True statement: Everyone goes to Wilderness. The Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.'s second location, the downtown Phoenix beer garden, turned out to be more successful than its first (which is saying something). Upon opening in spring 2019, it became instantly Phoenix-famous thanks to its biggest draw — the patio. This outdoor beer garden is massive, covered with a thick sunshade, and bird-friendly. (During the pandemic, the team installed native plants to attract native birds and bugs, embracing the brewery's name.) Inside, you'll find cold pints of Refuge, the "flagship IPA incepted in our founder's garage," the DON'T F#%K IT UP Blonde Ale, the water-conserving, Belgian-style witbier Sonora White, and many more signature brews (as well as cocktails and above-average bar food, heavy on Arizona ingredients).
One of the great things about The Shop is how excellent the patio is for kicking it with a brew or many, the hours draining away like the first-rate IPA and blonde lager. The patio's casual, high-energy atmosphere is made for session drinking: long picnic tables, fun murals, trees wavering in the breeze. It's all illuminated by hard desert sunlight by day and string lights by night. You couldn't ask for a better place to attend church — crush a few cans of Church Music, that is — or sip the latest can in the brewery's Neonic series, a line of fruited sours. Post-COVID, this patio is going to be a blast.
Longtime craft beer maestro Todd Helton uses 88 pounds of Oregon boysenberries for every batch of his Boysenberry Sour. This brew, the best staple at Helton (yes, better than the pilsner), is made for sipping or flat-out crushing under the desert sun. It's bright and crisp with a rounded tartness and the lush, mellow fruit of the berries blushing through. This sour is complex yet cohesive. Somehow, it seems to take on a new personality based on the food you eat while enjoying a bottle or two. Sours are a difficult style, and Helton has cemented his year-round staple as the most memorable version made in Phoenix.
By now, many drinkers have heard the legend of Atsuo Sakurai, a sake brewer who traded Japan for Holbrook and painstakingly crafts Arizona Sake — at first out of his garage, now out of a modest sake brewery. Sakurai's standard sake, his junmai ginjo, is indeed excellent. But one of his rarer bottles, Desert Snow, is even better. Desert Snow is sparkling. In the bottle, this gray-white unfiltered rice brew looks about as cloudy as fresh-squeezed lemonade. All of that extra sediment brings an unreal, milky goodness. The fizz adds liftoff. Sometimes you can find this sake on higher-end menus around town, but you might have to head to Holbrook.
You've got an incredible amount of choices at this independent and locally owned wine room that boasts a selection of 125 wines from Italy, Spain, and Australia, as well as California and Oregon. You can order off the menu by the glass or the bottle, or you can take part in what we love best about Sorso: the wine dispensers. Put money on a wine card, then use that card to pick from the 32 wine dispensers around the Sorso dining room. Each wine in the dispensers comes in three sizes/price points — sip, taste, and pour — allowing you to maximize your explorations. Of course, if you're drinking that much, you should probably eat something, and Sorso's got you covered with an Italian-leaning menu of bruschetta, salads, sandwiches, and flatbreads. We recommend sitting out on the patio when the weather cooperates; people-watching at Scottsdale Quarter only adds to the experience.
When The Churchill opened, Phoenix got its first new-age natural wine shop. Over the few years since, Sauvage has transformed into something more: an epicenter of cutting-edge wine drinking in Phoenix. Sauvage has channeled the zeitgeist, not by following the national trends but by leading with Chris Lingua's opinions, tastes, selections, and friendliness. Sauvage stocks experimental liquors from Empirical Spirits and vino from growers who do things the old way, the organic way, which has now become the progressive way. His little shop is like a tiny Valhalla for adults who drink boldly and honestly. Sparkling sangiovese. A deep selection of orange wine. High-end bacanora. Sublime bottles at painless prices.
Should we tell of all the things we should not have done because of products we bought at Liquor Wheel? The answer is a hard no. So let's talk about the venerable institution itself, which has been around since the 1950s. We've been going there since the late '80s, and if you're a longtime Phoenician, you've probably been there, too. The Aranki family bought it in 1999 and added title loans to its repertoire, but little else has changed. Its offbeat name, which apparently refers to its drive-thru and is emblazoned in blue-and-red neon, has always made the place stand out as the gritty liquor store it is. The location in south-south-Arcadia is perfect for all the low-rent apartments in the area. And the booze selection will appeal to both sommeliers and the average working man or woman. Going back to the Liquor Wheel is as natural as the Circle of Life.
If you catch Red Feather Café on one of the few glorious days it's open beneath the soaring water tower in Sacaton, you can grab homestyle chile on frybread or the O'odham tortilla known as c'emet. Sun beams, wind scours, arid mountains loom on the horizon: The setting is a strong seasoning, giving vitality to the traditional Native foods prepared from scratch by Geri and Jerry Leos. Simple frybread and beans? Divine. On Fridays, you can get bowls of soul-filling menudo with hot, fresh-baked bread. Some food trucks have murals and loud music. Red Feather Café has what your soul needs.
Once upon a time, the highways, roadways, and thoroughfares of metro Phoenix were aglow with neon lights. The popularity of the art form faded over the ensuing decades, but has experienced a resurgence in recent years. The historic Gilbert Heritage District embraced the idea with gusto, as more than 20 of the eateries and drinkeries that have debuted in the area since 2014 are adorned with neon elements. Take a spin down Gilbert Road south of Juniper Avenue, and you'll encounter examples that are fun (Joe's Real BBQ features animated letters flickering like wafting smoke), funky (the muscular rooster at Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles), or just plain gorgeous (Barrio Queen's neon-accentuated Catrina). And don't miss the handful of OG signs that are still around, like the one at Liberty Market dating back to 1958. Cruising this district is an illuminating experience.
We're not the biggest fans of drive-thrus under normal circumstances. Does this ozone-plagued town need more cars idling and releasing emissions? But COVID has made the drive-thru a little more acceptable. And we could probably stand to get off our climate-change high horse every now and then. Anyway, having spent more time at drive-thrus this past year or so, we can confidently report that the best one happens to be the newish Slice Eat, which comes to us from the owner of the upscale Italian eatery Forno 301. Menu items range from a single, footlong slice of margherita wood-fired pizza to a takeout bowl of fettuccine al burro e Parmigiano to — look out, Dairy Queen Blizzards — fresh pistachio gelato, all of which can be handed over through the window of your Subaru Impreza. Other quick, drive-thru-appropriate orders include cold brew coffee, chocolate shakes, and a Caesar salad.