Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
The history of American music is littered with legends about "pickup bands," units of players so adept and quick on their feet that touring songwriters needed only to show up in town and contact the band to back them at a bar or club gig. The members of the karaoke band at Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill in Mesa are kind of like those legendary sidemen, only they back up a different kind of performer: the warbling drunkard stumbling on stage to belt out a rendition of "Neon Moon." That these guys are pro enough to make even the worst singer sound passable isn't just a skill. It's what makes this East Valley haunt so popular with townies and regulars.
By the middle of the summer of 2012, we were choking on dust and dying of thirst. Suddenly, it occurred to us: If New Orleans can have the Hurricane, what's stopping Phoenix from creating her own cocktail homage to the haboob? And so we set forth on a bar-to-bar quest to find the bartender who could make our dream come true. It happened at Lon's, where Alexandria Bowler created a drink so unique — and so fitting — it deserves italics in its name. Bowler kindly provided us with her recipe for The Haboob. You're welcome.• 2.5 ounces of High Spirits Gin• .75 ounces of cactus blossom syrup• 1 ounce of lemon juice• three dashes of mole bittersShake with orange flower water and chamomile dust. Enjoy.
The world of whiskey is wide. Nearly every country that produces grain also makes its own version of the dark liquor, and with thousands of different varieties, styles and brands available, it's easy to get lost in your travels. Old Town Whiskey's collection of bottles is no less daunting — the restaurant's library of more than 100 whiskey varieties is one of the most comprehensive in the state — but there's no better place to make your way through every single one. The décor evokes an upscale version of a Western saloon, where cowboys would kick back the firewater with ease, and with flights of one-ounce tasters available for a set price, soon you will be, too. That Iron Chef Jose Garces lends his own talents to the food menu — which includes duck fat fries, pickled seasonal vegetables, burgers, and steak — is just a perk.
Really, gin made tableside? Flaming shakers of Jameson? Can Richie Moe, Kris Korf, and crew get any more creative with their cocktails? Could anyone?! The Citizen Public House folks decided to make good use of an old VIP room by turning it into a speakeasy-style bar that serves cocktails you most definitely will not find anywhere else. If you're one of the lucky 30 to get in, you must try the Tableside G & T or the impressive Black Blazer, made with Jameson whiskey, black strap molasses rum, and maple syrup. The concoction is lit on fire and mixed until it reaches a beautifully sweet, boozy glaze that is poured over ice and topped with a float of fresh whipped cream and orange zest. It comes with a $17 price tag, but the show itself is worth the price, and the flavors are unforgettable.
Rumor has it there's a cool, skinny chola at the bar. No need to size her up or whistle too loud; this chick keeps it real and authentic without the unnecessary mixes and syrups. Yep, she's the skinny, fresh face of a kick-ass margarita with all the essential ingredients — Jose Cuervo Tradicional Blanco Silver Tequila, agave nectar, and lime juice — and without the diet-driven hype. True, her complex flavors make her a little hard to read. And if you ask for her to touch a blender, she might show you some serious chola attitude. But if you've had a rough day or are in the mood to celebrate, head over to Barrio Queen and find her. There's no better chola to have by your side.
WTF is a Pickle Back? That's probably what you're asking yourself right about now. We're about to tell you, but we need you to open your mind way up, so hear us out on this one. A Pickle Back isn't a shot of pickle juice mixed with something gross like tequila or ranch dressing, and it doesn't have any actual pickles in it whatsoever. It's more of a drink combo like a Lady Boy (gin and tonic, Bailey's, and a beer) or a bloody Mary with a sidecar (small beer). The Pickle Back is made up of three parts — one can of PBR, one shot of Jameson, and one shot of pickle juice — but you keep them all separate. Do not mix them together. Combining them into one drink may cause the world to explode (or leave a bad taste in your mouth). Once you have your three items in front of you, take the shot of Jameson, then chase it with the pickle juice (just do it; it's actually tasty and it takes away that pesky whiskey burn) and then sip on PBR. Try it, you might like it! Particularly at Kitchen 56, where they do it just right.
These days, bars tend to play it fast and loose with their martinis, slapping disparate fruits and herbs together with vodka and calling it good. MercBar is as guilty as anyone on this, though their mixtures — like the Espresso Martini made with Stoli Vanilla and Bailey's — are better-crafted than most. But to us, a true martini is made with lots of gin, a little vermouth, and olives, and it's with these simple things that Merc's bartenders shine. We've never had a better dirty martini than the one we sipped over a night spent people-watching at this dimly lit lounge.
Too much bacon? Pfft. Never. We still love bacon, and we'll savor it in any form — especially when it's in the form of vodka. This uptown bistro loads up their hangover helper with a mix of rich tomato juice, black pepper, spicy horseradish, and bacon vodka, then garnishes it with strips of smoky applewood bacon. The result is more of a meal than a beverage, but it will cure your Sunday-morning blues in no time.
The old saying goes — liquor before beer never fear; beer before liquor, never sicker. But what happens when you combine wine, whiskey, and other liquor together in one cocktail? We think it sounds like a hangover waiting to happen, but Carly's has managed to turn it into a sultry drink that we love sipping while enjoying one of their pressed sandwiches or a light hummus plate. The downtown Phoenix café combines whiskey with red wine, raspberry liquor, Orangina, and a splash of Sprite over ice in this non-traditional sangria. They even top it off with an adorable upside-down cherry. Cheers!
Head down the stairs at Sun Devil Liquors in Mesa and you'll be greeted by an unlikely sight, the Sun Devil Cellar and Pub. Navigate the bottles of aged wine and push past the plush curtains and you'll find a tiny nook of seclusion. Maybe a pianist tickles the black and white keys of a piano, or maybe there's just mellow sound drifting over the system, but either way, the quiet, dark basement feels wholly removed from the clinking bottles of microbrew upstairs. Order a glass of the Upper Cut '07 Cabernet Sauvignon and take a second to appreciate the fact that your phone's not getting any reception.
In 2010, Jim Lolli converted his two-year-old Buffalo Wings & Rings franchise into the Hungry Monk, where the ever-changing beer list boasts crafts from all over the country, as well as unique blends crafted by Monk staff and friends. Maybe it's the time he spent slinging wings, but Lolli has an eccentric approach to events that twists what beer can do and be. Think tapping a 10 percent ABV double IPA at 8 a.m. and pairing it with doughnuts is a good idea? Lolli did. How about a dinner of steak and pancakes served with stouts and beer-based syrups? Lolli's all about it. Tapping parties, beer festivals, and fundraising events are where the Monk shines, but you can get a deal every day of the week — the best day to visit is Wednesday, when craft pints are just $3.
Hop Knot beat out 80 other brews in the "American-style strong pale ale" category at the 2012 World Beer Cup, which makes sense — it beat out all comers to be named our Best Local Beer last year. Four Peaks' IPA blends four different hops added at different times in the brewing process, resulting in a piney, grassy symphony that fuses with sweet caramel malts in perfect harmony. Whether in keg or cask, bottle or can, the balance and drinkability this beer delivers every time we try it show why Hop Knot is — and remains — our favorite.