Best Lair 2021 | Rough Rider | Nightlife | Phoenix

Partying Hard on Mill Avenue

It’s Friday, and you need to put the week (and especially the memory of that lousy Psych 101 exam score) behind you. Mill Avenue beckons.

Will you start on the patio at The Handlebar? You will, because you’re trying to be pandemic-conscious but also because you like to start slow, with a couple of cold brews, and the Handlebar beer menu is impressive. The sausage sandwich at the next table looks tasty, but it’s too early in the evening for food. Maybe at the next stop.

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Kyla Hein

In the 2010s, American cocktail bars were obsessed with the Prohibition-era aesthetic. All those suspenders and vests. Lots of ice blocks being clubbed with big wooden mallets. Handlebar mustaches. Rough Rider, which opened this summer in the basement of the Ten-O-One building, has a whiff of that vibe, but it draws its inspiration from even farther back in time. It's named after the Rough Riders, the ragtag cavalry of cowboys Teddy Roosevelt led during the Spanish-American War in the late 19th century. Cocktail-wise, the menu's split into four sections, two of which are very old-timey: cobblers (which include jam) and punch (made with tea). The place is properly dim and does a nice job evoking Teddy's era, with caskets jutting out of the walls, built-in bookshelves, ornate woodwork (including in the elevator), and a lovely white marble bar top. (The team behind Rough Rider also is involved in The Whining Pig and Pigtails Downtown.) The place looks built to last, like much of the stuff produced in this proud American era. Here's hoping the bar is, too.

Lauren Cusimano

We didn't think that cigar bars were our thing — until we visited Churchill's. The intimate space in Arcadia isn't as big as other cigar bars in town, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in class. The walk-in humidor has a well-curated selection of stogies, and the wood floors and club chairs make the space both cozy and elegant. There are three Churchill's locations in town, but only the 44th Street outpost has Winston's, a full bar with an emphasis on single-malt Scotch, bourbon, and rum (although they make a mean lemon drop, too). A top-quality filtration system means that even people who don't dig the cigar smell can hang out comfortably, so everyone is able to come and get the full Churchill's experience.

Tirion Boan

First things first: Go to The White Rabbit's website and sign up for emails. That's how you get the monthly password to this east Valley speakeasy, which is located underground in Gilbert's Heritage District. Once you give the password and find the secret entrance (we'll let you figure that one out yourself), you'll find yourself in another world, one that's dark, intriguing, and intimate. There's a limited menu of appetizers and desserts, but the drinks are really the draw here: Cocktails are inventive and intricate, and we've spent many a night taking sips from our friends' glasses, the better to try as many concoctions as possible. The White Rabbit isn't the place to have a rager; it's a spot to dress up for, soak up the old-school atmosphere, and imbibe in good company.

The indoor fun center — a place where people can hide from the sun while eating, drinking, and entertaining themselves in a variety of ways — is a popular destination in our desert climate. There are lots of choices around town, but we're currently delighted with Mill's Modern Social at the corner of Mill Avenue and Broadway Road, which opened earlier this year. The first thing you'll notice about Mill's Modern Social is the sleek, on-trend decor — it's bougie, but not in a bad way. There are games like cornhole, giant Jenga, and table tennis; an arcade room with darts, Guitar Hero, and Super Mario Bros. (arcade games are free on Wednesdays after 3); and an impressive number of pool tables. The food and drinks are pretty standard (burgers, flatbreads, appetizers), but they hit the spot. We find ourselves returning to Mill's Modern Social again and again for fun and food in a stylish atmosphere.

Local geeks rejoiced in 2020 when Ryan Scott rebooted his popular game bar at its new home in Mesa after a four-year absence. And like that long-awaited Psychonauts sequel, it was worth the wait. Version 2.0 of Endgame is significantly larger than its original home in downtown Tempe with an enormous main room, dance floor, multiple bars and patios, themed food and drink options, and dozens of gaming stations equipped with PC rigs and almost every major console known to mankind. Ravers and rappers have embraced Endgame as much as the gamer crowd since its return, as weekend hip-hop nights and DJ events happen on the regular, allowing patrons the chance to show off both their dance moves and mad gaming skills.

We're not sure exactly what to call the neighborhood where McKenzie's is located, on a busy stretch of Seventh Street between Indian School and Camelback roads. In some ways, it's not much of a neighborhood. Which makes it all the more impressive that the proprietors of the place have cultivated a homey vibe more reminiscent of a corner bar in Milwaukee than a McBar in central Phoenix. You'll notice McKenzie's from the street by the thousands of colorful lights dangling down off the gutters. It has some dive-like qualities — street signs, license plates, and yet more Christmas lights provide a good chunk of the decoration — but it's neither filthy nor too-cool-for-school. They serve cheese curds and there's a dartboard. You'll usually see the same bartenders, and eventually, they'll remember your name. It's located just off the Grand Canal, making it a good place to stop for a cold beer while out on a bike ride. The kitchen is open late, till 12:30 a.m. every night. McKenzie's is just a solid, reliable, well-run place where you can come as you are — really, all we ask of a neighborhood bar.

Lauren Cusimano

In fall 2020, Prescott's Superstition Meadery opened a downtown Phoenix epicenter, bringing some of the world's most lauded and creative meads within easy reach. Co-owners Jeff and Jen Herbert pour their creations from 24 taps, some of which flow with Superstition's own ciders and orange wines. In the craft beverage world, the Herberts are known for their outlandishly creative libations: spiced meads aged in old whiskey barrels, sultry $80 bottles made with berries and white chocolate (Berry White). All said, they've brewed hundreds of meads — and folks sip great flights of them downtown in what feels like a luxe Viking hall.

Jackie Mercandetti Photo

The Platform 18 experience at Century Grand is so aggressively new that stepping onto the train car is like slipping through a wormhole into a new dimension. The interior is designed to look like a presidential train car from the 1920s. Every design element fits this theme: bartender garb, stools, tables, "windows" that are actually TVs showing a "passing landscape." A deep book of cocktails ranges from riffs on centuries-old classics to absolutely batshit, excellent concoctions like a libation that mimics peanut butter and jelly, with a sleeve of Campari cotton candy on the side for good measure. Drinks contain kumquat marmalade, guinea pepper, and sparkling green coffee tea, often in a single drink. The amazing thing is that just about all of them are bangers.

The west Valley isn't exactly known for being a blues hotbed. A few scattered places in the area have hosted jam sessions or occasional one-offs by musicians, sure. But a venue dedicated to showcasing the genre and its artists on that side of town hadn't been tried until Cindi Jackson and Paul Vincent Perez opened Westside Blues & Jazz at the Glendale Market Square shopping center in April. The retired couple, both longtime worshippers of the blues, built the club as a temple to the art form, with great acoustics, plush seating, and speakeasy decor. Their faith in the project, which cost an estimated $500,000 to create, was shaken when COVID-19 delayed its debut for an entire year. Once opened, though, it became a hit. Local blues/R&B greats like Lucius Parr, Francine Reed, and Big Pete Pearson have frequented the stage, as have such jazz scene mainstays as Delphine Cortez, Sandra Bassett, and We3. It's even gotten a thumbs-up from local blues guru and Rhythm Room owner Bob Corritore. High praise indeed.

It's just our opinion, but we like to listen to heavy metal in a spacious atmosphere, one where the raucous drum solos and guitar shredding can echo off the rafters. Marquee Theatre's high ceilings and concrete floors make for an almost industrial atmosphere, one that pairs perfectly with the intensity and savagery of metal. English band Cradle of Filth plays here, as does Great White and Steel Panther. Marquee is also a frequent host of metal tribute bands such as Noise Pollution: The AC/DC Experience and The Iron Maidens. We recommend you get to Marquee early to carve out your own little space to head-bang at our local Metaldome.

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