Valley Bar
Benjamin Leatherman

The Crescent Ballroom proved to all that Charlie Levy knew what he was doing when it comes to the whole "running a kick-ass venue" thing, but his follow-up joint, the subterranean Valley Bar, might be an even better example of his vibe. It's not just cool because it's literally underground; Valley Bar books artists like Thundercat and Foy Vance — not household names, but hot acts among those in the know. And the speakeasy-vibe has inspired some of Phoenix's finest cultural explorations, hosting comedian Anwar Newton's Literally the Worst Show Ever showcase, New Wave dance night The Factory, and our favorite, New Times' Bar Flies (you know it). Valley Bar's a stalwart example that Phoenicians are an experimental and excitable bunch. If you build it, they will come.

TT Roadhouse
Lauren Cusimano

Clad in Union Jack flags and welcoming bikers, punks, and various other counterculture-leaning drinkers, TT Roadhouse on 68th Street is about as unpretentious as it gets. Boasting cheap beers, craft brews, and signature Blue Ribbon medchiladas (with a jalapeño floating atop the beer and tomato juice) the joint wears its British pub roots proudly, and embraces the U.K. side of punk with a jukebox stocked with punk and ska. Wood-paneled and dark, TT Roadhouse certainly isn't the most high-energy place in Scottsdale, but who would prefer that to a cool, chill punk bar where the bartenders seem to be having as much fun as you and one of the tables reads "Reserved — go fuck yourself"? 

Palo Verde Lounge
Jacob Tyler Dunn

Covered in stickers and a thin layer of grime, the Palo Verde Lounge isn't a nice bar pretending to be a dive; it's a legitimate, bona fide dingy watering hole. And if you've got no qualms with that, you're in for a good time. Local thrash and metal types like to frequent the place, but so do old-school Tempe lifers, the kind of guys who could tell you a story or two about the way the dusty town used to be. Sometimes bands host shows there, though there's no stage and they end taking up most of the real estate that isn't occupied by pool tables, but that's all part of the fun. You get in, belly up, and go for whatever ride the "Dirty Verde" is going to offer.

Bikini Lounge
Benjamin Leatherman

The Bikini Lounge on Grand Avenue isn't just the oldest tiki bar in Phoenix — having first opened its doors in 1947, it's one of the oldest bars in town, period. The key to its longevity is its strict adherence to core values: cheap beer, good tunes, and low lighting. There's nothing too fancy at work there (and there's weird, obscene stuff available in the bathrooms) but that's precisely the appeal of a bar like the Bikini. DJ nights are the closest concession to hip culture, but even then, DJs like DJentrification, with his long-running 602sday nights, defy trends and offer up an entirely unique experience via unclassifiable genre-hopping selections. With all the changes going on along Grand Avenue, we hope the Bikini remains the anchor of unpretentiousness we love. 

Last Exit Live
Benjamin Leatherman

Get your ducktail game on point; we're heading for Last Exit Live. Found in the historic warehouse district just south of downtown Phoenix, Last Exit Live has been around since 2013 (though it originated in 2003 as the Last Exit Bar & Grill in Tempe). This 21-and-over venue features a full-service bar and a large outdoor patio area —with the whole operation available for rent to accommodate private events. Last Exit Live also features a sizable stage in its 200-plus capacity venue for the local and national musicians on the bill, and has welcomed touring acts like the Koffin Kats, and Phoenix-based pompadour and pinup-style bands like The Limit Club, Whiskey Kiss, and Manual Sex Drive. Last Exit Live welcomes patrons to the bar as early as 7 p.m. before the show, and keeps serving drinks till 1 a.m. on weeknights and 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

San Tan Flat Saloon & Grill

Queen Creek saloon/steakhouse San Tan Flat promises "all the fun of camping ... without having to sleep on the ground" on its website, but we'd argue it's actually got more going for it than that. When was the last time you dragged a real-life country band like Band Wagon out camping or packed up a deep fryer to make fried pickles in the back country? This year, management opened a Tempe location, San Tan Flat at Minder Binder, and while we like it a bunch, too, it doesn't quite have the frontier vibe of the original location out on Hunt Highway, with its open fire pits and unobstructed views of Arizona sunsets. Come to think of it, we guess it is a lot like camping, only with draft beer.

Look, getting a sports bar right isn't exactly rocket science. So can you please explain to us why so many places seem to mess it up? For clarity and ease of execution, look to local chain Zipps Sport Grill, which does it right at all 12 locations. There's nothing fussy about Zipps, no complicated menu system, concepts, or experimental "takes" on classics, just the basics done well: cold beer, burgers, wings, fried snacks, and games on HD flat screens positioned all throughout their dining rooms on exposed brick walls, at the bar, and outside on patios. The extra touches, like shuffleboard, pool tables, and darts, are nice accents, but the core of the place is as unpretentious and uncluttered as every sports bar ought to be.

The Rhythm Room

In 2016, the Rhythm Room celebrates its 25th anniversary, a milestone few Valley venues enjoy. Founded in 1991 by harmonica man and blues DJ Bob Corritore, host of KJZZ's long-running blues showcase Those Lowdown Blues, the Rhythm Room has welcomed blues legends like Robert Lockwood Jr., R.L. Burnside, and Jimmy Smith, remaining Phoenix's No. 1 spot for blues, Americana, and jazz. This year, the club's roped in talent like jazz fusion guitarist Matt Schofield and Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Steve Forbert, and continues to serve as home base for local roots groups like the Sugar Thieves, Dave Riley, and Bob Corritore's own Rhythm Room All Stars.

Karamba

Neighboring the Coronado Historic District, Karamba Nightclub is a boisterous Latin nightclub and gay bar — though they welcome all kinds. Featuring two large indoor areas and an expansive patio area, you can easily spread out on the dance floor or find a place to post up and drink. High-energy DJs like Jesus Vega and Stixx are there to entertain while you work it out, or you can come for karaoke, drag shows with your favorite local queens, and more risqué performances always on the calendar. There's something going on every night of the week at this festive danceteria, including Cumbia Tuesdays and Tejano Thursdays. Karamba Nightclub liquors up the public daily (and most holidays) from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. — and you're encouraged to stay and dance after the taps are turned off for the dry hours till 4 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

Cash Inn Country

 With a giant dance floor, full bar, plenty of space to mingle, and killer happy hour discounts, there's a reason the Cash Nightclub & Lounge is a favorite hangout spot for the local gay and lesbian community. The vibe is laid-back, the decor is cowboy-western, and the staff and customers are friendly and welcoming. On top of that, there's something fun to do there each night of the week. From free line-dancing classes, to karaoke, dance parties with local DJs, and even the occasional painting class (with drinks, of course), the Cash Nightclub & Lounge is the perfect place to go out dancing with a group of friends or to head out on a solo adventure to meet new people.

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