Best Cocktail Experience 2023 | Platform 18 | Nightlife | Phoenix
Barter & Shake Cocktail Entertainment

There's not much we can say about Platform 18 that its avalanche of accolades hasn't already expressed. The most recent, and perhaps most important recognition came this summer, when the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation awarded Platform 18 the title of Best U.S. Cocktail Bar at its 17th annual Spirited Awards. One of the concepts (along with UnderTow and Grey Hen Rx) inside the Century Grand space, Platform 18 is a 1920s Pullman train car-inspired craft cocktail bar. Once you're inside the carriage you can find a seat at the bar or at one of the low tables. Screen projections in front of the "windows" make you feel like you're actually traveling by train, which is cool, but you're here for the cocktails, which are intricate, inventive, pricey and unforgettable. We already knew that Barter & Shake, the team behind the concepts in Century Grand, were doing some of the best cocktail work in town. Now, the rest of the country knows it, too.

Don't laugh because this bar closes at 10 p.m. (and 9 p.m. on Sundays). That's part of the charm of The Joy Lush Club. Because not everything in Phoenix's massive nightlife scene has to be open till 2 a.m., and having a spot for laid-back festivities is crucial in having something for everybody. This little spot may close before others and often caters to a more casual drinking experience, but that doesn't mean Joy Lush exactly skimps on the beer and wine choices. The club features 16 beers on tap and a rather large curated wine list, plus other offerings outside your standard bar experience. Plus, there's live music and regular visits from food trucks to round out the evening while furthering that sense of comfort and downtown connectivity. If you're ready to call it a night before 10 p.m., you can take home some of your favorite beer or wine, a feature that is both awesome and solidifies the bar's status as a leisurely spot not unlike your very own abode. Partying is all well and good, but why not try a bar that promotes zero expectations and comfortable seats alike?

Lauren Cusimano

Forget opening at 2 p.m.; Rum Runner's Bar stars slinging suds at 6 a.m. every single day. Even if you're looking to do more than simply get smashed by noon, you can use all that time to your strategic advantage. That means whether you're augmenting weekend brunch with more drinking, or starting your night out on the town at 1:30 p.m., Rum Runner's will be there to cater to your many needs. And it's not just that this bar is basically like some real-world "Cheers" — it's got a decidedly impressive set of amenities. On top of your standard bar offerings, there are great deals (like the one for to-go margaritas), free all-day pool, shuffleboard and semi-regular goldfish racing, which has to be seen to be truly believed. Is the pirate theme a little silly? Sure, but then that's sort of the point, as it makes for a perfect level of gimmickry to enhance your partying. In the end, Rum Runner's is not just a neighborhood bar but a one-stop shop for having fun on your own dang schedule.

Teddy's Preserve

Teddy's Preserve was inspired by Teddy Roosevelt and aims for a "national park vibe," but don't wear your REI zip-off pants and Keens here. This sprawling tree-lined oasis behind the towering Ten-O-One building at Central Avenue and Roosevelt Street is the place for stylish downtown denizens who want expert cocktails, late-night bites and a chill vibe without being cooped up after dark inside a bar or club. You order indoors, where a chic, modern ambiance with custom-tiled walls and oval-backed barstools beckon to those who want to stay in. But it's better to wander out to the courtyard, where you can relax and sip under the string lights and stars. The inventive drinks list harks back to the 1970s rather than the turn of the 20th century with names like Foxy Mama and Boogie Down, and true to Teddy's legacy, the business is serious about conservation. It composts, uses no plastic, and turns its bottles into glassware. A food truck churns out comforting plates of corn dogs, turkey legs, quesadillas and more until 11 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and midnight on weekends.

Jacob Tyler Dunn

We like to take new acquaintances to Palo Verde Lounge if they've never been there before. If they're horrified, they're probably not our kind of people. If they immediately settle in for a pickle shot, a game of pool or a smoke on the back patio? Friends for life. The Dirty Verde, as it's known, has all the necessary criteria of a quality dive bar: zero windows, a truly impressive amount of graffiti (even on the ceiling), bags of chips in lieu of a kitchen, an outdoor area populated by random pieces of patio furniture, plenty of eccentric regulars and a cash-only policy. We sometimes go there for events like DJ nights and concerts, but mostly Palo is our last stop during a wild evening out, when we're not quite ready to head home and we want to commune with night owls like ourselves.

Darkstar has been part of local nightlife for less than two years but has already eclipsed other clubs in the Valley with its emphasis on electronic dance music and wild weekends of beat-filled bliss. Operated by EDM fans, for EDM fans, the two-story drinking and dancing emporium along Mill Avenue is outfitted with stellar amenities — an elite PK Sound setup, state-of-the-art production, gigantic HD screens and multiple bars — with plenty of space to rage on both its dance floor and mezzanine level. The DJs behind the mixers are also out of this world, owing to local promoter Relentless Beats bringing in premier artists and producers like trance duo Gabriel & Dresden, house music guru Mark Farina and synth-pop siren Elohim. Suffice it to say, if you're into EDM ragers, you'll wind up in Darkstar's orbit before too long.

When Super Bowl week rolled into the Valley in February, party monsters jammed into this new downtown Phoenix nightspot and lounge to sample its swanky thrills. Eight months later, Phoenicia Music Lounge is still serving up dancing and drinks every weekend to big crowds. Perched on the second level of CityScape, its stylish vibes and posh digs rival Scottsdale's best clubs. There's a hive of activity every night in each of the areas making up Phoenicia: The club side offers breathtaking views of skyscrapers and opportunities to people-watch while DJs keep the dance floor hot with R&B and hip-hop cuts. Over in the lounge, there's hookah and bottle service, posh seating and a 360-degree photo booth. In between is an island bar where patrons engage in social rites and bartenders pour signature cocktails like the Diamondback Strike and Mercury Riser. Whether you're a sports fan seeking a post-game drink or a clubgoer eager to debauch, check out Phoenicia, the go-to destination for downtown.

All Phoenix strip clubs are not created equal. Depending on your priorities, you may be looking for a club with the most beautiful ladies, the best drink specials or the coolest clientele. Our pick when it's time to go a little wild is Le Girls in Phoenix near the Tempe border. First, you've got your pick of the fully nude side (which doesn't serve alcohol but lets in everyone 18 and older) or the topless showroom (full bar, ages 21 and up). Whichever part of the club you find yourself in, a few things will be the same: Reasonable prices on drinks and dances. Performers who are friendly without being pushy. An upbeat atmosphere. Put all together, they're the reason Le Girls is our go-to strip club.

Matt Hennie

Off the beaten LGBTQ+ path sits Bar1, an upscale spot with a casual neighborhood feel. Whether you're in the mood for weeknight drink specials or a lively Sunday Funday, Bar1 offers a fun atmosphere and diverse crowd. Husbands Todd Colin and Todd Christensen run the pet-friendly place, which opened in 2008. You'll be greeted by pool tables at the front with darts off to one corner, a bar that runs nearly the entire length of one wall, and a lounge with plush furniture in another corner. Thanks to swamp coolers and well-placed vegetation, the spacious patio is a comfortable escape nearly year-round — and a good spot for smoke breaks. Two windows provide access to bartenders so you're never far from the cocktails. Bar1 is a quick drive from the strip of LGBTQ+ bars in Melrose, yet feels like it's a world away.

Benjamin Leatherman

You know the old adage "Don't judge a book by its cover"? Boycott Bar is the personification of it. Situated between an auto shop and an antique store, the bar's seemingly random location hides the truth — this bar is a ton of fun. From hosting the "Gay Olympics" featuring local sporting teams, to Jell-O shot parties, Boycott's special event game is on point. But even normal Friday and Saturday nights at the bar are magical. As millennials, nothing gets us going like 2000s reggaeton and hip-hop records being spun while go-go dancers shake their groove thing on top of the bar. Of course, Boycott's affordably priced pizza and strong drinks aren't too shabby either.

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