Best Coffeehouse 2017 | Lux Central | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Dominique Chatterjee
Desert at Lux

You know what we look for in a coffee shop? A bar. Which is why we can never resist Lux, the (sometimes tragically) hip coffee bar hidden in plain sight off Central Avenue in the heart of Phoenix. From dawn past dusk, you can plug in your laptop, gather your friends, or both. There's art on the walls (our favorite pieces are by painter Randy Slack, a regular contributor) and music on the speakers (everything from classical to indie to Motown). Most of the chairs are comfy. No one will nudge you away, but you might feel compelled to order breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a few between-meal pastries. And did we mention there's a full bar?

One coffee shop (now with several locations) showed up in the earliest days of Phoenix's coffee scene and offers far more than a hip setting for your laptop. Cartel sets a high bar for sourcing and purchasing high-quality green coffee beans. No roaster in town is perfect, but we feel Cartel is equipping itself with the tools to last as a roaster for home brewers, wholesale clients, and in-shop sippers alike.

Five years ago, cold-brew coffee was the exception, less common than hot-drip coffee and espresso poured over ice. Now it's the rule, both at indie coffee shops and at Starbucks alike. Lower temperatures don't extract the acids that give hot coffee floral and acidic fruit-forward flavors, so you'll end up with something smoother, with notes that are more chocolate-like and nutty — when done well, at least. Year after year, be Coffee, using beans that could be described as well-developed, though certainly far from roasty, burnt, or smoky, seems to have figured out an equation that leads to the nearly perfect cup (at least, in our opinion). Best of all, they are consistent, unlike their competitors, which seem to treat iced coffee as an afterthought. Even better, the cold brew is strong. This is very important in Phoenix, where the sun shines hot, and a perfect-strength iced coffee becomes watery and weak, if not the moment you step outside, then the moment after. be Coffee's cold brew gives you some wiggle room. Extra credit for be Coffee.

Before Alec Baldwin's best line was probably something delivered as Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock, the blue-eyed scene stealer was well-known for the heatedly delivered, "Coffee's for closers only," from an early scene in 1992's Glengarry Glen Ross. As scary as he seemed in the role of Blake the big shot, that's not half as scary as a gnarly hangover. Allow us to present a local cure: the Coffee is For Closers cocktail from House Brasserie in Scottsdale. The drink consists of Press cold brew coffee, Tia Maria dark liqueur, demerara (a type of sugar), and lemon peel. The concoction runs you $12, but it will give you that boost of caffeine along with a little morning-after swill needed to make up for the night before. Nothing like drinking spiked, Baldwin-inspired coffee in a lovely Old Town Scottsdale environment.

Mora Italian

What's better than a glass of rosé? A glass of sweet, slushy rosé. Mora has a twist on this year's hottest — er, coldest — drink, frosé, with their Rosé Snowcone. A Provencal rosé wine is blended with grapefruit, watermelon, peaches, and pink peppercorn tincture, then served over shaved ice. It's tart, citrusy, with the perfect icy crunch. Scooch over, wine cooler. This trend is here to stay.

You can't go wrong with either of the two frozen cocktails that the bartenders at Ladera tap swiftly out of slushy machines. Recite eenie-meenie if you must, but if you end up with the Mango La Sandunga, a tropical and tiki-evoking mixture of tequila, bitter orange Aperol aperitif, a nutty almond syrup called orgeat (it's in your mai tai), mango, and pineapple, consider yourself blessed. The other option, the less complex mezcolada, is straightforward and delightful all the same — essentially, a smoky piña colada (and only $5 at happy hour).

Tirion Boan

The team behind Counter Intuitive, one of the Valley's most creative cocktail bars, made a splash when they opened UnderTow in Arcadia. What they got was an underground tiki bar, decked out like a real-life below-deck cargo bay — with crashing thunder coming through speakers, lightning effects, and LCD screens depicting ocean-scapes. Meanwhile, top-talent bartenders shake and stir old- and new-school tiki drinks alike. UnderTow's mai tai is the best in town, no doubt about it, as are other historical stalwarts of the genre, like the Zombie. And you can order a classic Jungle Bird, but you might opt for one of the bar's many originals, like a stirred version — the Stirred Bird — that drinks like a tropical Negroni, made with rum, Campari, lime oils, and house-made pineapple syrup.

When it's hot, there's no cooler thing to do than sip any one of Rum Bar's creative, Caribbean-inspired concoctions. We like the fact that although owner Dwayne Allen consistently puts together an impressive list of original cocktails that changes twice a year to match Phoenix's two seasons (hot and less hot, but always sunny), he makes sure that the most iconic rum drinks — mojitos, piña coladas, and daiquiris — are far from cliche treatments. We are sure that you would be hard-pressed to find better versions of any of the aforementioned rum cocktails elsewhere in town. A shaded and misted back patio is the cherry atop the equation, especially if you're one to enjoy the occasional cigar, which Rum Bar offers an assortment of as well.

Heather Hoch

It's easier than ever to find a well-made classic cocktail, if not the ever-elusive, perfect ideal. It's obvious that while the bartenders at Bitter & Twisted are chasing perfection, they also want to provide guests with something memorable. That's certainly the case with the B&T martini, engineered to be served chillier than any in town, or their series of Negroni cocktails that have been batched and done sous vide with floral flavors such as chamomile, Earl Grey, or rose. And with regards to punch, what's very old — old English, that is — is made anew with Bitter & Twisted's take on the centuries-old milk punch, where spirits meet milk. We'll spare you the details, but the end product is a drink so smooth and luscious you'd swear you're drinking, well, milk, and maybe you kind of are, and yet it isn't the least bit opaque, nor does it taste milky — just booze beautifully rounded by seasonally picked flavors, combining with a texture that makes your mouth feel downright fancy. The drink is served in a handsome teacup, swimming with a fabulously large and crystal-clear ice cube.

It's strange that a drink as elemental and refreshing as the mint julep — just sugar, bourbon, and mint beneath a mound of melting ice — could come to be thought of as something to be employed on only one day out of the 365 we get each year: the day of the Kentucky Derby. Well, owner Micah Olson put the mint julep center stage at his Southern concept, Okra, where the drink has its own section of the menu, home to historical variants and some modern takes alike. In fact, bourbon, whether in an Old Fashioned, a Manhattan, or something different entirely, gets star treatment here.

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