Inside the cozy Emerald Lounge you'll find no oversize TVs belching out jock-o fare, no smug bartenders, and no barmaids whose hopped-up attitudes are in direct proportion to their surgically augmented breasts. Hell, the Emerald doesn't even employ a barmaid.

What the lounge does offer is cheap booze served up by genial drink-slingers in an unaffected atmosphere that's equal parts Bukowskian watering hole and trendy Silverlake lounge. On any given night, a live rock band or DJ booms the gamut of punk rock to hip-hop for an unusual mix of off-duty strippers, hot rodders, professional drunks, working-class stiffs, and the usual cadre of artists, writers and musicians. One of the lounge's bartenders -- the ever-charming Miss Cary -- is a woman who's been pouring drinks in the Phoenix underbelly for the past 50 years and still takes to using words like "baby" when greeting you.

With its smoke-stained, Prussian red and black interior, Mondrian motifs and pool tables, this dingy den is a hip hellhole to some and a glorious old-man bar to others. But no matter how it's perceived, Phoenix's sole bastion of boho can never be accused of taking itself too seriously.

Sure, Bailey's is sated with archetypal showboaters in French maid outfits and Britney-ready schoolgirl garb who slither and spin to rock riffage like AC/DC and Buckcherry. But the scene is hardly reminiscent of the classic strip bar milieu portrayed accurately in the Crüe video for its song "Girls, Girls, Girls."

Darkly lighted with gilded walls, ersatz foliage and inconspicuous patrons who strangely keep to themselves while focusing scrupulously on the sinewy and zaftig dancers, Bailey's has a subtle feel that's straight off the pages of a John O'Brien novel. It's an ambiance dissimilar to any other "cabaret" in town. It's at once strident and discreet, a contradiction that makes it the city's optimal spot for stripper buffs to consort discreetly.

"The Martini is to middle- and upper-class American society," says martini maven Barnaby Conrad III, "what peyote is to the Yaqui Indians: a sacred rite that affirms tribal identity, encourages fanciful thought and -- let's be honest here -- delivers a whoppingly nice high."

We'll drink to that.

And given our druthers, we'll be doing it in the understated elegance (Southwestern chandeliers, ornate wooden columns, a tuxedoed jazz pianist) of the cocktail lounge at Harris' Restaurant, where martini protocol amounts to religious ceremony -- right down to a signature crystal carafe nestled in an ice-filled mini-barrel. God forbid that one's last drop of martini be anything but properly chilled.

Readers' Choice: Martini Ranch

Yeah, yeah -- we know what you're thinking. Rum, lime juice, a spoonful of sugar (powdered, of course) and strawberries -- a daiquiri is a daiquiri is a daiquiri. So what's so special about the Improv version?

Rim shot -- the consistency! The Improv has mastered the perfectly blended daiquiri -- not too fruity, not too bland, and, most important, not too slushy. And while it's not traditional, and it's certainly not necessary, we also relish the whipped cream topping, itself topped with a maraschino cherry, skewered by a tiny sword.

The Improv? Take its daiquiri, please.

BEST PLACE TO SEE BIKERS WHO LOOK LIKE YOUR DAD

Billet Bar

Get your motor runnin'? Head out on the highway? Lookin' for adventure? Looking for your dentures, more likely. If you haven't already noticed, the median age for the heavy-metal thunder-riding Harleys these days is about 56, and it's the guys who stayed in med school in the '60s instead of pursuing personal freedom and white-line fever across America. So it's to be expected that this motorcycle clique making up for lost time makes its hedonistic home a chic, relatively new bar in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale, wearing more leather apparel than most wanna-be punks half their age.

Despite the metal and marble bar's proximity to the Easyriders Tattoo Parlor, most of the marked men who come in for a drink are under the age of 29 and are too smarting from being under the needle to spike the "Born to Be Mild" set. But don't you make the mistake of writing off these geezers as two tires short of a wheelchair -- they're old enough to remember how to have a good time; they punch up mostly agreeable dinosaur rock selections on the corner "Jukebox-zilla," as it is affectionately known; they drink responsibly; and on Thursday ladies' nights, they usually have a fortysomething hottie in tow.

Can your old man pull off any of this without getting clocked in the head with a fryer by your Mom? Nah, didn't think so.

(and 10825 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, 480-348-1666) The devil's in the details, and this ritzy bar knows exactly what it takes to mix the perfect mart. These toss-backs can get expensive ($7.50 for a basic recipe), but wow, they're worth it, with generous three-ounce pours of alcohol. Of course, these martinis are based on vodka (nobody uses gin anymore, it's so passé) with fruit (no olives, no onions; today's young drinkers want high-octane, cotton-candy punch). What shall it be tonight? Top picks: "Sex & the City," with Absolut Mandarin, Amaretto Disarrono, peach schnapps, orange juice and cranberry; and the "Soprano," with Campari, triple sec, Absolut Mandarin and a shake of OJ. Appetizers are needed to soak up the sting of lethally poured Stoli Razberi, served as the "Turner" with triple sec and lemon juice, or the Kaiser Soze, shaken with Stoli vanilla, Kahlúa, Bailey's, milk and Goldschlager. This is one devil we really want to dance with.

Readers' Choice: Martini Ranch

This is your cue to make a break to Kolbys Corner Pocket. Forget about those rinky-dink matchbox tables you have to pop quarters into. The 22 regulation-size tables here are works of art from the likes of Gandy, Gold Crown III and Brunswick. At Kolbys, you rent by the hour, which makes it a great destination for a group outing of wholesome fun. This place is serious about its pool and so are its patrons. There won't be some wayward drinker disrupting that crucial shot at the eight ball. Find the angle, line it up and sink into Kolbys Corner Pocket.

Readers' Choice: Clicks Billiards

There's only one place in the Valley to find and enjoy a truly great smoke -- Goodfella's. The recently opened lounge has two buildings in which to relax. The front houses the humidor that is stocked with premium cigars such as Romeo y Julieta, Don Thomas, Arturo Fuente and Montecristo. There is also a flat-screen TV and parlor sofas. If you smoke up an appetite, grab a sandwich from the deli.

A separate building in back is home to the members-only cigar club (membership is $175 a year). There's a salon fully equipped with a pool table, dart room, plush leather couches, a conference room and more. Members receive discounts on cigars and special events like televised fights. The real flavor to this place is here, in an atmosphere that allows you to enjoy your tobacco with other like-minded individuals.

Readers' Choice: Ritz-Carlton

Is there a place that meets these requirements: a) a huge selection of top-shelf liquors; b) a spacious floor plan with lots of comfortable seating; c) an outdoor area to take in some fresh air; and d) rows upon rows of beautiful men?

Yes sir! Only one place in the Valley can serve up these requirements and keep them coming -- Amsterdam. Enjoy martinis and a manicure (on Mondays) or just come every day of the week for an abundance of eye candy. Is it a coincidence that this ultra-hip bar is named after the unofficial gay capital of the world? We don't think so.

Readers' Choice: Amsterdam

No gyrating belly dancers, no velvet couches. This is just a hookah bar, plain and simple. King Tut, a Middle Eastern restaurant, lounge and de facto cultural center, was around way before the Tempe smoking ban and Gulf War II made smoking hookahs dangerously cool, so, thankfully, it hasn't resorted to becoming a glitzy novelty. The joint is relatively quiet during the day, so gaggles of ASU students stop by to relax and study between classes on the well-worn Persian couches. At night, the action turns up a notch, but only a slight notch. The seemingly endless soundtrack of Bob Marley and anonymous Arabic jams seems just a little louder and the crowd thickens mildly. Perhaps because there are no shimmying distractions, the cross-legged, barefooted patrons always seem to be engaged in lively conversation between each puff of their smoke.

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