Best New Bar 2022 | Barcoa Agaveria | Nightlife | Phoenix
Tirion Boan

If you're interested in agave spirits, why not go to a self-described "back-alley mezcal bar"? The two-story concept from David Tyda starts with a ground-floor cantina where a staircase descends into a dark, upscale cocktail parlor where everything is rooted in agave. The downstairs menu is one of the most comprehensive crash courses in agave in the Valley: It delves into the differences, histories, and descriptions of each agave spirit available at the bar. The cocktails and mezcal selections are top-notch and use high-quality and exciting ingredients. Favorites include the clarified HorChaiChata, Elote Moda with Mezcal Vago Elote and ancestral corn whiskey, and Rosemary's Ofrenda. New bars in downtown Phoenix seem to pop up constantly, but we hope Barcoa's unique concept helps it stick around for a long time to come.

Tirion Morris

When Armando Hernandez and Nadia Holguin of Tacos Chiwas and Rene Andrade of Bacanora teamed up to open Espiritu Cocktails + Comida on Mesa's Main Street, they wanted cocktails to show off their Mexican heritage — and they wanted Adrian Galindo heading it up. "He's that guy," says Hernandez, referring to Galindo's rare ability to be chemist, psychiatrist, best friend, and showman all at once, a master at making intoxicating drinks in an intoxicating way. Galindo, who helped run Ghost Ranch and Bacanora's drinking programs, got into bartending because he loves to be the center of attention, but he's much more than a spotlight-seeker. Sit at the bar, and Galindo can wax poetic about the finer points of mezcal or geek out on the terroir of raicilla, all while lighting things on fire — sugar cubes are a fave — and dripping blood-red bitters down a clay skull mug. It's a full sensory experience. Stay till last call for his Chante Power Hour. It's worth it.

There's usually something fun going on at Boondocks in Tempe. It could be trivia night, rowdy ASU fans packing the place after a game, live tunes by local musicians, or a UFC fight on pay-per-view. But even on the slowest of evenings, we always feel welcome and content. While its sister location in Old Town Scottsdale is more of a party bar, the Tempe outpost is typically more mellow, the kind of place you hit up for lunch or to catch up with an old friend over a couple of beers. Show up regularly, and it won't take long for the bartenders and waitstaff to start recognizing you. You'll get familiar with the menu, which offers top-notch bar food like garlic fries and a lineup of creative burgers. And you'll start thinking of Boondocks Tempe as your go-to bar, a place where the staff and regulars may not know your name, but they'll smile when they see your face.

For all its faults, Scottsdale's entertainment district doesn't tend to dwell on the past. When a particular nightspot fizzles out, its owners — and the clubgoer crowd — typically move on to something new. So when the bygone Cake Nightclub was resurrected earlier this year after a five-year absence, it was notable, particularly since it was a tremendous upgrade from its original location just up Saddlebag Trail. Version 2.0 of Cake is larger, louder, and more decadent than before. The glow-up included tripling its size and doubling down on its over-the-top amenities. Now, there are even more posh VIP areas, a bigger outdoor patio, and a massive video wall. The club's licentious and libertine vibe has become more potent as locals come to drink, dance, and debauch as aerialists perform from rings hanging from the ceiling and big beats come from the sound system. Subtlety has never been Cake's style. Heck, it's never been a thing in Scottsdale, period.

It's been a rough couple of years for downtown Tempe nightlife. First, the pandemic wiped out a number of DJ-friendly spots along Mill Avenue. Then, popular electronic dance music hub Shady Park went dark earlier this year after losing a legal battle over noise issues with neighboring senior adult community Mirabella at ASU. So when Darkstar launched in April, it was quickly embraced by clubgoers and EDM fans eager for a new place to get down and go hard. The two-story, 4,500-square-foot dancing and drinking haven features amenities geared toward the party crowd, including some not found at other Mill Avenue bars. A mezzanine level is perched above the enormous dance floor, allowing people-watching and great views of the DJs. The A/V setup boasts a PK Sound system and multiple large-scale HD video screens behind the stage. And local concert promoter Relentless Beats books a wide variety of EDM superstars here, ranging from legends like Bad Boy Bill to such festival-quality artists as JAUZ, Cut Snake, and Mat Zo. Looking for the Valley's best new nightspot? Set course for Darkstar in Tempe.

Luckys Indoor Outdoor

Inside, Luckys feels like a vintage dive bar you went to once but can't remember. There's an antler chandelier when you walk in, the walls are paneled in wood, some barstools are red, and there's a pool table. Of course, plenty of details make it not your parents' dive bar, like how clean it is. But outside, there's a beautiful, expansive patio — and that's where the magic happens (or maybe it's just the Jell-O shots kicking in). The lights strung overhead are red, and the twilight glow makes it too easy to lose track of time when the weather is fine, and the company is good. Luckys has swings, long tables on a covered deck, bocce ball, a skyline view, and a food truck that says no more than "Hot Food." When it's midnight and you're six Cold Snacks in, you don't need more details than that. It also doesn't hurt that the Luckys patio is dog-friendly and the drinks are deceptively strong.

Tirion Boan

Those of us who don't drink are no longer settling for "mocktails" composed of nothing more than fizzy water and juice. Garden Bar PHX is an incredible new spot for nonalcoholic cocktails; Kim Haasarud, owner and palate wizard, gives Garden Bar's virgin drinks the same attention as everything else on her award-winning menu. Haasarud stocks the bar with alcohol-free, distilled spirits that mimic spirits' properties or create an entirely new experience. There are a few ways to drink NA at Garden Bar. First, many of their cocktails can be made NA by swapping for a spirit alternative by their profoundly knowledgable mixologists. Otherwise, Garden Bar has a spirit-free cocktail section with standalone cocktails made with CBD tincture and spirit alternatives. A blackberry vanilla margarita, whiskey smash, and a gin alternative drink called Green Bee were featured this summer, but whatever beverages are on seasonal menus to come, we know they're going to be great.

Politics, climate change, the Arizona Diamondbacks' dismal record — there's a lot in Phoenix life that weighs us down. But it's easy to rise above it all at From the Rooftop, the bar atop the Cambria Hotel near Roosevelt Row. High above the city streets, we can feel our troubles melt away as we enjoy some light bites and sip on a cocktail. We're partial to the fried Brussels sprouts with balsamic, lemon zest, and bacon bits, and the Pool Vibes, a cocktail made with lime vodka, agave, cranberry, lemon, and lime juice. Sunset is obviously the optimal time to hang out at From the Rooftop for the best views, but the weekend Beats & Brunch events are a big draw, too.

Lauren Cusimano

Every hole-in-the-wall bar has an excess of Christmas lights, equally colorful regulars, and cheap booze. The Roadrunner in south Scottsdale has all those aspects on lock, plus a few bonuses that put it over the top as the best dive in town. They've got one of the largest selections of board games we've ever seen. The quirky vibe includes googly eyes randomly arranged throughout the place. And it's also a favorite haunt of local Twitter raconteur and boozehound Clue Heywood, which counts for something. The thing that keeps patrons from all over the Valley coming in, though, is a sense of family. There are photo collages of patrons adorning the colorful walls. The staff goes out of their way to ensure everyone's staying safe while in the throes of their alcohol-fueled bliss. Napkins are placed over drinks if you step away to use the restroom. Bartenders will spot you a buck if you need something salty or sweet from the vending machine. And they'll eagerly arrange a ride if you've had too many. That's how the late Willie and Cassie Franano, the mother and daughter who owned the Roadrunner, ran the joint, and its current proprietors are happy to keep things that way.

Benjamin Leatherman

We fell in love with Valley Bar on our first visit. Because what's not to love? From the well-crafted cocktails named after Arizona politicians past and present, to the iconic shadow mobile telling the story of the infamous Phoenix Trunk Murders of the 1930s and the quirky vintage decor, Valley Bar continues to be an impossibly cool place to hang out. We recommend ordering a classic menu item like the Sandra Day Old Fashioned or a newer drink, the Ground Control to Captain Kelly, made from Singani 63, Giffard's Orgeat, John D. Taylor Velvet Falernum, Montenegro, passionfruit, and lemon. Once you've got a drink in hand, you can play some darts or some Skee-Ball, post up in one of the cozy booths, or head to the other side of the basement space to watch a concert. We also enjoy socializing in the bar's secret library. If you don't know where to find it, well... we're not going to tell you.

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