Best Specialty | Cocktail 2011 | FEZ | Arts & Entertainment | Phoenix
Nobody really likes vermouth. It's just a necessary evil that allows you to justify drinking a double shot of gin in martini form. FEZ understands this and offers the "Straight Up" martini — so strong that it will curl your toes. But what this chic eatery is really known for is ignoring the classic martini rules in favor of fruity and fanciful (but by no means less potent) fusions. Take the Feztini, for example, with raspberry vodka, Chambord, a champagne float, and a sugary rim that will have you feeling bubbly in no time. There are more than a dozen martinis on the menu, but we like the Apri-cosmo with a hint of apricot, the Mojo-tini that pays homage to the mojito, and the Key Lime Pie martini that totally eliminates the need for dessert. We'll take Chambord over vermouth any day.
We have seen quite a few so-called lounges pop up recently, but none of them have the authenticity of Merc Bar. Dress to impress and be prepared to drop a pretty penny at this Phoenix installation. The timeless dim lighting, low-set seating, and dark wood surroundings set the stage for a proper evening of libations and eye candy. Lurk in the dark nooks of the swanky lounge and sip your Manhattan while you take in the scenery, or snag a coveted seat at the bar and chat up the friendly (and attractive) bartenders. Don't pass up your chance to try one of the new bar chef's creations (the stuffed peppadew peppers practically melt in your mouth) and keep your eyes peeled; the Merc is known to cater to the celebrity clientele at the nearby Ritz-Carlton.
Nightlife impresario Chad Landau and the other proprietors of Smashboxx must've hired a shaman to bless the nightclub before they opened for business late last year. How do we know this? Because every previous business that's occupied the property that houses the stylish Scottsdale spot was practically cursed. Each nightlife endeavor that launched at the Indian Plaza location in recent years didn't seem to last long, whether it was ultra lounges (Lyte, NV Lounge), a rock 'n' roll piano bar (Howl at the Moon), or even a jazz joint (The Blue Note Cellar). Smashboxx, however, has not only survived, but it has thrived. The dance floor is typically packed as clubgoers bump their rumps to Top 40 video remixes playing on the TVs that ring the place while patrons stand four deep at bar for the latest in trendy drinkage. There's a line of peeps waiting to get inside the club's Hotboxx video booth, where the inebriated can document their evening out for visitors to Smashboxx's Facebook page. What better way to recall all of the previous night's shenanigans during the dreaded morning after?
Simply put, the Rhythm Room is a Phoenix blues institution. There are plenty of great places to catch the blues in Phoenix, but no other spot brings the blues on a scale comparable to Rhythm Room. Owner Bob Corritore's deep ties to the roots and traditional blues scenes ensure that even as nights during the week feature indie rock, alternative, hip-hop, and rock, the weekend always belong to the blues. The club celebrates 20 years of bringing "those lowdown sounds" to the Valley this year, and continues to do what the club set out to do way back in '91: bring the sounds of touring blues musicians and give locals like The Rhythm Room Allstars, Hans Olson, George Thomas and The Flamekeepers, The Rocket 88s and more a place to strut their stuff.
There isn't a liquor license plastered on the wall at Afterlife in Scottsdale, which means there aren't any patrons getting plastered inside the club, either. Hence, owner Aron Mezo doesn't offer any primo bottle service, chic cocktails, or cheap-ass drink nights. While the lack of liquor sales definitely cuts into his bottom line every month, there are two upsides to the situation: The club can stay open long past last call, and — more importantly — the 18-and-up crowd beats its way to Afterlife's door. Barely legal boys and babes are in abundance at the after-hours dance hall, where the lack of booze doesn't equate to boredom. To wit: Step into the often-crowded Liquid Room and you'll see dancers covered in glow paint staging sultry shower shows while a blaring soundtrack of Top 40 cuts plays over the loudspeakers. Or step out onto the patio, where games of the casino and arcade variety are available. Upstairs in the Fire Room, a fiery red glow lights up the dirty dance moves of go-go girls, while the downstairs den offers hookahs, hit-spinning DJs, and an energy drink bar.
We really love The Sail Inn. It's got a great location, just off Mill. Oh, and friendly bouncers, stiff drinks, and, of course, great bands. Though the place skews a little hippie, between the indoor and outdoor stages they book just about everything other than death metal. There's plenty of parking, lots of little nooks to have a conversation, and it's easy to walk to other bars before or after the show. Also, they often have entertainment, like fire twirlers, in the parking lot. Does this sound like a long list of semi-related things that we like about the place? Well, umm, yeah, it sorta is. But it's the total package — did we mention the restrooms are pretty nice and they sometimes have vendors selling food at bigger weekend shows? — that makes The Sail Inn the best overall rock club in town. Wait 'til they book a band you really like and tell us you disagree.
Billed as a "club within a club," the Shaker Room is located on the top floor of Old Town's Martini Ranch. Bathed in cool red lights, the whole room feels like a VIP exclusive, with plush booths, subtle anime-inspired art, and dancing poles. (Don't worry, there's a chic glass bar stocked with enough liquor to potentially convince you to actually dance on the poles, too.) The whole thing centers on the venue's monster dance floor, which gets invaded with moving Scottsdale socialites as DJ Exxxclusive busts out Top 40 and rock mixes for the crowds.
Nathan and Elizabeth Smalley grew up in the wrong decade. Though the 30-something couple's birthdates place them firmly within Generation X, one gets the sense that they shoulda been members of "The Greatest Generation" that lived in the 1940s. They both dig vintage threads from those days, consider Benny Goodman and Paul Whiteman some of their favorite musicians, and possess more swing dance moves than your average Fred Astaire Dance Studio instructor. They know how to do the Lindy, the Charleston, the East Coast Swing, and the jitterbug, and they impart their knowledge every Monday evening at the Ghost Lounge inside the vintage Hotel San Carlos, natch. Local rockabilly and swing bands like the Kings of Pleasure and the Heymakers provide the soundtrack during the weekly swing night, while the Smalleys provide the dance steps. Are you feeling fleet-footed, ace? Lessons begin at 6 p.m. Call 602-770-3184.

Editor's Note: This Best of award has been changed from its original version.

Lauren Cusimano
Held on the second Saturday of every month, Obscura is a mix of '80s new wave, indie, and Britpop spun by DJ Roya. This grooving monthly dance party also is an opportunity to snap up giveaways during CD-release parties. If you've got the need to move and shake it, then this is the night to get out and sweat to the music of the '80s. There also are drink specials to help you shake off any reservations you may have about dancing. Get over it and get moving — DJ Roya of Obscura will help you do just that.
Here's a fun game to try sometime: Hang out among the throng of clubgoers gathered on the sidewalk along Washington Street's block-long nightlife district on a typical Friday evening and see if you can spot the hipsters. It ain't hard to miss 'em, as they stand out from the Latino-heavy crowd with their ironic T-shirts, porkpie hats, and shabby-chic threads while making a beeline from the nearby light-rail station to the front door of Bar Smith. Hipster impresario William Fucking Reed's putting on the Valley's marquee indie dance night, and there's little time to waste. Hepcat DJs like 2ToneDisco, Goldsmith, and Juan Carlos Lenz are in residence on the roof, unleashing electro-house, moombahton, and club bangers. Meanwhile, sleaze rock and punk gets dished out downstairs, and there are weekly live gigs by some of the biggest indie bands in Phoenix — including Peachcake, What Laura Says, and Mr. Meeble. It's little wonder, then, that Filter Magazine calls it "one of the hippest places in Phoenix to be." True dat.

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