Best Game Bar 2020 | Stardust Pinbar | Nightlife | Phoenix
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.

The Nash is more than just a music venue — it's a Valley institution that holds the heart of the city's jazz. Since opening in April 2012, The Nash has hosted an impressive range of shows, from open "free jazz" jam sessions and traditional New Orleans-style jazz performances to concerts dedicated to the music of artists as varied as jazz legend Charles Mingus and British rock legends the Rolling Stones. The namesake of The Nash, Phoenix-born jazz drummer Lewis Nash, helped establish an educational program for more than 130 student musicians, featuring renowned jazz artist and educator Wynton Marsalis. The Nash is also the headquarters of Jazz in Arizona, a nonprofit organization that has been supporting jazz in the state since 1977, and an integral part of the Roosevelt Row arts scene.

Lauren Cusimano

If you like both kinds of music — country and western — then The Dirty Drummer Eatin' and Drinkin' Place is a must-visit. This honky-tonk slash sports bar and grill has been around in the same spot since 1975, when it was opened by Frank "Drummer" Armstrong and his partner, "Dirty" Dave Werner. The original Drummer closed in 2018 but was quickly reopened by Dana Armstrong, the Drummer's daughter, the next year. Dana gave the place a major remodel, reopening with the original bar top, some heavy wood paneling, and a new dance floor and stage. Since 2019, Drummer 2.0 has hosted country shows (some virtual) featuring the likes of Tony Martinez Trio, Flathead, and Jaty And The Black Stallions, as well as special events like the Cowboy Campfire Christmas and the Rhinestone New Year's Eve party. No show on the calendar? Hit the jukebox. It's chock-full of all your outlaw favorites.

Corpse paint, growling vocals, scary-looking dudes with hair down to their asses: We get that metal might not seem like the most welcoming scene or genre. But that's why Club Red is so vital. This Mesa institution is all about kicking down the doors to Valhalla and letting people experience the wonders of a truly open metal community. That dedication is built into the very design of the venue, which has two rooms (more bands, more exposure) and a food truck outside that serves friendly, from-scratch cooking. Some of the biggest national and indie metal acts have come through Club Red's doors, but even at the dinky local-act gigs you feel a sense of loyalty, kinship, even celebration. At a time when many other metal clubs in the Valley have withered away, a place like Club Red is nothing less than an absolute, devil-horned treasure.

Lauren Cusimano

There are some amazing jukeboxes in this town. We direct your attention to the punk-themed picks at TT Roadhouse, the ska-heavy selection at Shady's, and the country tunes behind the glass at The Dirty Drummer, just to name a few. But if you'd like to choose from a little bit of everything, beat a path to Linger Longer Lounge. This uptown dive has a well-earned rep as a place where beloved local DJs preside over dance parties, but it's also, depending on the night, an ideal spot for a few drinks accompanied by some of your own spins on the jukebox. You'll find everything from Black Sabbath to Sonic Youth, Neil Young to The Replacements, Travis to the Pixies. Also here: the self-titled first album by Tenacious D, a masterpiece. Order yourself a Silver Bullet, maybe some noodles from Saint Pasta, and treat yourself to some "Inward Singing."

Allison Young

Karaoke is king at this downtown Tempe pizzeria, and the staff and crowds aren't shy about letting the world know it. The raucous nightly singing sessions — amplified over speakers set up on the patio — rival the din from other Mill Avenue nightspots, attracting a crowd that soon finds the place has entertaining MCs and a jovial, come-as-you-are atmosphere. Anyone's welcome to step onstage, grab the mic, and pick a tune from 414's extensive song list. Some singers have real talent, and others can be as cheesy as the pizza. But few are lacking in energy or enthusiasm, making this our current favorite karaoke night in the Valley.

It doesn't seem right to go into your local watering hole all by yourself, but if you walk into Stacy's @ Melrose solo, you won't feel that way for long. There is a sense of community when you step inside, whether you're enjoying a couple of cheap drinks, a drag show, karaoke, or dancing on a Saturday night. If you think that feeling has been lost to the pandemic forcing bars to close, you might want to check out the establishment's social media accounts. Owner Stacy Louis continues to check in on customers and raise money for causes important to the LGBTQ community.

The Cash may be a lesbian bar, but what we really love about this central Phoenix spot is how it welcomes all. Everyone can enjoy the music, which depending on the night might be country, dance, pop, hip-hop, or rock. Everyone can enjoy the great drink specials. Everyone can enjoy the special events, which before the pandemic included karaoke, line-dancing lessons, signing events from members of the Phoenix Mercury, bingo, and more. We like to grab a booth, order up a cheap Tito's or Coronita, then hit the dance floor under the colorful lights.

Benjamin Leatherman

Hosted by upstart drag king and 2020 Mister Boycott Sir Nate, this monthly revue at Boycott Bar aims to introduce drag newcomers to the wildly diverse and often underappreciated world of male drag performance. One established local drag queen joins the cast each time, but for the most part, this show — held every third Saturday — is a platform for fresh-faced performers yearning to strut their stuff on the bar's charming stage. The King's Court lives up to the reputation created by other Boycott shows like Georgina the Doll's Doll Factory, so don't hesitate to grab a cold drink from the friendly staff, pull out some tip money, and get close to the action as you witness both seasoned and rising drag artists perform their truth on the floor of Boycott.

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