Caffe Italia
Meagan Simmons
We went to Caffe Italia in search of a quick dinner — maybe some spinach lasagna or a little penne in clam sauce — and ended up having our life changed. How did we make it this far in life in the desert without frozen sangria? This taste sensation is like a Slurpee for grownups: Sweet red wine steeped in fresh fruit and then spun into crushed ice and topped with still more fruit slices. There's a white wine sangria, too, called a Bellini, and on nights when we're not expected to drive or spell our names, we order both. The Bellini is tart and tangy, made with citrus fruits and what we swear must be a splash of peach liqueur. Whatever's in there, this is the best frozen sangria we've ever had.
MercBar
MercBar
Some places just cram mint leaves in the bottom of a glass, pour rum over them, and call it a mojito. But at MercBar, the mojito is a piece of real craftsmanship. Bartenders take their time crushing ice and mint leaves together in the glass before adding just the right balance of rum, sugar, lime juice, and soda. Some of the mint leaves float to the top of the glass, but most remain at the bottom, effectively infusing the drink with fresh mint flavor for the duration of its existence — which, given its refreshing tastiness, shouldn't be very long. In fact, the Merc Mojito may take longer to make than to drink, which may be why it costs more than the bar's acclaimed martinis. But when it's hot and sticky in the Valley, a minty fresh Merc Mojito is very cool indeed.
Roadrunner Lounge
Lauren Cusimano
You know you've arrived at a good bar when the bartender doesn't know how to make the drink you've ordered but knocks it out of the park anyway. This recently happened to us at the Roadrunner Lounge. On previous visits to the seen-better-days establishment, we've received a perfect Jameson Manhattan with sweet vermouth, bitters, and a maraschino cherry. But then, a few months back, we ordered the drink from a male barkeep we'd never seen before, and he reacted as though we had just spoken Russian or an African tribal dialect. After shooting us a friendly yet blank stare, the man consulted a spiral-bound cocktail book and mixed the ingredients. Minutes later, Manhattan bliss hit our lips, and it was cheap — only $3!
T. Cook's
Royal Palms Resort and Spa
We've always loved the patio at the Royal Palms, where you can sip champagne under the stars. But, lately, we've been pledging fidelity to the graceful lounge just inside the front door. Choose either a comfy couch or a seat at the curved bar, settle in with a craft cocktail, and let pianist Dwight Brewer sweep your heart away. This is the rare bar in town where you would not feel out of place in a little black dress. or even a big one; this is a lounge for adults, not club kids.
Taste of Tops
Lauren Cusimano
Looking for the piss-quality beer special of the night? It ain't happening at Taste of Tops, and that's completely fine by us. The casual bar and lounge, open for business since October 2009, is an incarnation of longtime fave Tops Liquors, which pretty much sells every beer ever. However, at Taste of Tops, you're not going to find Piss Lite or even Guinness and Newcastle. Instead, the bar offers an insane amount of bottled beer (more than 500 selections), so, like a vinyl nerd in a record shop, connoisseurs of fine beers can scavenge for their favorite brewski oddities and/or discover suds unknown to their palates. If you're famished, the place offers nibbles, or you can bring in takeout food from neighboring restaurants such as Thai Basil. Taste of Tops also showcases beer and wine tastings about 10 to 15 times a month, as well as hosts a monthly art opening.
Papago Brewing Company
Meagan Simmons
Some people say that beer is an acquired taste. We're inclined to agree, but only if they mean the same way breathing is. Beer is one of the greatest gifts mankind has bestowed upon himself, which is why its popularity has endured for millennia. But for you oddballs who feel that you need to slowly dip your toes in the serene and blissful pool that is beer, rather than diving in with your mouths wide open, there is Papago Brewing Company's Orange Blossom Beer. This is the perfect brew for the soulless prudes who "just aren't beer people" or "don't like the taste of beer" or "are in a 12-step program" (good for you!). From the first sip, Papago's Orange Blossom covers you in a blanket of creamy, orange-flavored goodness that will change your life forever. You're welcome.
San Tan Brewing Company
As Phoenix's beer culture continues to grow in size and refinement, it seems more and more seasonal brews are hitting taps around town each season. SanTan Brewing's Winter Warmer is the gold standard. You can get the dark, malty brew only when the mercury dips into the 50s, but it's worth waiting all year for. Robust, thick, and sweet, like some of the best Belgian imports, this beer nevertheless has enough hoppiness to taste like an American microbrew. It's served chilled, of course, but it lives up to its name, causing a mild and pleasant warming sensation. The Winter Warmer is served in a fancy glass and paired with a gingersnap, which adds a little something. If having a cookie with your beer sounds silly to you, it's obvious you haven't had this one.
The Rogue Bar
Best place to drink PBR that isn't behind the trash bin in an alley? Yes, it's true, we've got a different fave spot for sucking some PBR down — the Old Skool 50 Cent PBR Night at The Rogue Bar. This dive bar (turned hipster dance club turned rock venue) still knows how to treat its guests to a night of cheap consumption of booze. And, after reading this little blurb, you can impress fellow patrons with your knowledge of its origins: They call it "Blue Ribbon" because, according to its makers, the brew was named America's Best at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. And if the local ruffians aren't impressed by your useless knowledge, make amends by buying a round — it's not gonna break you.
Postino Wine Cafe
Every day before 5 p.m., you can sample any wine on the list at Postino for just $5 a glass. And though we know plenty of establishments that offer similar weekday deals on house wines, Postino's offer really is the best for two reasons. One, the offer also is good on weekends, when the patio is a great spot for lunch, a mid-afternoon nosh, or early happy hour. Two, this wine list is incredibly well curated; there's not a dog on it. We've discovered many a new favorite simply by trusting our waiter. (Unlike at lesser places, Postino makes the waiters try everything on the list, so you really can trust their judgment.) And there's another great option for people who hate day drinking: On Mondays and Tuesdays after 8 p.m., you can get a bottle of any wine on the list, plus a giant board of Postino's signature bruschetta, for just $20.
FEZ
Happy hour is happy hour is happy hour, right? At Fez, it's a celebration that takes place seven days a week, 4 to 6:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. to midnight. Its principal features are pretty standard: two-for-one well, draft, and bottled beer and signature margaritas, $3 house wine, and $6 small plates. Not so ordinary are Fez's insanely tasty daily food specials, served at the bar and yanked right from the daily menu, so we can have all our favorites for less than half-price as we savor our post-work cocktails. On the second and fourth Sundays of every month, happy hour gets transformed into a "Fez Foodies" party — with tasting plates and boutique drink specials — from 5 'til 8 p.m. Happy hour here also lets us try new Fez foods (which is how we discovered how much we love their garlic and rosemary fries). Who's not happy?

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