It's March. The weather is as damn near perfect as it's ever going to get, and most of us want to be outside doing something -- or better yet, nothing -- every gloriously balmy minute. You've probably already run through a mental Rolodex of restaurants with great dining patios, but where do you go when you just want to drink?
Here are nine places that seem just right for relaxing in the Great Outdoors over a beer, a glass of wine or a cocktail. Five of them feature outdoor bars, a trend so spot-on for Phoenix it's a wonder someone didn't think of it sooner.
If there's one thing serial restaurateur Sam Fox understands better than just about anyone else, it's that good design creates good mood. And this time, he and his brilliant team have outdone themselves, creating a post-modern multi-use space so crazy-cool that everyone wants to be there. What you may not have pictured, given the name, is that The Yard is not really a yard in the strictest sense of the word but rather a huge roofed patio -- okay, maybe a courtyard -- furnished with mod '60s-era couches and wing chairs at one end and lawn games such as ping-pong, table shuffleboard and cornhole toss (on turf) at the other. The place looks way more chic than your usual game-geared hangout -- kind of like The Monastery with a Sex and the City vibe. Grab a seat at the indoor-outdoor bar (half of it sits inside Culinary Dropout) or just lounge around in the hippest, most comfortable backyard you can imagine. Expect 18 beers on tap and dozens more (many super-craft-y) by the bottle,16 mostly affordable wines by the glass plus Culinary Dropout's signature cocktails. And, of course, there's a happy hour, offered 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Parked between Camelback and Mummy mountains, this wonderful, rich-in-history spot conjures the Phoenix-that-used-to-be as few others can. Oh, sure, it's more glamorous now, thanks to an extensive 2010 makeover, but it still draws the same old-school crowd: golfers, old-timers, and local movers and shakers who've come to bask in an Arizona spring. The lush desert setting is so much more beautiful than a camera can capture in one frame -- mountains, cactus, fireplaces, and blue sky here, flowers, fountains and desert trees over there. Get there early in the week and it's a tranquil little paradise, but by Friday, the huge indoor-outdoor bar and the patio are packed -- although it's still fairly tranquil. This is not a rowdy crowd. Happy hour wines by the glass are decent and dirt-cheap, and a table in the lounge features a freebie buffet if you don't want to spring for happy hour nibbles such as street tacos and crispy chicken livers with onion marmalade.
Lustre Bar at the Hotel Palomar
There may be other rooftop bars in town, but there certainly aren't better ones than Lustre, which offers stunning views of skyscrapers, city streets, and mountains -- all especially gorgeous at sunset. Grab a stool at the wood-slatted, roofed and TV-furnished bar (as if you needed the distraction!) or find a sleek mid-century couch on which to perch, then settle in for a seasonally-inspired craft cocktail devised by mixologist Shel Bourdon, who oversees the mixing and muddling downstairs at Blue Hound. The hotel's pool is up here, too, lending a lazy, resort-like air to a setting that feels relaxed but distinctly urban at once. Lustre opens at 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and at noon on Saturday and Sunday.
From its original opening in the late '80s, Richardson's has been a comfortable, Cheers-like hangout for the North Phoenix crowd, who soon made the restaurant's center-stage indoor bar into a "Hey, Norm!" hangout for a cold brew and some storytelling. When a 2009 fire destroyed the original space, owner Richardson Browne re-created Richardson's (same decor, identical layout) up the street, placing it right beside his dark, atmospheric steakhouse called the Rokerij and joining the two with a sweet little patio in the middle. From the looks of things, the old crew has taken up residence at the cozy, roofed bar tucked away in the corner, which still catches light breezes and afternoon's play of sunlight. There's nothing fancy about it (although a beehive fireplace at one end takes the chill off a cool spring evening), but its adobe walls and cactus lend it New Mexican charm without the kitsch. The bar opens at 11 am every day for cocktails, lunch, happy hour, and dinner.
Does anyone ever eat indoors at House of Tricks? It seems so unlikely (at least in good weather), given the restaurant's expansive, flower-filled patio and walk-around outdoor bar, the latter shaded by two old trees whose trunks jut right through the green-painted roof. Seating is at a premium at the Mexican tile-topped bar, so it's best to get there around 5-ish, although landing one of a handful of small tables around its perimeter isn't too shabby, either -- especially if you wind up beside the small outdoor fireplace near the back. Very cozy. Although Tricks has a decent cocktail list, wine is the way to go here, given the restaurant's eclectic 300-bottle cellar and its "Award of Excellence" from Wine Spectator for two years running. And should you get hungry, the happy hour, which specializes in trendy twists on bar food, is first-rate (offered 4 to 6 p.m. daily).
Although this funky, Mexican beach-themed hangout -- backed up against the Peoria Sports Complex -- is like a playground (with sand volleyball), it's a decidedly adult one, more like a down-and-dirty Disneyland for drinkers than a bona fide family place. With its raggedy palapas, surfboards, colorful signs, and barstools, it has the comfy, lived-in air of a border-town cantina -- friendly, casual, and fun. There's a wrap-around indoor-outdoor bar, a circular outdoor bar (used on the weekends), and a canopied drinking and eating area overlooking one of the complex's ball fields. Big roomy tables abound, so come with friends for a bucket of beer or a pitcher of margaritas after a Cactus League game, but don't hold out hope for a great Mexican meal. You'll probably want to find that elsewhere.
You don't have to be a duffer to fall in love with this colorful, super-casual spot overlooking Grayhawk's Talon Golf Course. Loads of people show up for the relaxed setting and fantastic views -- afforded by an indoor-outdoor bar that wraps around one corner of the building and an open patio (furnished with couches and fire pits) that practically sits on the fairway. Somebody had the good sense to scatter rocking chairs about, the better to slow down and drink in the views with alcoholic beverage in hand. But the very best place to chill is The Rooftop, perched above the golfer's snack shack and reached by stairs. Offering spectacular views of the golf course, distant city lights and layer upon layer of the Valley's mountain ranges, it's peaceful and romantic as all get out. With a handful of exceptions, the beer list is mainstream and unexceptional. Both the wine list (which offers affordable by-the-glass and glass-and-a-half selections from lots of good wine-growing regions) and the cocktail list (offering a mix of classics and creative stuff) are more interesting.
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The name means "Italian Farmhouse," but with its high-ceilinged industrial-farmhouse décor and black-and-white gingham napkins, this appealing Sam Fox restaurant looks more American than Italian. But never mind. The bring-the-outdoors-in ambiance is fantastic and nowhere more so than at the indoor-outdoor bar, situated at the front corner and bordered by fruit trees, herbs and veggies growing in metal stock tanks. It's a nice touch -- these good green things adding farm-y street cred to an urban restaurant planted on a busy street. Yes, you're in the city, but somehow this cool little corner feels relaxing in the same way an Italian cafe might, where the pace is slow and the people-watching possibilities fantastic. Happy hour (offered 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and all day Sunday) features $4 wines by the glass, $4 beers ($2 if you want a "cheap" one) and $5 well cocktails.
Del Frisco's has a lively bar downstairs, situated so close to garage doors that you get the best of both worlds -- breezes and A/C. But when you want some peace and quiet, and a nice view of Piestewa Peak, you take the stairs or the elevator to the second-floor Summit Bar -- a classy, mostly covered patio with lots of relaxed seating, a few dining tables overlooking Camelback and its own not-so-small bar. You're in the heart of the Camelback Corridor here, and, yes, you can hear the traffic, but this is an above-it-all city retreat, just right for slowing the day down with an after-work cocktail or a Sunday brunch. You'll find about a dozen craft cocktails (including two "skinny" drinks for girls who count calories), as well as build-your-own Bloody Marys and carafes of Mimosas and Screwdrivers, the latter offered only at brunch.