Best Cocktail Program 2014 | Last Drop Bar at the Hermosa Inn | Bars & Clubs | Phoenix
Jackie Mercandetti

If any bar menu typifies both reverence to the classics and a new Arizona cocktail outlook, it's Travis Nass' menu at Last Drop Bar. That's because while he keeps old favorites in the repertoire, the cocktails he creates almost always are well-balanced and light — even when they're liquor-forward. Bringing the cocktail scene away from the over-juiced attempts at refreshment that plague many local watering holes, Nass presents grown-up drinks for a more developed palate. If you've ever wondered what Phoenix cocktails should be like, know that they should be something like the smooth, clean, and simple craft concoctions at the Hermosa Inn's bar. For the less adventurous, he'll surely whip up any of the old favorites from memory, too.

The patio at House of Tricks isn't the largest in town, or the fanciest. The drink menu isn't super-remarkable (though the wine list is good). But time and again, as soon as the temperature dips, you'll find us on the patio of this downtown Tempe mainstay enjoying a fireside cocktail. The bricked-in, tree-covered patio is simple, comfortable and typically packed, making us wonder why there aren't more spots like this around town. Long known as the place ASU students take their parents, this restaurant is more than that — it's an oasis just off Mill Avenue, a sophisticated but laid back little spot with killer cuisine and a sweet vibe teetering on the verge of tea party but still edgy enough that your boyfriend won't mind going. Particularly if he can cuddle up to you next to that fireplace.

Dominique Chatterjee
Desert at Lux

Nerd alert! We like to take our laptop to a coffee shop and call it a night on the town. And that's what it is at Lux, where you can start your day with a shot of espresso and end it with a craft cocktail. We're nerds but we're not alone — just about any time, you'll have trouble finding a spot at a table or the bar at this CenPho hangout. The DJ's always playing something interesting, the eavesdropping is top-notch (as long as you don't happen to sit next to some church mice — unless that's your thing) and the drinks are delicious. Just be careful not to spill that gin and tonic on your keyboard.

Jackie Mercandetti

There are a lot of great mixology classes in town if you have cash to shell out, or you can just take a seat at the bar at Barrelhouse and listen to Geoffrey Wilson tell you pretty much everything you need to know. Though his specialty is New Orleans cocktail history (like Henry Ramos' Gin Fizz or the origins of the Sazerac), he's an encyclopedia of booze know-how. On a personal level, he's witty, jovial, and entirely professional — everything you could want from a bartender. His warm personality is so inviting and his cocktails are so well-executed that you just might find it impossible to leave your barstool once you've taken a seat. Any doubts about whether bartender is a respectable profession go out the window in his presence.

Even if you were somehow able to match Smite for his turntable skills — and fat chance of that — the Phoenix DJ still would boast a collection that puts most DJs to shame. Rare funk, soul, cumbia, reggae, psych, and world beat selections make each performance by Smite at clubs like Crescent Ballroom (where he hosts his weekly "Buttermilk and Biscuits" evening), the Lost Leaf, Bitter & Twisted, the Pressroom, or other downtown haunts a special event. Smite's taste is all-encompassing, and his technical skill is incredible. Phoenix is a great town for DJs, but Smite maintains an air of dedication that few get close to emulating.

For hipsters, vinyl hoarders, or even your dad, a turntable is either a contraption meant for cueing up one's favorite platters or it's merely a conversation piece. But when David Dimmick starts sticking needles in grooves and performs as Fact135, it becomes a finely tuned instrument on which he works hip-hop wax into a symphony of scratching, cutting, chopping, and chirping between laying down the boom-bap. And the NYC native's been doin' it and doin' it and doin' it well since the late '90s, when he tag-teamed decks on both coasts and opened for rap legends like Pharoahe Monch and Biz Markie alongside fellow local turntablist legend Megadef.

Fast-forward to the present day and Dimmick, widely considered a DJ's DJ by those in the know, is still in demand, whether it's taking over the airwaves of 101.1 FM's Friday night/Saturday morning Rhyme & Reason radio show, judging local DJ competitions (including the DMC World Championship regionals whenever it swings through Phoenix), or backing up rappers at club nights like the Hip Hop House. And that's a fact.

Don't get us wrong: Phoenix's Jon Rauhouse is a killer bandleader in his own right — as evidenced by his Jon Rauhouse Orchestra — but when he teams up with songwriter Neko Case, he proves himself to be a killer ace in the hole. Case's latest, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, features killer guitar and steel work by Rauhouse, and he's a powerful presence on stage. He's not exclusive to Case — his work enhanced recent records by Tucson's Howe Gelb, alt-country stalwarts Old 97s, and KT Tunstall. Rauhouse has an impeccable touch, adding to Americana albums his graceful touches of banjo, dobro, and guitar that feel perfectly Western.

One More Time does a spot-on imitation of Daft Punk in concert and does it well. Phenomenally well, even, from the identical version of the iconic helmets and jumpsuits of the Grammy-winning and quasi-robotic French electronica duo (including neon versions inspired by Tron: Legacy) to the pyramid-like staging that's straight outta the act's landmark Alive 1997 tour. One More Time has Daft Punk down so well that it even mimics its flair for anonymity, asking that New Times keep the duo's real names on the down-low.

In recent years, the Phoenix-based tribute act went from performing at local hip club nights in 2010 to wowing crowds in L.A. and San Diego with its hour-long set of mixing, editing, and playing Daft Punk tracks. "That's when we realized we were onto something that could potentially be big, bigger than a bunch of guys in helmets playing hipster parties," they told us. They ain't lying, as they've been going harder, faster, stronger while touring venues across the United States in the wake of Daft Punk's success with Random Access Memories and multiple Grammy wins. So there's at least one way One More Time differs from its source material, since Daft Punk still hasn't announced when it's gonna tour again.

A lot has changed in the 10 years since Andrew Jackson Jihad formed. Downtown Phoenix has a radically different look, and the music scene certainly has matured. As for the group, Andrew Jackson Jihad has grown from an acoustic folk-punk duo to a full-fledged rock band, and this year, the band released its fifth full-length album, Christmas Island. Undoubtedly the slickest-sounding album in AJJ's catalog, the album is worlds apart, sonically, from the low-fi aesthetic of 2007's People Who Eat People Are the Luckiest People in the World.

But Christmas Island retains the piercing lyrics and buoyant sound that has defined Andrew Jackson's Jihad musical identity. The group still proudly represents Phoenix, but its appeal extends well beyond the Valley — Andrew Jackson Jihad's IAMA session on Reddit attracted more than 1,200 comments, and on YouTube, their albums have garnered hundreds of thousands of listens. With sharp lyrics like "It's harder to define love / I've gotta drink more if I wanna catch a buzz / The older I get, the more articulate I am at whining," it's easy to understand why.

Rubber Brother Records is one of the Valley's more unique record labels to come along in years. Run by local artists Gage Olesen and Robbie Pfeffer, its roster is overflowing with oddball outsiders (Hug of War), wailing garage rockers (Petty Things), self-effacing indie pop groups (Diners), and other weird music from the desert. It completely eschews CDs and vinyl, issuing all its releases on cassette tapes. Everything's done DIY-style (from hand-printed T-shirts to liner notes) and Olesen and Pfeffer also ran the short-lived underground art space/music venue Parliament.

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