Best Karaoke 2011 | Rips Ales and Cocktails | Arts & Entertainment | Phoenix
Lauren Cusimano
With that funky geometric sign and off-kilter building structure, you won't expect anything at Rips Ales and Cocktails to be run of the mill. The bar's Sunday-night karaoke is no exception, with hipsters, barflies, and wanna-be pop queens all taking to the mic to belt out renditions of their favorite tunes. The diversity of the singers is matched by the diversity of the tunes, and you're just as likely to hear a soul ballad as a rocker. There's no shortage of places to go to find great karaoke nights in Phoenix, but few that match the unpredictable style of Rips.
Lauren Cusimano
The Zen Lunatics have hosted rockaroke (karaoke with a live rock band, get it?) at Tempe spots like the Yucca Tap Room and The Sail Inn in the past, but the stage at Tempe Tavern may just be the perfect fit for the band. You'd be hardpressed to find a cover band with the chops these guys have, able to back you up on just about any rock 'n' roll standard you can think of, and more than willing to dig into some greasy funk like selections from Ike and Tina Turner or soul balladry from the likes of Stevie Wonder. Potential frontmen or ladies are in good hands with The Zen Lunatics, who are as happy to rock your wedding, corporate party, or youth rally as they are the stage at Tempe Tavern.
Alcohol has a tendency to stir up emotions, annihilate shyness, and encourage certain risky behavior. Inhibitions start to evaporate while inebriated, leading some folks to consider daring activities they might not otherwise engage in. For example, many a tattoo has been acquired after staggering to a nearby body art parlor after a few (okay, more than a few) snifters of firewater. At Jake's-O-Mine, however, you can forgo the stumble, because they host an actual in-house tattoo artist. Ink-slinger Dan Tapley practices his trade at a tiny studio located inside this Apache Junction dive bar five days a week, from Monday to Friday. Typically, the artist spends most of the time creating skulls, snakes, and American flags on the skin of the place's biker clientele, but he also can whip up some original designs if needed. Despite the joint's grimy décor and badass reputation, Tapley keeps his work area spotless and hygienic and won't needle anyone who seems completely soused. After all, who needs the hassle of being confronted by a patron who suddenly regrets their newly inked tramp stamp?
Lauren Cusimano
Like most good dive barflies, we're not exactly stoked to share our favorite hideout with the masses. But what the heck — we love this place! It's dark, it's grimy (though the ladies room is so clean, it won a Best Of), and it has an atrium. It's the Swizzle Inn. Lurking behind the Starbucks on the southeast corner of 16th Street and Bethany Home Road sits a little piece of dive bar heaven, where the drinks are always strong and the Christmas light are on 365 days a year. Whether you're in flip-flops, heels, or even your pajamas, everyone's welcome at the Swizzle for cheap drinks and a game of pool. And don't worry if you're short in the, um, friends department — there are plenty of colorful locals to keep you entertained.
Did you know Phoenix has a champagne bar? Well, you've been missing out if you didn't. These folks have 200 bottles in stock at all times, they offer tastings, and they serve food and have live music a few nights a month. And the sexy servers make the atmosphere a true Scottsdale good time. Oh, and by day, Narcisse is a tea lounge — so there really is something for everyone.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
These days, being Irish is cooler then cool, which is probably why we have seen more than a few so-called Irish pubs pop up around town. But Seamus (pronounced shay-mus) has been keepin' it real for more than 20 years. Like any good Irish pub, the downtown no-frills joint keeps football (soccer) on the TV and a huge selection of scotch and whiskey behind the bar. We can always find a table, but it's best to belly up to the bar and chat with the locals or the friendly staff. You will find the usual suspects on draft, but when you have an imperial pint of Guinness and a neat shot of 30-year Macallan, we're sure you won't have any complaints.
Benjamin Leatherman
It's hard to imagine all the insane things Wesley "Wes" Nieto has seen over the 23 years she's worked at Bikini Lounge, one of downtown's most cherished dives. Naturally, Nieto is one tough lady, never one to mince words, and more than apt to deliver a stinging insult if she finds your drink order less than worthy. But that's all part of her charm — she'll rip you a new one with a smile, then pour you an extra-stiff cocktail to salve the wound. Her two-plus decades at the Bikini dealing with crazies and louts have honed her into the perfect bartending machine, able to crack a joke, kick an ass, or slide a shot down the bar — whatever the moment calls for.
The best way to experience Postino is to hoof it, bike it, or cab it before 5 p.m. any day of the week to this wine bar. Every glass of wine in the house is only five bucks, and if you're anti-vino, Postino serves pitchers of beer for the same price. The servers are well versed in the wine list, so let them know whether you like your chardonnays oaked or your reds strong and fruity, and they will steer you in the right direction. And when in doubt, trust "Brett's Pick" on the wine list. He's never steered us wrong. Add a plank of bruschetta and maybe a salted caramel sundae with chocolate-covered corn nuts, and you're nearing perfection. Don't forget about Sangria Sunday!
There is no place we would rather be than lively SanTan Brewery. Converted from a bank into a traditional brewpub, SanTan cranks out great handcrafted brews and — as far as brewery food goes — the food is amazing. What really keeps us coming back is the friendly staff; they have mastered the art of customer service, something that is becoming harder and harder to find these days. Whether you're enjoying a beer as you watch the world pass by on the patio or you're stopping in for movie night on Mondays, you will always feel welcome at SanTan, and you might even decide to start calling the brewery home. This place does get pretty packed on Fridays and Saturdays, so plan on standing or making friends with your fellow bar patrons.
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Admittedly, we liked Four Peaks' American IPA well enough before. What's not to like? It's made with seven different hops added at different times in the brewing process to combine in piney, grassy harmony. It's bitter but not biting, and it's backed by mild honey sweetness. It smells and tastes like a bowl of hop nuggets. We were just fine with enjoying the brew from the tap or the occasional bottle picked up from the brewery. And then they put it in cans, which turns out to like painting flames on a cheetah — making the awesome more awesome. Now Hop Knot is available all over, and not only are the flavor and aroma of the beer brighter and snappier in the can, but its portability means we can enjoy it anywhere. At the beach? Check. At the golf course? Check. While writing this? Triple check.

That's not the only Four Peaks brew we love: Sunbru is the beer we recommend to novice drinkers.

Think of it as the training bra of beers — start small and one day (hopefully) you can go big. Four Peaks' Sunbru is the perfect beer for beginners: light and golden with subtle hints of malt, the slightest dash of hops, and superb drinkability. The Kölsch-style beer is your go-to when you don't quite have the palate for the hard-hitting floral flavors of an IPA but do have too much pride to subject yourself to the verbal beating you would receive after placing an order for something with the word "peach" in the name.

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