Kobalt
Lauren Cusimano

The drink pixies behind the granite-topped bar at this upscale gay-oriented drinkery in the heart of Park Central Mall aren't stingy with either their smiles or their pours. Kobalt's cocktails are ridiculously potent, which may explain why the place always buzzes with laughter, vivacious conversation, and enlivened antics. It's also one of the reasons why Kobalt draws a diverse clientele from across the LGBTQ spectrum into its mellow and immaculately decorated milieu, where anything goes and everyone's welcome, even if they happen to be straight. No one bats an eye when a 6-foot-2 drag queen teeters into the place on stiletto heels for Taylor Made's illusionist extravaganzas on the first Saturday of the month, nor do they care when singers vocalize at the twice-weekly karaoke sessions on Sundays and Tuesdays. Ditto for whenever club kids tromp around during the high-energy dance night on Fridays and Saturdays or when well-groomed types stop by for massages and martinis on Wednesday. Kobalt's bartenders simply give a knowing wink and fill the glass with something strong.

Cash Inn Country

Spend a Friday or Saturday night at the Cash, as some regulars refer to it, and you're likely to witness a real life episode of The L Word, writ large. Crammed to the rafters every weekend with members of the Sappho set, this CenPho saloon is one of the most enduring lesbian bars in the Valley, kicking around the scene for nearly two decades. Catering to a colorful cross-section of unforgettable patrons — ranging from jockish-looking ladies in shorts and T-shirts to femme fatales in revealing outfits and tattooed punk princesses sporting belt buckles that state "It ain't gonna lick itself" — Cash Inn features poker on Sundays and Wednesdays, free darts and $2.50 domestics and well cocktails on Tuesdays, and sassy bartenders who call you "honey" seven nights a week. Hit the place during line-dancing night on Thursdays and you'll see nothing but cowgirls learning how to two-step. Meanwhile, weekends have a more diverse musical menu of rock and hip-hop from DJ Steele.

Hookah Mania

No, your eyes aren't playing tricks on you. The manager did, in fact, stick a small bowl hewn from an apple and packed with shisha atop your water pipe. Or maybe it was made from watermelon or a pear. Regardless, adding the fresh-cut produce helps accentuate any of Hookah Mania's 40 flavored tobaccos with a fruity zest. It's one of the many amenities that the staff at this Tempe hookah lounge adjacent to Lebanese restaurant Mijana provides to its patrons. Attentive service is another, as they'll eagerly whisk out aromatic pots of potent Turkish coffee, dishes laden with Middle Eastern cuisine, or a few extra coals for your nargile. The atmosphere is both communal and chill as couples, families, and college kids gather in cozy seating areas filled with vintage and velvety furniture and decorated with warm colors, exotic-looking artwork, and glowing candles. A mellow buzz of conversation fills the air along with wafts of Arabic pop music, the chatter of friends playing card games, and the ever-present bubbling of sweet-smelling smoke being huffed.

Zoan

Long ago and far away, lighting up a cigarette used to signify style, sophistication, and class. (Try picturing the iconic Humphrey Bogart prowling around Rick's Café Américain in Casablanca without a Camel clutched in hand). That era, however, is long since past. These days, smokers have been relegated to pariah status and exiled to butt-strewn smoking areas outside local bars or banished to the parking lot to take a puff. Well, unless they happen to be hanging out at Zoan, that is. This CenPho establishment offers nicotine fiends a tony-looking parlor adjacent to the main bar in which to smoke away until their lungs cry uncle while still being able to enjoy their drinks. Earlier this year, owner Rhonda Walden had one wall of Zoan's posh lounge replaced with a latticework of metal bars and screens, transforming it into an open-air smoking patio. It's 100 percent legal in the eyes of the law, not to mention being easy on the eyes. Abstract art lines the walls, while ornate furnishings and warm light decorates the room. A flatscreen TV broadcasts high-energy dance music videos and the both a pool table and dart machine are available for play. Best of all, the room is so well ventilated that it doesn't reek of tobacco, unlike many of its patrons after they get done sucking on a few Marlboros.

The Little Woody
Luigi Richie

Hands down one of the coolest tiny bars in Phoenix, The Little Woody has stolen our boozy hearts. Part of The Vig's growing family of bars, TLW embodies everything that we want in a neighborhood watering hole. The wood-planked walls and dim lighting create a perfect escape from the harsh afternoon sun in the summer and a cozy hideaway during the cooler months. The friendly staff shakes up a mean cocktail, and they have a killer selection of draft beer. For those of you who want to slum it, order The Codger. It's a shot of Old Granddad whiskey and a can of Old Style for just $5. If you have too many (on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday and live within two miles), The Vig Rig will drive you home.

Best Neighborhood Bar, Downtown Phoenix

FilmBar

FilmBar

It would be enough for FilmBar to provide downtown Phoenix patrons with the kind of art-house fare you don't get at mall cinemas, but FilmBar doesn't stop there. The "bar" in FilmBar is just as impressive, offering not only a chill place to hang out and a nice selection of craft beers, but music unlike any other club in town (courtesy of selectors like Djentrification, whose Saturday night Palace World Music party is the most unique sound going). The seating is communal, low, and plush, and the vibe on a Saturday night is energetic but friendly, mellow, and, like the neighborhood that houses it, funky enough to freak out uptight squares.

The Loft Again Lounge

It's a good thing that the proprietors of this North Valley gin joint have a couple of large clocks hanging near the bar to remind patrons of the passage of time. Otherwise, it's likely that they might waste away the entire day huddled away inside The Loft Again. (As a matter of fact, it seems a few of the regulars wind up doing so anyway.) It's hard to pry yourself away from any of the comfy barstools and head home when this darkened drinking den offers so much: They keep the AC blasting and the lights dimmed inside, allowing you the chance to drink in both comfort and seclusion. A daily happy hour showcases $2.50 well cocktails and $2.25 domestic longnecks, the bartending staff has a tendency toward heavy pours, and salty snacks like popcorn and potato chips are readily available. If your stomach's rumbling for something other than bar snacks, the staff occasionally brings in home-cooked dishes like chili or sloppy joes. If you get bored, there's music trivia bingo on Tuesdays, open mic on Wednesdays, and live rock bands on the weekend. Hang out here long enough and your mug might be pasted onto the ongoing photo collage of regulars along one wall, or maybe on a "missing" poster that your family will end up circulating.

Brad's Place

Cozy neighborhood bars are hard to come by in the corporate strip-mall haven of Ahwatukee, but there is at least one place you can go where everybody knows your name. Brad's Place is a little bit dive bar, a little bit sports bar, and a whole lot of neighborhood friendliness. The beers are always cold, the burgers are big, and if there's a Vikings game on, you'd better be rooting for the Vikes.

Enoch's Sports Lounge

So you say like to sing, huh? This colorful West Valley watering hole, tucked away in the corner of a Peoria strip mall behind a McDonald's, offers some extremely lively karaoke nights four nights a week from Thursday until Sunday. It's just one of the many draws of Enoch's, which also offers a daily happy hour commencing at 6 a.m. each day and a menu filled with tasty bar grub. People-watching also is a favorite pastime, as patrons run the gamut, from the blue-collar crowd and neighborhood regulars who stop by after the workday is done to the beautiful babes who pack the place on nights and weekends. Still bored? Try your hand at billiards, darts, or perhaps some arcade games, or maybe just listen to the informative-yet-inane pontifications of some barstool philosopher perched next to you.

Best Neighborhood Bar, Southeast Valley

Groggy's

Groggy's

As the cocktail-swilling frog depicted on the vintage neon-filled sign portends, Groggy's is a neighborhood bar of the dive variety. As such, this Mesa drinking destination possesses just the right mix of laid-back charm and slummy thrills, not to mention all the appropriate hole-in-the-wall trappings: a claw game stocked with adult novelties, hipster college kids from nearby schools, a menu of cheap and greasy snacks, and chairs with a little bit of wobble to 'em. Thankfully for pool sharks, the joint's billiards equipment is kept in pristine condition — that is, all the cues are straight and the felt on each of the half-dozen tables doesn't boast any stains or rips. Games are always 50 cents, daily food specials are available, and the weekday happy hour offers $2.50 well drinks and $2 domestic pints. While one can drink and dine on the cheap, try not to overindulge unless you wanna resemble the inebriated amphibian outside.

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