Best Speakeasy 2022 | The White Rabbit | Nightlife | Phoenix
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Tirion Boan

First things first: Go to The White Rabbit's website and sign up for the bar's emails so you can obtain the monthly password (one email a month is all they send you). Then, you're ready to go down the rabbit hole. The underground speakeasy is located in downtown Gilbert's historic Heritage Court building. The vibe is a mix of dark academia and Victorian-era apothecary; gallery walls full of antique photos overlook comfy leather sofas, and rows of bottles line the hallway to the entrance. The draw here is the cocktails, which are organized on the menu from least to most sweet. We're fans of the sweet and spicy Lil' Tricky, a blend of Ghost Tequila, Los Vecinos Mezcal, passionfruit, guava, amaro, agave, citrus; and the rich, comforting Hedonist Chic, made from Dos Maderas 5+5 Rum, vanilla, oat milk, baking spice, caramelized banana, brown sugar, cinnamon, and walnut. The cocktails are quite potent, so consider pairing them with one of White Rabbit's flatbreads (we like the chicken pesto) so your adventures in wonderland don't end on a sour note.

Tirion Boan

UnderTow may have moved from its original spot underneath Sip Coffee & Beer to a space next door in the same building as Century Grand, but it'll never leave the place it's held in our hearts since it opened. The cocktail bar designed to look like a 19th-century ship's hold serves up some of the best atmosphere and most inventive drinks in town. The menu reads like a maritime fable, and includes classic tiki drinks and wild creations from the mixology team. Despite the move, some things are still the same at UnderTow: reservations are strongly recommended, and be prepared to disembark the ship after 90 minutes. But we stay there as long as we can to soak up the surroundings. And we're looking forward to when the UnderTow crew adds another ship to the fleet: A second location is scheduled to open in October at Gilbert's Epicenter at Agritopia.

Did someone say pinball? Tucked away in downtown Gilbert's Heritage District is the new nightspot Level 1 Arcade Bar. Inside, it's all retro. The bar is checkered and the bar top glows neon pink. More often than not, throwback jams play over the speakers. Each pinball machine at Level 1 has a camera that displays the game on a TV screen mounted above the machine. Everyone can watch, and pinball becomes the communal experience it was always meant to be. But Level 1 is way more than just pinball. They have more than two dozen other arcade games (think classics like Centipede and Mortal Kombat), a full kitchen, and a bar with on-theme drinks like Jose Dirt, Hadouken, and Son of a Glitch. Level 1 also has rotating weekly features, a happy hour from 3 to 7 p.m., and daily specials such as Token Tuesday and Throwback Thursday.

Best Place to Take a Drink Geek

Khla

Behind the dark bungalow that houses local foodie favorite Lom Wong, underneath swinging lanterns, is a small black building with a white tiger. There, you'll find some of the most exciting cocktails in the Valley. Khla is a celebration of Southeast Asian flavors concentrated into a cocktail program built by some of the best in the Valley. Tyka Chheng, Colton Brock, and John Sagasta initially joined forces to create Baby Boy at The Pemberton, and Khla is their latest creation, with Chheng heading the cocktail program. The menu is heavily influenced by his personal life and draws on flavors that aren't typical of Phoenix cocktails. Expect galangal-infused honey, tamarind, ube, a vegan take on fish sauce, and Thai tea-infused bourbon, to name a few. So if a cocktail in a coupe glass with a floating slice of dried citrus is getting boring, Khla is precisely the place to be.

Not too long ago, any discussion about the Valley's best blues bar seemed to center exclusively on either The Rhythm Room or Char's Has the Blues. Both spots are hallowed and esteemed, but once Westside Blues & Jazz in Glendale came along, the conversation changed. Opened in 2021 by Paul Vincent Perez and Cindi Jackson, two lifelong devotees of the genre, the venue has become a favorite spot to catch live blues and R&B four nights a week. It oozes style and class with a speakeasy-like ambiance, a stage backed by a red brick wall, and Chesterfield-style seating. The joint's popularity has only grown since its debut, as has its roster of local blues performers. Legendary bluesman Chuck Hall, Grammy-nominated guitarist/vocalist Charles "Cros" Mack, and R&B/funk act Moe Flavour now gig at Westside Blues & Jazz on the regular, and thanks to the primo acoustics, you'll hear every single riff they play clearly. When you factor in the attentive staff, a deep selection of libations, and the fact there ain't a bad seat in the house, it's likely you'll never sing the blues after spending an evening out here.

Benjamin Leatherman

The Nile Theater in Mesa is one of the Valley's most versatile venues, easily hosting great concerts by bands in a variety of genres, from pop and punk to electronic dance music. Where the place really shines, though, is as a metal venue. And since the pandemic, it's become the biggest hot spot for heshers and headbangers in town, as its calendar has been largely occupied by such genre heavyweights as Deicide, Allegaeon, Symphony X, Decrepit Birth, and fittingly enough, Nile. The venue's 850-person main room is conducive to metal shows, as its long, rectangular shape causes the sound of rip-roaring riffs and relentless percussion to deluge the audience like a tsunami. Plus, it's also the preferred venue for prominent local promoter 13th Floor Entertainment. Downstairs, the basement-level space The Underground offers a different, but equally suitable, vibe for gigs. The exposed pipes, concrete floors, and sticker-laden walls make it feel like some East Coast metal bar, while the smaller floor space allows you to get close enough to bands you can see their neck veins pop as they unleash some hellacious vocals. And that's totally metal.

Lauren Cusimano

Picking the best country bar in these neck of the woods ain't easy, pardner. There are any number of local saloons, nightclubs, or dance halls where the Wrangler-clad crowd can tipple and two-step, and every cowboy or cowgirl has their favorite. That said, Roman's Oasis gallops ahead of other spots by a country mile, thanks to its size, history, and devotion to its patrons. Situated on the dusty edge of Goodyear, the 9,000-square-foot roadhouse is the largest and oldest honky-tonk in the west Valley, boasting multiple dance floors and bars, live music every weekend, and the biggest collection of kitschy ephemera this side of the Rio Grande. It's largely unchanged since the late Roman Comer opened the place in 1986, and daughter Myra Curtis has kept things true to its old-school pedigree, including staying cash-only. Amble in to enjoy the country comforts of the original location while you can, since it's moving 400 feet to the southwest sometime in the next year or two to accommodate a widening of Yuma Road. As Curtis told Phoenix New Times in 2021, they'll re-create Roman's Oasis as best they can, right down to the giant rooster ornament outside. "We're going to try to keep the same character, the same flavor of Roman's so that our customers aren't disappointed," she said.

Jennifer Goldberg

Tempe's Danelle Plaza is steeped in local punk lore. In the late '70s and early '80s, the now-defunct bar The Star System (later Merlin's) hosted gigs by The Jetzons, Meat Puppets, and other legendary locals, while a skate shop had an empty swimming pool on-site where punks could grind. And from the early 2000s onward, local punk history continued unfolding across the parking lot at Yucca Tap Room, as local and touring acts played the main room regularly. It's still the case today, helping make the venue the best spot for punk shows. Renowned bands like Agent Orange and Mustard Plug frequent the place. Its checkered dance floor is wide enough for circle pits. PBR always seems to be on special during shows. And no matter how much spit and polish is done, there's still enough of a scuzzy, lowbrow vibe. Even better, you can hit up The Ghost of Eastside Records a few doors down and browse for old Circle Jerks or Clash platters before a gig.

Best Place to See a Hip-Hop Show

Aura

Why is Aura getting the nod for the best hip-hop spot two years in a row? Not for any lack of options, as Valley's rap scene has plenty of worthwhile joints. The Tempe club's mix of talented bookers, frequent shows with great lineups, a huge stage, and other amenities have kept its status as the go-to spot for hip-hop secure. Until another spot steps up to take its crown, we'll keep going to Aura. So will hip-hop fans, who fill its 5,000-square-foot main room for shows featuring local and touring artists. Prominent local promoter Respect the Underground throws its events here, including the daylong Tempe Hip-Hop Festival over the summer. Big-time performers like Wifisfuneral, King Lil G, Kamaiyah, Rucci, and Scarface have all brought their game to Aura over the past year. On other weekends, you can catch resident DJs dropping rap, trap, and R&B bangers during club nights and theme parties.

Best Place to See a Band You've Never Heard Of

The Trunk Space

If you've never visited The Trunk Space before, it might take you a minute to find it. The venue, a longtime refuge for the undercurrents of the Phoenix music scene, is tucked in a wing of the Grace Lutheran Church on Third Street. Small, shabby, and staffed largely by volunteers, the Trunk Space provides a home for the eclectic and the experimental, bringing in both underground local outfits and touring bands from across the country. The venue has helped downtown Phoenix creatives stay afloat for nearly two decades, including at its original spot on Grand Avenue. Any given night at the Trunk Space promises a glimpse at some niche of Phoenix music scene — those up-and-coming bands whose names you don't yet know. And more often than you'd think, those unknown artists put on a great show.

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