BEST WINE BAR 2007 | Epicurean Wine | Bars & Clubs | Phoenix
Greg Brickey and Jeff Davis take their wine seriously. They stock thousands of bottles of domestic and imported wines in their lovely, low-key spot, tucked away in a strip mall just off Scottsdale Road. Come by for a tasting on a Friday night, and they'll take you to New Zealand, Australia, or South Africa, via some carefully chosen bottles. Or stop by for a half bottle (never a cork fee!) and a cheese board or hummus and pita chips, off the "bites" menu.

You can get as serious as these self-described Wine Guys, and they'll help you plan your own wine cellar. Or take a class in wine/food pairing, offered at the wine bar by an instructor at the Scottsdale Culinary Institute. They'll even arrange a private tasting for you and a group of friends, and tailor the selection to fit your desires. Brickey and Davis better watch out: At this rate, you'll get so into wine you'll want to toss your day job — like these two did — and open up your own wine bar. We're betting they're up to the competition.

Not only does Crazy Ed's lure in tourists by the busload with its kitschy, Disney-like Western Town attraction on its property, the Cave Creek brew pub also attracts a fair amount of locals who come for its tasty selection of seven or eight signature beers (depending on the season) that come straight from its on-premises microbrewery — available either in bottles or on tap. Patrons relax in the county bunker's saloon or beer garden, sucking down the popular Chili Beer (which packs a major kick), as well as equally favored Ocotillo Ale, Lemon Lager, and Black Mountain Gold stout. There's also the crisp Frog Light ale, Pinnacle Peak Porter, and an unnamed wheat beer that tastes great with some of the down-home comfort food straight from the kitchen, including delicious Arizona fried chicken, barbecued ribs, or sirloin steaks. They've even got a brand-new ice cream emporium, which, sadly, only serves root beer in their floats instead of the alcoholic kind.
Don't look now, but it seems as though downtown Phoenix's nightlife scene has finally developed a pulse. Instead of avoiding the formerly lifeless city core (which, in years past, had the reputation of rolling up the sidewalks at 5 p.m.), hordes of hipsters of every stripe are heading downtown to drink and dance. Ground zero for this nightlife explosion has been a particular block of Copper Square where nearly a half-dozen nightclubs and restaurants offer a wide variety of music, bands, and DJs every night of the week. Bringing new definition to the word blockbuster, this off-the-chain area (located between Washington and Adams streets and First and Second streets) contains the queer-friendly cool of Burn, with chic gay and lesbian clubgoers dancing to house one night and indie kids rocking to the turntablism of Mykil and Kevin the Makeout Bandit the next. There's also the trendy two-level joint Bar Smith, with DJ Senbad and Benjamin Cutswell pumping their record decks every Saturday, and the upscale Latin danceteria Sky Lounge packing 'em in next door. Around the corner is jock haven Majerle's, whose 9 Lounge hosts the hip-hop night Grown & Gorgeous Thursdays with Dangerous MC, and on the other side of the block, the Matador Restaurant serves up Caliente Chica Fridays, with DJs AL3 and the Manic Hispanic spinning reggaeton, old school, and cumbias. Looks like Scottsdale isn't the only place to see and be seen anymore.
Jennifer Goldberg
Casey's is an institution in downtown Tempe, in that you can count on it to be full of crazies any evening after 9 p.m.

But during the day, this old, allegedly haunted house is literally a living room for an assortment of characters (some who actually work there and, perhaps, some who work — or have worked — for this fine paper) who make the yahoos on Cheers seem like a bunch of strangers.

If retirees Sherman and Stormy don't show up, the bartenders are prone to calling to make sure they're still capable of walking. The joke goes, "Of course, Casey Moore's is haunted — Sherman and Stormy have been dead for 10 years."

But those two are the least of it. The place is home to a plethora of neighborhooders like Cigar Bob, Don across the street, local artist Rodgell, musician-about-town P.C., and more, who know one another and make like a virtual family despite an age range that spans at least 50 years. Come summer, when the students are mostly away, these are the folks who give the bar its character, and many of them spend more time at the bar than they do at home.

We haven't been to every dive in Phoenix, but we're getting close. The Fox Hole sure seems like the real deal to us — sometimes you walk into a place and it just feels right. The Hole is a typical dive in a bad part of town, complete with an abandoned, dumpy-looking empty lot behind it. Walking around to the front (don't ask what we were doing in the empty lot) there are large letters on the wall that say, simply, COCKTAILS. And above the door it reads, "Welcome to the Fox Hole."

We open the door to crinkled, old, sodden carpet, and through the doorway we spot two mangy pool tables to the left, and to the right a shuffleboard table and a brass-plated bar — the whole thing is this old, pounded brass plate, like gold-colored tin all over the bar. Awesome.

Dee the bartender is seasoned and just hired from the defunct Thunderbird Lounge up the road; she's from Ohio and brings some personality and warmth to the place.

We settle in and order a beer, which shows up quickly in a subzero frosty mug. We notice the centerpiece of the bar, a nice fish tank with a half a dozen or so of the little guys looking out at us. We ask Dee if she names them and she says, "Nah, but the big one on the bottom is the prettiest." The big guy next to us chimes in loudly, "Yeah, the shit-sucker!" Dee laughs and the big guy says, "Why is it that the prettiest one in there is the one that just sits around and eats shit all day... I don't get it."

Well, as we look around at these folks and the drunken grins and swaggers in this place, we get it loud and clear: This is the prettiest place we've found ourselves, in a long time.

But, perhaps, not for long. You'd better get over to The Fox Hole soon — word is the place has new owners, and they already made the men's room "nice," and we guess they're looking to add new carpet soon... Giddy up before they ruin the charm up in the joint.

We've been to a lot of bars and had some great food. Our personal all-time favorite snack was a batch of homemade pickled eggs the owner would bring to the bar in Beloit, Wisconsin — they were great with mustard. A close second were the Tater Tots at the long-gone original Long Wong's on Mill Avenue. But we think the best snack selection (maybe most disturbing) we've seen at a dive is at Kay's Lounge.

The bartenders at Kay's are sweet but sadistic. They fire up everything from chicken pot pies to corndogs, and even pretzels with gooey cheese. The real kicker at Kay's is the food that's soaked in our favorite pickling ingredient: alcohol. Everclear isn't just good for blacking out teenage girls anymore! We had to try the Olive Bomb, which is a big batch of jumbo olives passed out in a pool of Everclear joy. It's close to eating a flaming goat testicle and probably accounts for the clogged toilet we've seen in this joint . . . But no need to worry, you can wash it down with the Everclear-soaked Cherry Bomb to really cleanse the palate!

If you want to win a cute, little pink elephant with a dildo tied to its back, then this is the place for you. The Toy House (we like to call it simply The Crane Game) is a staple at many dives across the country. We really don't get it. What's the allure? We're going to "win" something after spending five hours and $40 at the bar when really, we should have been picking up Junior from band practice? Damn, we're in the dog house, but wait, a pink elephant will change all of this and we won't have to work so hard on the missus if we can untie the dildo off its back. (Hey! two gifts in one. She'll love it.)

The Crane Game at Westside is chock-full of stuffed animals, but most have a thong tied to them, or at least a titty keychain. If you're childless, don't despair! For you, there's an adult DVD called Be Cumming a Teenager, or, since you forgot the Fixodent, you can win a cock nose and glasses that lights up and blinks for Grandma.

Seriously, if you think bringing a cheesy gift to your wife, girlfriend, or kid is going to make them forgive you for being an alcoholic . . . Well, then you are one! Better off getting drunk and not going home — fuck it all! Are you really happy there, anyway?

What goes up must come down; what goes in must go out. One of the great ravages of drinking is, of course, the deterioration of the body. There's a lot of extra stress put on major organs — most notably, the liver and kidneys. Sometimes we feel like we're just a great big filter. We're not sure about you, but when we're drinking, we pee a lot, and when it's time to release, we gotta do it quick.

So where's the best place to go? If you're really stuck, we suggest just letting it rip in the pants — it's warm and feels great for the first couple of minutes until it starts to get cold and sticky. Otherwise, make your way pronto to the Playa off Bethany Home and 16th Street to saddle up to their 4-foot-long piss trough. It's complete with a screen from someone's window that fits in the bottom to serve as a cover, so no one will steal the precious urinal cakes, and to serve as a sieve for who knows what might end up in there.

At the Playa, the "trough" is just the topper to this stark, stinky-ass loo. There's a little ledge near the ceiling that has — count 'em — seven air fresheners . . . they must all be broken or used up. There is a lone commode; it even has a door on it! And when you go to wash up, there's a bottle of dish detergent, and the broken soap dispenser and old paper towel holder are tied down with hose clamps and nailed to the wall so they can't be stolen, like the missing door knob on the entrance that now shows off a 3-inch square for peepers who want to catch a glimpse of the pig getting out of the barn door.

Lauren Cusimano
Late night at a dive bar is great fun — unless you happen to be of the gender that pees sitting down. And while ladies across the land have certainly mastered the hover (for you men who need an explanation, use your imaginations), it's much tougher to pull off such a balancing act after a night of cheap booze.

We have found a dive bar that has a women's bathroom so clean and beautiful, your cheeks will be happy to rest on the sparkling porcelain. Not only does the Swizzle Inn take pride in their restroom hygiene, but they make the experience all the more luxurious with two whole stalls made from attractive stained wood with decorative locks that actually work.

To add to the lavishness, the sink has both soap and hand lotion. And you won't have to fight for mirror space with any biker hos to redo your lipstick because this place has a full-on vanity with stools. Take your sweet time to muster up your limited motor skills for a mascara touchup. But the very best part is the beautiful basket of free tampons overflowing with varying absorbencies — unbelievably decadent.



No scuzzy, butt-scattered patio at this dive. We call the smoking section at Jake's-O-Mine the party cage, because there's always a party in this small, makeshift smoking area. And, well, it looks like a cage.

If the new anti-smoking law was meant to make you feel humiliated while smoking, then the Arizona voters who passed that thing have done their job. And Jake's seals the deal. You actually feel like a caged animal with chain link all around you. The only thing missing is kids throwing Nicorette at you and pointing.

At any rate, the small area is outfitted with a swamp cooler that spews out cool, watery air. The walls are lacquered with plenty of NASCAR and beer posters to make it feel like an actual 15-by-20-foot inbred hick's garage. We guess new laws bring about creativity and the need to adapt, and we have to hand it to Jake's: They've done a pretty good job... if you don't mind feeling like you've been incarcerated (but for most of us here, it's not that far of a stretch).

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