Best Bar for People-Watching 2019 | Zuma | Nightlife | Phoenix

Let's set the scene here — paint a picture, if you will. You walk up to the bouncer; he checks your ID. It's a fake — oh no, the cops are called. Just kidding. (That's probably been the experience of plenty of people, though.) After you get the go-ahead from the bouncer, you walk in, see the intimate (code for tiny) space filled with couples of all ages grinding. Okay, the usual, besides some questionable age gaps. You push through the crowd. Oh, there's a dance circle? Oh, no. You see a couple awfully close, too close. Are they allowed to be doing that? Are his pants down? Is she ...? Time to move on. You've been out for a minute, so it's time to check out the facilities. Not your usual restroom, or your average restroom attendant. We'll leave it to you to check out what they're selling. Time for a drink that takes a little too long to make. You spot an open seat at a booth toward the back. Finally, a minute to relax, sip on your drink, and process what you've seen (or watch The Green Mile on the TV above the bar — true story).

The beauty of 12 West is part beer — an array that can satisfy both the craft newbie and wonk — and part location. Inside, at the 12 West bar, you have a view across the room at the wood-fueled Fire and Brimstone Pizza oven; a baked potato pizza is never more than a few steps away. Out on the patio, you can soak up rays and admire Barnone, the complex housing the brewery. Beers have enough range to keep you drinking. Co-founder and head brewer Noel Garcia can nail crushable classics, like pilsner (see Zona Pils). His standby New England-style IPA is lush and dank, with some tropicality. Lately, too, the brewery has ventured into experimental territory: a line of mixed-culture sours. Like a long day filled with all kinds of wild beers, this brewery just keeps getting better with age.

Best Place to Have a Drink and Watch the Sunset

Orange Sky

If you are looking for a place to treat yourself and feel fancy AF, go to Orange Sky at Talking Stick Resort and knock back a few pricey but delicious cocktails while watching the sun set over some of the beautiful mountains that surround the Valley. Orange Sky is a great place to go if you have something to celebrate, want to impress friends or family from out of town, or are just having the worst week ever and prefer to lick your wounds by dropping a bunch of money like you actually have it. The service is great, the view is unbeatable, and the food is incredible. Unlike many high-end restaurants, the portion sizes at Orange Sky match the price, and it feels pretty cool to be literally guided behind a velvet rope to the outside portion of the restaurant and seated near a shallow reflection pool. Space is limited outside, so if you'd like to get a sunset view, be sure to make a reservation. And bring a sweater for when the sun sets — it's windy all the way up there.

Heather Hoch

If your parents, like many, are suburbanites, and you'd like to give them a taste of downtown Phoenix — as well as a wild craft cocktail — there's no better place than Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour. This is for two reasons: One, it's a full-on operation, complete with team members with headsets, waiting outside even if there are open tables, and the annually released Book o' Cocktails. For 2019, the 18-page menu lists more than 60 craft cocktails with a big-top theme — think the Three-Ring Circus, Irish Passport, Bourbon Butter Cloud, and Peachy Keen. The second reason doesn't concern alcohol at all. If mom or dad is designated as driver, or doesn't partake, there's a full page of mocktails — like the Nada Colada and Storms a Brewin'.

Jennifer Goldberg

From the vantage point of Mill and Southern avenues, all you can see of Yucca Tap Room is the smokers' patio. There's something poetic about this (in a quintessentially Tempe sense of poetic). Yucca has given live music a dependable home in Tempe for 40 years and remains one of the true old-guard stalwarts from the days of (cue Jimmy Eat World song) Nita's Hideaway and Long Wong's. In the last year, Yucca added to its identity as bar and music venue two vital elements: Bao Chow and the Electric Bat Arcade. Bao Chow's sandwiches are available to the hungry of all ages before 7 p.m., when the Tap Room puts on its party hat. After that, the dozens of drafts and the affordable back room of pinball machines and classic arcade games give Yucca a Hotel California-type persona of becoming quite difficult to leave. With all this, plus live music onstage almost 365 days a year (often at no cover), you can guarantee that Yucca will give you a great night to sleep off in the morning.

Jennifer Goldberg

The afternoon temperature could be well beyond 100 degrees, but that won't deter many from posting up on the wraparound patio at Casey Moore's Oyster House. The Tempe bar and eatery, but mostly bar, is a go-to for many Tempeans — either for pregame, post-game, or the game. And for many, the open-air seating and back bar of Casey's is a haven for a couple of reasons. You can drink, order food, bring your dog till 5 p.m., and smoke 'em if you got 'em — even if you have to bum one (no judgment). And you can see the little illuminated cherries, especially at night, flying around as someone recounts a hopefully hilarious story after a couple of tall cold ones.

Jacob Tyler Dunn

There are dive bars, and then there's the Palo Verde in Tempe. A place where obnoxious graffiti covers both restrooms, the default aroma is a hybrid of body odor and old cigarettes, and filth is caked on every surface like stucco on a tract home. Frankly, we wouldn't change a single thing about the Dirty Verde. It's a scrappy little shithole (and we say that with love) that's been a go-to spot for slumming for several decades now. The drinks are cheap and sometimes amusingly named (like the "Hammjob," for instance), hard-rock shows and fun DJ nights happen frequently, and its mix of neighborhood regulars and the young and hip equals nonstop people-watching. Plus, flushing the men's room toilet involves tugging on a Rube Goldberg-like setup consisting of pulleys, bandanas, and a dog leash. The PV might be skeevy, but she's always a good time.

Big Daddy's was everything a sports bar should be: The beer was cold, the lighting dim, the TVs always on. There was vinyl upholstery on the booths, mismatched chairs at the tables, and karaoke every Saturday night. Then, it almost went away last summer after more than 30 years in north Phoenix. Dave "Big Daddy" Smith retired and sold his beloved Sunnyslope neighborhood joint. Apparently, the new owners tried to turn it into yet another barbecue eatery, eschewing the expansive menu of burgers, wings, pizzas, hot dogs, deep-fried everything, and, oh, those Wisconsin cheese curds that had made Big Daddy's the place to stuff your face during big games and horse racing (yes, it has off-track-betting windows, too). But never fear. Like the Cleveland Browns, whose diehard fans make their home there every Sunday, Big Daddy's is back. Smith came off the sidelines and regained control last January, restoring everything as it was, even re-hanging his collection of sports memorabilia that had been removed from the walls. Not that Big Daddy's is totally a creature of the 20th century. You can now order online for pickup or delivery. So if you don't like to watch the game outside the comfort of your man cave, you can have the Big Daddy's Special, a 26-inch pizza and 50 wings, brought to your front door.

Tirion Boan

It's hard to describe Phoenix's hottest tiki bar without sounding like Stefon from Saturday Night Live, but this place has everything: a random assortment of bird cages, giant tiki statues, and a long, wandering menu that tells the story of Captain John Mallory and his first mate, Robert Louis Henderson III. Rich Furnari and Jason Asher are back, and this time, they're nautical. Located in an old oil bay beneath Sip Coffee & Beer Garage, this 500-square-foot, reservations-recommended cocktail lounge features dozens of specialty drinks and the somewhat schizophrenic ambiance of being on the lower deck of a ship making its way through the jungle. The 34-seat underground bar occasionally erupts with the sounds of thunderclaps, as the lights mimic lightning and the screens inside the portholes along the walls flood with rain. Otherwise, the portholes mostly display passing islands, exchanges of cannon fire with enemy ships, and scenes of sunsets, while the music is mostly jungle noises peppered with jazz, although that may be something pirates do after last call to get people back above deck.

Just like Mario under the influence of a magic mushroom, the Valley's game-bar scene is undergoing a major growth spurt. In the months ahead, a number of geek-friendly watering holes equipped with a multitude of arcade, pinball, console, and board games will all debut. And each would be wise to take some tips and tricks from The Grid in Mesa, which does the game-bar concept right. Its two rooms are filled with glowing screens and feature gaming action of every sort, ranging from classic systems at each table to various joystick favorites like Bump 'n' Jump and Mortal Kombat 4. Even the stage, which hosts live music and DJs on weekends and a weekly Rock Band session every Monday night, is dotted with HDTVs broadcasting video game footage. Meanwhile, The Grid also has giant Jenga, foosball, an air hockey table, pinball machines, and tall bookshelves stacked with board games. Its lineup of several dozen brews available in bottles, cans, or on tap is just as staggering, and worth consulting if you need something to dull the pain of getting pwned at Fortnite.

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