Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
Raves and underground dance parties have a tendency to get messy at times, particularly those with colorful themes. Just ask Arizona Event Center owner Wayne Craig, since his cavernous Mesa venue has hosted a few such events in the past year that left things gloriously sloppy by the end of the night. To wit: The annual Bloodfest last October saw participants drenching the place and each other with gallons of crimson liquid, while August's Splat! paint party involved much of the same, only with a rainbow of glossy pigments instead. And Bubble Bobble 5 in March featured flocks of ravers grinding in a shoulder-high sea of soapy foam, leading one onlooker to describe the scene as a "giant sweaty bowl of raver soup."
Thank goodness for plastic dropcloths, which promoters lay down in abundance beforehand, obviously the reason Craig doesn't seem to mind the mess so much. "They do a nice job to prep things, and we have some good folks that work for us to help out afterwards," he says. A crack cleaning crew and an agreeable proprietor aren't its only amenity, as the 30,000-square-foot former nightclub and big-box store also has three stages, a full bar for 21-and-over types, and even a mechanical bull (a holdover from a brief stint as a country bar). Its tiny smoking area often gets a little too crowded but allows rave kids the pretense to get closer to partygoers of the opposite sex and offer to clean off some of the excess paint, fake blood, or foam.
A few years ago, the elegant but crumbling old El Chorro — a Paradise Valley icon — was completely redecorated. On the inside, it doesn't look the same, but one thing no one changed was the view, and the patio is and always will be the best place to enjoy El Chorro. Another constant: You're here for the drinks, not the food. That is, unless your server will sneak you a basket of El Chorro's signature sticky buns. Either way, the view of the north side of Camelback Mountain is breathtaking. And the cocktails aren't bad, either.
Scottsdale's cocktail lovers have been singing the praises of this tiny, semi-secret spot above Citizen Public House since it opened in 2011. Yes, the rules are strict and the prices steep, but then again, where else can you get a cocktail served in a freshly cracked coconut? And don't even get us started on the tableside gin or the flaming artistry that mixologist Kris Korf will perform with Jameson. While the cocktails are more than enough to keep us coming back — at least as often as our wallets will allow — the attraction is about more than just that. We love interacting with the knowledgeable staff who are always more than happy to help you select the right drink. Even the hulking doormen are pretty chill, as long as you follow their rules. You'll probably have to wait to get inside and wait to get your drink, but if you're looking for a cocktail experience that will actually live up to the hype, we promise it will be worth it.
It's a self-explanatory concept — a shot of well tequila, chased with a half-shot of leftover pickle juice. It may sound gross or weird, but the briny, sour pickle juice completely cuts the burn of the tequila (and masks some of the not so high-end flavor). If you're still not sold, think of it this way — you'd typically pair a tequila shot with lime and salt, unless you're trying to be European and use orange and cinnamon. The lime is sour; so is pickle juice. The salt is, well, salty; so is pickle juice. More commonly, you'll find picklebacks, which are pickle juice and whiskey and very hip in New York City right now, but we love Palo Verde Lounge for putting a Southwestern twist on this trend. Whether or not they knew it was a trend when they came up with it is anyone's guess, but the low-brow shot served at this dive in Tempe is still the best, regardless.
Chef Michael O'Dowd may have stepped down from Kai, Arizona's most decorated restaurant, but he didn't entirely leave the theatrical side of dining behind when he opened his own restaurant, Renegade by MOD, this spring. And while the "American West"-inspired eats may not be the most accessible offerings, we're happy to belly up to the restaurant's spacious indoor-outdoor bar, where drinkers will find a menu of amusing cocktails courtesy of talented house mixologist John Woo. We particularly enjoy the signature Renegade Punch in a Bag. The hot pink concoction of rum, juices, and champagne comes, as you might guess, in a bag. It's a little out there for sure, but if we close our eyes and let the strong booze work its magic, it's almost like we're transported to New Orleans' Bourbon Street for a night of hard partying. Plus, for whatever reason, the floppy bag makes us suck it up all the faster. And it has a Kool-Aid ice cube. How can you not love that?
Wake up! It's a new day — and last night seems to be ruining it with the gift of a massive hangover. Never fear, Dick's Hideaway is here to smack the sick right out of you. Dick's take on the classic brunch cocktail is kicked up with a hefty dose of spice in the tomato juice mixture prepared special by the chefs at Dick's sister restaurant, Rokerij. Added to Pinnacle vodka and garnished with lime, pickled asparagus, and celery, this Bloody Mary is in a league of its own when it comes to flavor. But the best part of this Bloody Mary experience is the shot of beer to chase the spicy concoction. It totally balances out the heat and eases you back into the normally functioning world, being the good cop to the cocktail's bad-cop cure.
For us, a good martini is as much about the ambiance as it is about what's in the glass, and Durant's delivers on both fronts. The seasoned bartenders know how to make a damn fine martini — whether you're looking for a classic or something more modern. And rest assured, you'll enjoy it in a seat where thousands before you have honored the same tradition. Even if a martini's not typically your drink, you'll feel silly ordering anything else at Durant's.
Imbibe your way to cocktail bliss at Bar Crudo in Arcadia. The ever-changing seasonal drink specials pretty much define craft cocktails. Freshly made herbal and fruity simple syrups, boutique bitters, and a host of fresh ingredients combine with top-shelf small-batch spirits to create some of the tastiest drinks in the Valley. You can taste the passion for mixology in every sip. One of the best of the more recent offerings is the Milano Gimlet — an herby, sweet-and-sour blend of Broker's gin, Frenet Branca, lime, basil, and housemade cinnamon grapefruit syrup. If that has you feeling parched, the classy but comfortable lounge area that makes up Bar Crudo is the ideal location to soak up some of these beautiful drinks. Thanks to resident mixologist Micah Olson, Phoenix might actually be on the map for high-quality craft cocktails.
When the drinking is done and the hangover is gone, it's those damn calories that always seem to stick around — souvenirs from sipping one too many rich cocktails. Fortunately, there are drinks out there for those who want to be health-conscious while still drinking themselves unconscious. Take the Skinny Chola Margarita at Barrio Queen. This light Latin beverage is all natural, with a simple but satisfying mixture of Jose Cuervo tradicional blanco, agave nectar, and fresh lime juice served on the rocks. Free from syrups, mixes, and other artificial substitutes, the Skinny Chola Margarita is as much a staple for body-conscious barflies as it is for anyone in search of a straightforward, no-frills cocktail.
A few years ago, we got our hands on the recipe for the red sangria from Rita's Kitchen, but try as we might, we just can't perfect the blend served at the casual restaurant at the Camelback Inn. Red wine, orange juice, vanilla, sugar, cut-up fruit, and — what? We suspect we weren't told the whole truth. But we can't blame Rita's. Some secrets are too good to give away. And we're more than happy to sit on the patio here — under the bubble lights, with live music playing and fires roaring in the winter — and contemplate just what might be in that sangria. Nutmeg? Cinnamon? We'd better order one more. You know, for experimental purposes only.
Some might argue about how to pronounce the name (for the record, it's "Kaz-MEER-ehz"), but most locals can agree that Kazimierz World Wine Bar is the go-to spot for fine vino. As the more reclusive sister to restaurant Cowboy Ciao, Kazimierz makes you feel as though you've stepped out of Scottsdale and into your own underground speakeasy, complete with dark stony surroundings, dim lighting, backdoor entrance, and low couches, chairs, and tables. Offering an overwhelming selection of more than 2,000 wines, internationally inspired late-night noshes till 1:30 a.m., and live musical acts on the daily, Kazimierz is a trip for your taste buds as much as it is your eardrums. With wines from around the world and sounds — jazz, Latin, world beat, you name it — that are just as diverse, an evening visit to Kazimierz can almost feel like a mini-getaway.
In a phrase popular among douchey business types, SanTan crushed it this year. Not only did the Chandler-based brewery pioneer the AmeriCAN Craft Beer Festival (which we named the year's best fest in this issue), they did it while opening a new 35,000-square-foot warehouse that soon will enable them to increase distribution outside the state. The past year also saw the release of seasonal brews in cans, making it possible for us to enjoy Rail Slide, Sex Panther, and Mr. Pineapple wherever we damn well pleased. You'd expect them to get at least a little distracted by the weekly cask tappings at their brewpub and the upcoming release of Count Hopula, but no. SanTan had no time for distractions. They were too busy crushing it.