Best Bar 2020 | Rips Bar | Nightlife | Phoenix

Rips Bar in the Coronado District opens at 6 a.m., which tells you something about what kind of place it is. If you indeed enter this bar during daylight hours, you'll have to give your eyes a minute to adjust to the dimness inside. Then you'll want to order a massive bloody mary — a signature at Rips — from the bartender. The midcentury building that houses the bar was constructed in 1959, and the front room is said to be designed by a Native American architect and student of Frank Lloyd Wright. Before it became Rips in 2009, this place was known as the Pick Lick House, Dodge City Saloon, and Dutch Inn (just to name a few), and Waylon Jennings and Charlie Pride are among the legions who've bellied up inside over the years. These days, Rips is a destination for pool, arcade games, dance nights, karaoke sessions, and live punk, ska, and rockabilly bands — the basics of love, as ol' Waylon might say.

Late last year, across the parking lot from their clandestine underground tiki lair UnderTow, Jason Asher and Rich Furnari opened Century Grand. This is certainly the Barter & Shake duo's most ambitious concept yet. The level of experimentation driving cocktails at Century Grand is astounding. You see kefir and lacto-fermented blueberries and smoked tea, a slew of ingredients that tell the drinker, from the first menu glimpse, that the old fashioneds and daiquiris of yesteryear are ancient history. National experts agree, as Century Grand was recently named a finalist for Best New Bar by Tales of the Cocktail. Amazingly, even the most Seussian ingredient combinations work at Century Grand. Imbibing the potions of Asher and Furnari is drinking in a brave new world of cocktails.

Sam Olguin

When a bar has the name Killer Whale Sex Club, you'd expect it to be memorable — and maybe a little prurient. This Roosevelt Row drinkery, which cocktail industry pros Sam Olguin and Brenon Stuart opened in early March, delivers on both counts. Outside, the bungalow-style building is adorned with a glorious mural of a rearing Pegasus rendered in orange, purple, and turquoise. Its speakeasy-like interior has lowbrow touches mixed with high-style drinks. Gold-painted fixtures are everywhere. A collage of cutouts from nudie magazines covers one wall. The Japanese shunga print The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife hangs over the bar, where the staff serves cocktails like The Hot Seat, a hibiscus-infused take on the bourbon cherry sour. There's even merch available, including hats and shirts with the phrase "Big Daiq Energy" — just in case KWSC wasn't unforgettable enough.

Early 2020 was a series of bummers for downtown Phoenix's Bar Smith. After shutting down in March following Governor Doug Ducey's stay-at-home order, the club's windows were smashed by thieves who made off with most of its liquor supply. Weeks later, the owners were hit with enormous utility bills, even though the club had gone dark. Loyal patrons came out to support Bar Smith in June, when it reopened for three weeks — but then the state ordered nightclubs to close again. Still, the owners are confident the crowds will return again once the pandemic abates. Why? Probably for the same reasons it's been downtown's go-to club for the past 11 years: hot spins by tastemaking DJs on two dance floors, an artsy vibe, great drinks, and popular nights like Sean Watson's weekly BFF session. It also boasts some of the best views of downtown from its rooftop patio, where clubgoers dance under the stars. Hang in there, Bar Smith. All will be right with the world again soon. We hope.

Tirion Boan

Found on (obviously) the 13th floor of the Hilton Garden Inn, Floor 13 Rooftop Bar is a hidden gem in the middle of, or technically, above, downtown Phoenix. When we go, we like to snag one of the sundeck's lounge chairs, orient it in a generally westward direction, and admire the Arizona sunset, cocktail in hand. But if the buzz of city life is what gets you high, the views from the tables and high-tops are first rate, too. (If you're lucky and time it right, you might also catch some fireworks from the neighboring Chase Field.) In addition to its panoramic views and intimate bar, Hilton Garden Inn is where the opening scenes of Psycho were filmed, a fact reflected in the cocktail menu: Drinks like the MacGuffin, the Vertigo, and the Strangers on a Train pay homage to Alfred Hitchcock, as do movie posters and other decor. In other words, as you sip your drink at Floor 13, you're surrounded by Phoenix history.

Benjamin Leatherman

Why have a boring storage room when you can create a hidden nook that resembles a small home library in the 1970s? That's what they did at Valley Bar, where there's a cozy enclave behind the wine racks and under the stairs. Local history talks and literature salons regularly fill the space to capacity (only about 20 people), but when there's not an event, patrons can curl up on the old-school couch with one of the bar's custom cocktails and a copy of Playboy's Wine & Spirits Cookbook or Never Have Your Dog Stuffed by Alan Alda. We love to hang out there, but really, we feel special just knowing where it is.

Chris Malloy

Any old bar in metro Phoenix can provide some booze, food, and a human being to talk to on the next stool if you're so inclined. But Lovecraft is a bar that doesn't just serve its north Phoenix neighborhood — it enriches it. Before the pandemic hit, Lovecraft regularly held events like tarot card readings, live music, custom typewriting poetry nights, and even a running club and hiking group. It's a place where many of the patrons are recognized by name or face when they enter, where you feel at home whether it's your first visit or your 20th. When COVID-19 shut down most bars, the Lovecraft team instituted rigorous sanitary protocols to keep slinging its spicy New Mexican cuisine and began offering alcohol to go. Dine-in service has since resumed, and we hope the next thing to spring back to life are the activities that make Lovecraft feel less like just a bar and more like a community.

Benjamin Leatherman

Royale Lounge is everything you could want in a great dive: cheap drinks, Christmas lights, microwaved snacks, a wobbly pool table, pinball, a condom dispenser of a questionable nature in the men's, and just the right amount of grime. Drinkers of every demographic and alcohol-tolerance level have bent elbows here for decades, beckoned by the glowing red neon "Cocktails" sign outside. The Royale has stayed mostly the same during that time, aside from adding small modern conveniences like an internet jukebox, a credit card reader, and HDTVs behind the bar. Like the old saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. We're sure the customers at Royale Lounge would agree.

Benjamin Leatherman

Most game bars around town emphasize their geek cred. Stardust Pinbar, on the other hand, plays it cool. Launched by restaurateur Tucker Woodbury, developer Chuckie Duff, and Cobra Arcade Bar's Ariel Bracamonte, its resident icon and inspiration is David Bowie, whose glammy aura permeates the downtown Phoenix pinball lounge. Posters of his Aladdin Sane persona are plastered on the walls near the patio door, while the cocktail menu offers a drink riffing on his 1974 album Diamond Dogs. Other amenities are equally retro and fun, like a fuzzy DJ booth, an adjacent pizza parlor with a secret entrance, and an illuminated disco floor for when you get bored with all the silver ball action. Feel free to put on your red shoes and dance the blues.

The Rhythm Room is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it box set slightly back on Indian School Road. Its plain façade belies the fun happening inside. In business since 1991, the Rhythm Room has at least one event a night (in non-pandemic times). Ticket prices are reasonable, and the bar's small stage has hosted acts from big names like Bo Diddley and the North Mississippi Allstars to local favorites such as Hans Olson and The Sugar Thieves. We suggest you grab a drink or two at the bar, then settle in to listen or head to the cozy dance floor to boogie the night away.

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