Sandbar

The latest craze among Valley bars and clubs these days isn't some overpriced fruity martini or even playing host to the hottest DJs around. Nope, it's Rock Band nights, where patrons test their mettle at the ultra-hot video game (which involves groups of three or four playing simulated instruments and singing in time to chart-busting songs like Foo Fighters' "Learn to Fly" or Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive") for fun and the admiration of their fellow drunks. None of the trend-following nightspots offers the chance to perform like an actual rock star the way Sandbar does. Every Wednesday night, at the Peoria location, this beach-themed bar encourage groups to turn out dressed in their finest rock 'n' roll wear and engage in vampish, Steven Tyler-style onstage antics. Bar credit is awarded to the combo that gets the highest score each week. And if there are 30 or more bands competing during the event, the best-dressed act nabs $300 in cash. Groupies are optional, however.

Layalena reigns supreme in indulging your Middle Eastern fantasies. It's a far cry from Tempe's swath of seedy college hookah hangouts. Think belly dancing, gourmet Lebanese-inspired eats, and a sumptuous interior with brick columns and stained-glass lanterns. There's an upscale-casual dress code, which scares off most of the students, and a separate hookah lounge with full bar for guests over 21. Layalena offers nearly a dozen high-quality imported tobacco brands, including Al-Fakber, in mouthwatering flavors like pomegranate and guava. Prices range from just $3 a person to $20 for specialty blends. If you can spare the extra dough, opt for their signature blend served on fresh grapefruit. One hit of the delish citrus-flavored shisha will rock your Kasbah!

Papago Brewing Company
Meagan Simmons

Papago Brewing Company in Scottsdale is everything a brew pub (and your date) should be — comfortable, relaxed, and completely loaded. Beer oozes from every corner. There are beer taps decorating the lodgepole bar, beer signs on the walls, and a beer engine for cask-conditioned ales. No shit, a beer engine! The bar food's pretty decent — especially the wraps and design-your-own pizza — which is good, because you'll need something to soak up the lake of beer churning in your gut. The bar stocks a rotating selection of 30 brews on tap, including house beers like Hop Dog pale ale and El Robusto porter. Beer goggles, anyone?

Best Neighborhood Bar, Downtown Phoenix

The Roosevelt

The Roosevelt Tavern

Every good neighborhood bar has a few key things — a great selection of drinks, a fair pour, a great staff, and maybe a snack or three to help pace yourself. The Roosevelt has those essentials in spades, plus a couple of others for good measure, like a gorgeous building, lovingly restored, and the most wicked music choices around. We're not sure what we like more, the House Beer, brewed by Four Peaks and chilled with an argon cooling system so effective it'll bring tears to your eyes, or the deviled eggs that are so delicious they might trigger a war to see who gets the last one. These are important things, to be sure, so we'll be content to ponder them as we listen to old Radiohead songs that make us long for the carefree days of youth. Good thing the staff always remembers our names; they'll need them to nudge us out of our nostalgic haze. No matter, because The Roosevelt is, most importantly, a neighborhood bar, and a reminder that downtown is for livin', not just driving through. We'll ponder that, too, as we ride our bikes home from our favorite local bar.

Best Neighborhood Bar, Central Phoenix

Shady's

Shady's
Lauren Cusimano

Who'd have thought a tiny bar with a sign that gives a nod to '80s and ska scenesters would be such a friendly, welcoming spot? Usually, a bar that dips its toe in the too-cool pool will pack an attitudinal wallop. Instead, Shady's '60s interior is retro and relaxed. Pick a drink, any drink, and their engaging bartenders will remember it the next time you visit, even if it's months later. How do they do it? We don't know, but we're sure they've harnessed some of that mojo to stock a cool jukebox. From The Police to The Clash, this collection hits every disaffected teenage music fan's faux-nostalgic spot. We're not kidding about the friendly vibe. At Shady's, flying solo isn't an anomaly or prelude to a hookup; it's an invitation to make new friends. Good neighbors, indeed.

Coach House
Lauren Cusimano

Coach House is an anomaly among the glitz and glamour of Scottsdale's nightlife scene. It doesn't boast an ample dance floor or a million-dollar sound system or even bottle-flipping bartenders who pour the latest designer drink. What this tiny, wooden-walled roadhouse, circa 1959, does have is plenty of homespun allure and old-school Scottsdale cool. So much so that after knocking back a few beers here, you'll feel like heading over to the Pink Pony for a juicy porterhouse and then poking around the Winfield Place Condos in search of Bob Crane's ghost. Speaking of spirits, Coach House also serves up plenty of great barfly standards like boilermakers, screwdrivers, and a mean Jack and Coke. It's a no-frills kinda place that draws in hardscrabble blue-collar types who kill their livers alongside the high-stylers.

J.T.'s Bar & Grill

Ah, the typical Arcadian. If you live in the neighborhood, and you want breakfast, you hit La Grande Orange. Light lunch? It's all about Pita Jungle. For your swankier dining needs, radioMILANO, the Vig, and Postino fit the bill. Coffee time? Stop by Mama Java's. And when you want to slum it up for some cheap cocktails, it's time for the Dilly Dally. But there's one spot we love to hit that's a little off the radar — as all great neighborhood bars should be.

Keep your eyes peeled when you drive on Indian School east of 44th Street, because you might miss this little jewel if you blink. JT's Bar & Grill is tucked away, marked by a small patio adorned year-round with Christmas lights. Step in and prepare yourself: The place is so little it overflows if just 40 people show up. But that makes things cozy as you settle up to the bar and order a few rounds of reasonably priced drinks. The smell of deep-fried goodness and cooking burgers fills the place as you watch your favorite sports game and relax. The place is a fave with the locals, and after one visit, it's easy to see why.

Casey Moore's Oyster House
Tom Carlson

The first time we tried to find Casey Moore's Oyster House and Seafood Restaurant, we got lost. Located on Ash Avenue just two blocks from Mill Avenue, it's actually in a real neighborhood, historic Maple-Ash. By the end of the night, we were cursing the lucky stiffs who have houses just across the street. Whether you're looking for a Friday-night hangout or just a place to grab a drink after a gig, Casey's hits the spot with great specials on frosty mugs of Kilt Lifter and plenty of wait staff to bring it directly to you.

Stay inside and watch the game or chill outside on the spacious wrap-around patio and enjoy the night air.

Sure, the outdoor seating doesn't hold as much appeal in the dead of summer, but Casey's chipotle chicken wings make up for just about any slight. Yum.

Crabby Don's

It's kinda ironic that Crabby Don's has such a surly-sounding moniker (as well as a menacing, frown-face logo), considering that this Gilbert watering hole is a place where many nearby drinkers stop by to have an awesome time. Nearly every time we've visited, the place is usually packed with energetic and upbeat urbanites, ranging from bros dressed in their Volcom T's and watching extreme sports on the numerous large-screen plasma TVs, to jockish frat boys downing Heinekens while competing in fierce shuffleboard contests, or tattooed rocker-types standing near the stage during weekend gigs by local bands. (Call us crazy, but even the barflies seem a little happier here). The bar also has one of funniest slogans we've ever heard: "The liver is evil and must be punished!" Believe us, said internal organ gets plenty of abuse during happy hour every weekday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. (in addition to reverse happy hour every Monday through Thursday from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.), when drink specials abound. It probably explains why everyone's so damn happy . . . because they've had a snootful by the time we show up.

Wanna know what really bores us? To tears? Adam Sandler flicks, for one. Not to mention flaky artist-types. Another thing we find particularly tedious and mind-numbing are bars in which there's absolutely nothing to do other than drink, stare at the boob tube, or endure depressing stories from dour drunks. But Exit 7 doesn't roll like that, yo, because the Glendale tavern features plenty of lively diversions to engage in with your mates while sampling more than a dozen different brews on tap (including Stella Artois, Blue Moon, and Widmer). Four pool tables are available for play, in addition to three dart machines, three MegaTouch touch-screen units, and a few arcade games like Big Buck Hunter and Silver Strike Bowling 2007. But if an argument over who sunk the 8-ball ensues, don't head out to the parking lot to settle things. Instead, go a few rounds on the Dragon Punch boxing game in the corner. It'll probably keep the bartender from calling the cops.

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