MercBar
MercBar

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.

Maizie's Cafe and Bistro

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.

Carly's Bistro

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!

Sun Devil Liquors

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.

The Hungry Monk

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.

Angels Trumpet Ale House
Angels Trumpet Ale House

Over the past year, craft beer has exploded from a rising trend in hipster culture to a full-blown phenomenon. No longer will an "okay" beer selection with four handles and 10 bottles do. Nowadays, you'd better have at least 16 tap handles, and your bottle selection had better be epic. Thankfully, husband-and-wife duo Mat and Sharry Englehorn nailed the beer selection at their brand-new downtown Phoenix brew pub. After an entire year of renovations to Mat Englehorn's circa 1970s office building, the bar and restaurant, with its 31 rotating tap handles, opened its doors in August to the delight of the downtown craft beer drinking crews. Here you can find selections from your favorite locals, like Four Peaks and SanTan, and some of the best from national breweries such as Dog Fish Head, Odell, and Oskar Blues. Aside from the great beer selections, the pub also offers a menu of unique "upscale" bar food and a killer patio for hanging out with a nice pint on a cool Phoenix evening.

Rula Bula

There are plenty of great reasons to visit Rúla Búla on a Wednesday night. The bar's cozy interior makes for a refreshing break from the Mill Avenue bustle and grind (the historic location, the Andre Building, certainly doesn't hurt), and the smooth-tasting pints of Guinness make the bar an Irish pub staple in the Valley. The bar's weekly pub quiz, hosted by Brainstormer Pub Quiz group, hosts bar tests and games all over the country. Teams square off against each other, answering questions about sports, pop culture, and history. Chances are the regulars are going to own the newbies, but remember: Pints of Guinness don't just make you strong, they sharpen cognitive skills, too. (We can't verify this claim, but it sounds good, right?)

Stand Up Live

Roastmaster supreme Jeffery Ross made fun of Arizona for four nights straight, which — admittedly — isn't too tough a task, given the backward-ass nature of our fair state. Meanwhile, Jackass star Steve-O is rumored to have stapled his scrotum to his leg during his visit, the motormouthed Pablo Francisco did shots with the audience and unleashed dozens of hilarious impressions, and infamous vulgarian Dave Attell spun disgustingly humorous yarns about his love of pornography. Yup, a multitude of memorable, mirthful, and madcap moments have taken place inside Stand Up Live since the snazzy-looking comedy club opened at CityScape in downtown Phoenix more than a year ago. A virtual "who's who" of comics has graced the stage at the upscale laugh den — which features such posh amenities as a copper fire pit and stone waterfall — including countless cutups who have appeared on Comedy Central programming or worked the late-night chat circuit. Besides appearances by homegrown yukster David Spade, Stand Up Live has been visited by former Saturday Night Live cast members Jay Mohr and Jim Breuer, as well as Drew Carey, 30 Rock star Tracy Morgan, and Brian Posehn of Mr. Show fame. A variety of up-and-coming local comedians are also showcased throughout the month, and thanks to the club's high-tech sound system, you can practically hear the flop sweat dripping off their brows after a bad joke bombs.

Readers Choice:

Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill

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.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of