drink they had to leave inside. But at Bar Smith, there are no such worries because this spot has a beautiful big balcony for everyone to puff away in the night's breeze. It's so much more than a smoker's den, complete with a full bar and room enough for dancing. Almost makes us want to light up.
King Tut Cafe
It makes sense that within a few square miles of ASU in Tempe there are seven hookah bars to choose from. Where else are underage college freshmen supposed to sit on the floor and regurgitate ideas from Intro to Philosophy? If you're not of the frat-party persuasion, there's not a whole lot going on near campus until you turn 21 (or score a fake . . .).

But in spite of the variety of newer chi-chi spots, we'll always have a soft spot in our hearts for Tut's. It's one of the few Tempe college spots that hasn't been demolished for high-rise condos, probably because of its location along Apache Boulevard, out of the way of the city's major redevelopment plan (for now.) The restaurant is a little tricky to get to thanks to light-rail construction, but the food — especially the fail-safe, veggie-friendly appetizer menu — and the hookah are worth the struggle. For about $10, you can puff the night away on a pillow, something we find especially rewarding now that we can't legally smoke cigarettes indoors anymore. The young crowd makes for some interesting, and hilarious, people watching — we don't remember the last time we saw so many white college-boy 'fros in one place.

Casa Blanca's got something for everyone — there's a sports bar, where patrons can knock back a few brews while watching the game on the big screens, and there's the rock club, which usually sees the most action. We've yet to hit a show at Casa Blanca that wasn't packed to the gills, whether a national name like Bad Brains singer HR is onstage, or locals like NunZilla and Dephinger are rocking the house.

On some nights, the club is so jammed that people are resigned to using the club's two pool tables for seats. Notably, the bands who share bills at Casa Blanca help each other out — setting up and breaking down equipment, and staying for each others' sets. When there's nobody onstage, Casa Blanca plays the coolest in-house mix of music, jamming out perennial faves like Fugazi and the Ramones.

Leave your rave glow sticks in the car — this is a rock nightclub, right down to the décor, which features mosaic tabletops and original surrealist paintings. The only thing it needs now is more space.

If you're big into the Valley party scene, after a while you start to feel like if you've been on one dance floor, you've been on every dance floor. It's all just very monotonous — the strangers spilling drinks on you, the same songs over and over. Not quite the case at Glam. Yeah, there's still plenty of drink-spilling, but it's not as irritating here because the dance floor lights up.

Yes, lights up, as seen in Saturday Night Fever — and your wildest dance floor dreams. We're not sure what it is, but something about the checkered floor flashing at us all night makes us want to dance, even when we hate the song. It makes us feel just a little, um, glamorous, while still allowing us to lurk around the dark corners of a dive bar. It certainly doesn't hurt that Glam (formerly Ky's Place) has spent the past several months building a pretty solid weekly lineup. So, the dance floor is usually packed, but not uncomfortably so, most nights of the week.

Here's what we love about Burn: it's a gay bar that's not totally gay. Don't take that the wrong way — we get the message the buckets of free condoms, the black-and-white photos of hot chiseled abs, and the shirtless man wearing a bow tie and passing out paper towels in the unisex bathroom are sending. We do realize why the bar's slogan is "crave it, want it, get it."

But the place doesn't scream "I love Cher" or any other yucky gay bar stereotype and we like that.

In a city where a lot of the gay clubs follow the same Top 40, Britney- and Madonna-heavy soundtrack, we're also into the fact that the owner is savvy enough to mix things up with a different theme for each night. On a given weekday, you might run into some of the Pussy Posse doing a suspension show (Thursday's Club Mistress) or an out of town "celebrity" DJ (Friday night's French Kiss).

Oh, and did we mention the place is nice? With one wall lined with private, extremely cushy bed-like cabanas (champagne service included) and an enormous dance floor (go-go dancers on the podium included), Burn has quickly become one of our favorites.

Zgirl Club
A lot has changed since zGirl Club was known as Misty's. Once a haven for butch-looking Phoenix Mercury fans and middle-aged, mullet-headed mamas, zGirl Club now packs its dance floor with some of the hottest honeys in Phoenix, from lipstick lesbians in carefully coordinated outfits to soft butches who are dressed to impress. And where the DJ used to bump old Janet Jackson songs, Sapphic spinners like DJ Domenica are now playing the hottest hip-hop and Top 40 tunes. zGirl's special events and wild weeklies are hard to beat, too, from amateur pole dancing and "Drag King Idol" competitions to "Bikini Top Martini" Mondays, where ladies who show up in a bikini top get $3 fruit-flavored 'tinis all night. And there's live music, too, as sexy sirens like Nels and Julie Lloyd frequently pop in to perform.
Amsterdam
This suave lounge has long been a favorite of Phoenix gays because it hosts "female illusionists" (a high-society-sounding way of saying "drag queens"), male revues, and the flamboyant karaoke that's a staple of Valley gay bars. But Amsterdam's Monday weekly, "Martinis & Manicures" — where patrons can get each for $5 — has been drawing in lots of ladies (lesbian and otherwise) for the past year. As if to prove they don't mind all the gals coming 'round, the folks at Amsterdam also launched "Ladies Happy Hour" every third Friday, with drink specials extending until 8 p.m.

But it isn't just the cheap drinks and pampering that draw in the lesbian crowd: With such a small, circular scene, Amsterdam is one of the few places in Phoenix where longtime lesbian clubbers aren't guaranteed to run into an ex or some form of drama. And for lesbians who just want to have a good time and aren't necessarily looking to hook up, Amsterdam is the perfect environment for laid-back conversation and boozing without the brawling and bruising.

The Silver Pony
Our first sign that this is the perfect neighborhood bar is the fact that it opens at 6 a.m. Our second: This joint has two happy hours — one from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and another from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Add to that a pool tournament every Monday and Wednesday, and karaoke every Thursday, and we have ourselves a winner.

The Silver Pony also boasts live music on Friday and Saturday nights, something too many neighborhood bars have thrown out in the past few years in favor of DJs. The house band, the Bullseye Band, is pure roadhouse-style country, perfect to knock back a few unpretentious pitchers of Bud to (what, you think real blue-collar dudes still drink Pabst? Leave that for the just-turned-21 set over at the Rogue).

The place gets pretty packed on weekends, and is pretty much just a neighborhood crowd. Perfect if you live nearby, or if you're looking for a place to slip into the shadows away from the Tempe-Phoenix-Scottsdale crowd.

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD BAR, DOWNTOWN PHOENIX

The Lost Leaf

The Lost Leaf
The Lost Leaf
If you've spent any time bar-hopping downtown, you've probably followed a well-beaten path from Carly's to Bikini Lounge, along with the rest of the downtown drinking crew. And while we still love to haunt both establishments, we're thrilled to add another stop on our weekend pilgrimages to get sauced. The Lost Leaf, on Fifth, just south of Roosevelt, has become a super-popular pit stop. The renovated historic home has a gorgeous interior with original wood floors and exposed brick walls showcasing artwork by neighborhood artists. They serve more than 60 beers, along with wine and sake. And if that's not enough, you can always order "off the menu" drink options of new wines and beers or check out their wine tastings every second Friday. But the very best part is that the place is one of the only bars in the area that stays open until 2 a.m. every night of the week.
Four Peaks Brewing Company
New Times Archives
Tempe is an entire city of neighborhood bars, so narrowing it down to one is no easy feat. But there's just something about Four Peaks — maybe it's that amazing spinach artichoke dip or the fact that they brew their beer on- site, or the excellent preservation of the building's mission revival style, and its location on Tempe's historic old Eighth Street. Most likely it's some combination of the three. There's something really cool about walking past the grain silo in the parking lot (um, if you're lucky enough to get a spot, that is — the lot's almost always completely full) and knowing that eventually the 40,000 pounds of malted barley inside will be turned into a delicious beer. Inside the place, it's awe-inspiring — at least to the habitual beer guzzler — to realize that the brewery has about 10,000 barrels of beer at any given time. That's 20,000 kegs, guys. Twenty thousand. And we have to say, we pretty much live for that Pumpkin Ale they make starting every October. But it's not just the beer that keeps us coming back. We also like that the place is mostly about good drinks and good food, without the pretension that some other neighborhood bars are thick with after 10 p.m.

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