Best Nightclub 2020 | Bar Smith | Nightlife | Phoenix

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.

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.

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