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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Highball

Great creative cocktails. Minimal theatrical bullshit. This has become a rare combination in the age of the themed or otherwise grandly designed cocktail bar. Highball lasers in on drinks with zero distractions. Libby Lingua and Mitch Lyons' dim, copper-plated bar features cocktails as exciting as any in town, building from complex mixed bases of cognac and apple brandy, uniting unalike ingredients like coconut matcha and fernet, and infusing rum with Fruity Pebbles. If you think you've sipped it all, post up and try a riff like Amongst the Trees (a spice-tinged, fruit-layered paloma). Or order something wholly new, like Pardon Anything (cachaca and graham cracker?). Even the wine offerings and shots are next level.

Even now, even in its unlikely digs sharing a building with The Grey Hen and Century Grand, UnderTow immerses you so deeply into its imaginative vision that, looking out a "porthole," you can almost feel the "ship" riding the waves. Why is this the best reboot? Because it preserved one of our best bars through stormy waters. During the pandemic, UnderTow moved a few dozen yards from its previous spot inside a Sip Coffee & Beer. The tiki-style experience remains excellent and one of hospitality group Barter & Shake's crown jewels. Rums, tequilas, and other tropical-leaning spirits take the stage. Flavors call to mind teal waters and giant sunsets. Tiki drinking doesn't get better.

Don't let Sunbar's distractions — the pinball room, the outdoor patio bar, its small convenience store — fool you: The soul of the place is the cavernous nightclub-like venue in the heart of the property. It's equipped with an enormous dance floor (the largest in the city), a premier PK Trinity Sound System (the only one in Arizona), a wall-sized LED projection screen, and multiple VIP areas. (Did we mention the massive laser light shows?) Since opening in 2019, Sunbar has been a major dance destination in Tempe, luring in throngs of patrons with its over-the-top amenities and high-profile DJ/producers in the mix every weekend via its connection with Relentless Beats, the Valley's most prominent EDM promoter. Sometimes, being bigger is better, and in the case of Sunbar, it's what makes it the best club in town.

Thunderbird Lounge
Charles Barth

A great place to day-drink erases all sense of time. The back patio at Thunderbird Lounge does just that, making clocks and email feel about as relevant as they were 500 years ago. Part dive, part hipster hangout, part zero-fucks-given, and nothing but itself, Thunderbird provides a sticky haven to kick it with macrobrews, no-bullshit cocktails you could have made in high school, and newfangled hard seltzers. It's not a place to oooh and aahh over craft libations or design. It's just the ideal spot to have fun and snap open can after can after can, forgetting it all.

LYLO Swim Club
Chris Malloy

"Pool bar" might conjure memories of sugar-bomb frozen daiquiris or clubby bottle service that only oil barons can afford. Lylo changes the formula, introducing casual Japanese-leaning food alongside flawless original cocktails. These come from the mind of Ross Simon, the "cocktailian" behind Bitter & Twisted and Little Rituals. They spotlight rum (mostly), and they are bomb. Two rums are blended into soft-serve ice cream for the deeply nostalgic Dole Whip. Another two rums lace the pineapple and lime juice to make a complex, supremely refreshing rocks drink. And an artful, three-berry frozen daiquiri will banish even the saddest resort daiquiri memories.

Casey Moore's Oyster House
Tom Carlson

On the (relatively rare) days when we feel like it'd be nice to escape Phoenix for a little while, but can't, we head to Casey Moore's. In addition to being one of the finest bars in the Valley, Casey's is also a kind of sanctuary. (It even looks like a sanctuary, much of it shielded from the street by trees and flowers and foliage and latticework.) Here, on the large, brick patio, the shade is abundant and Tempe's fading college-town vibes are well-preserved. You'll find cool professors, townies (but not the scary kind), pretentious English majors (god bless 'em), people who still smoke cigarettes (we don't judge), and lots of dogs. So much of Phoenix feels new, sometimes to its detriment. Casey's is that rare bar where the past is still alive and thriving.

The rooftop bar at Cambria Hotel Downtown Phoenix gives you a straight-shot view of all the best Valley landmarks: Camelback Mountain, Piestewa Peak, and all the construction happening along Portland Street down below. The high vantage point also means you can scout Roosevelt Row to see if the nightlife is popping — or finally dying down. Head up to From the Rooftop for after-dinner craft beer and cocktails, or before dinner for a dip in that shimmery rooftop pool. And for fans of hyper-local drink names, try the Camelback Sunset: passion fruit, sparkling wine, apertivo, and orange zest. Seating is first-come, first-serve, and reservations can be made for the furniture clusters — upscale patio furniture fancy enough to make you feel like you're in an old Pier 1 Imports commercial.

Ernie's

How many dive bars let you smoke a cigarette? From how many can you see stars? The ceiling at Ernie's is partly open, making both possible. And that's just where things start to get good at this north Scottsdale watering hole. A low-key, zero-judgment crowd kicks it at Ernie's until 2 a.m. every night of the week. Pool balls clack, karaoke voices howl, and people keep an eye on sports on high TVs, discussing (and half-forgetting) life while the drinks flow. Miller and well drinks are the norm. The menu doesn't fuck around, offering tuna melts and club sandwiches. A proper dive so far north in Scottsdale almost seems like a myth at this point, but that's part of Ernie's charm.

Stardust Pinbar
Benjamin Leatherman

Ziggy's Magic Pizza Shop in downtown Phoenix uses some sleight of hand when it comes to its most unique feature: a secret entrance to Stardust Pinbar, the David Bowie-inspired game bar next door. Stroll into the pizzeria's back room and through a mock-up of a walk-in freezer door, which leads to the glammy lounge with its illuminated dance floor, Bowie-themed art and cocktails, and various pinball games. It's been a pleasant surprise for first-time patrons and went viral on TikTok after co-owner Ariel Bracamonte posted a video of the entrance in October 2020. One female viewer called it her "new favorite thing." Same, girl. Same.

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.

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