Last week the team behind Counter Intuitive, the Old Town Scottsdale bar with a rotating theme, continued their latest dive-bar inspired chapter, Bemusement, by adding newly spray-painted art to their walls and dropping a fresh cocktail menu. They also debuted a food menu, from their newly hired chef, Jesse Miller; this is their first menu since the Agua Caliente chapter, which came to a close in November.
You’ll now order any one of 11 cocktails from the back of a campy record sleeve borrowing imagery and drink titles directly from Swedish rock band Europe’s 1986 10-track record The Final Countdown, considered by some, to be one of the worst album covers of all time. The front cover of the menu replaces the illustrated faces of the band with those of the Counter Intuitive staff; the band members' mullets remaining intact.
“We were gearing up for Arizona Cocktail Week, and we wanted to make sure that the menu was small and tight, and that it pushes the limits in some areas and jumps on trends in others,” says Counter Intuitive Founder Jason Asher. “It’s a little bit of everything.”
Unlike menus from past chapters that featured several dozen original drinks, each often containing at least one house-made infused spirit or syrup inspired by the chapter at hand (the Chinatown speakeasy chapter hovered around Asian ingredients like sesame; the Agua Caliente chapter focused heavily on chile pepper heat and flavor), the relatively concise Bemusement menu focuses more on the integrity of basic bar staples — fresh citrus juice, demerara sugar simple syrup — combined with unique, high-quality spirits and liqueurs.
The straightforward, less prep-heavy approach allows Asher (who left his Director of Mixology role at local spirits distributor Young’s Market at the end of 2016 to focus full time on Barter & Shake, the parent company behind Counter Intuitive and sister bar UnderTow) to flex his professional background in spirit sourcing and menu development.
The Final Countdown, a carryover from Bemusement’s previous menu (previously known as the Politely Borrowed), combines some esoteric ingredients — a lesser-known Japanese whiskey, the fruity Iwai Tradition from Mars Shinsu Distillery, the bittersweet Luna Amaro liqueur from Washington D.C.’s Don Ciccio & Figli — with more mainstream flavors like Giffard Elderflower liqueur, soy sauce (for salinity), and lemon oils.
Asher’s fondness for Don Ciccio & Figli liqueurs extends across the menu to the Cherokee, making its debut for the first time, which includes the company’s new bitter-orange tinted Cinque Aperitivo. The drink contains one of the new menu’s rare instances of a house-flavored spirit, a roasted peanut-infused Basil Hayden’s bourbon, in addition to concord grape, fresh lemon juice, and Scrappy’s-brand cardamom bitters. The inspiration? A drink that’s haunted Asher for years, made by a Suntory whiskey rep — an eight-point cocktail shake of simply Yamasaki 12-year whiskey, the liqueur made from concord grapes, and lemon juice.
“The drink was incredible, and I’ve been trying to recreate a cocktail like that for so long,” Asher says.
His own take, by contrast, is an on-the-bias slice of Americana.
“A little bit bitter. A little sweet. A little nutty. It brings you back to, I think, the childhood memory of eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”
Meanwhile, a zippy new drink, the Rock The Night Away (which most of the bartenders have nicknamed the “Amaro Mai Tai”), plays like a greatest hits of Italian liqueurs, with Ramazzotti, Cio Caro, and Cynar alongside Cointreau triple sec, orgeat, and lime juice. Fitting in with the dive bar digs, it’s served in a hollowed out can of Japanese Echigo-brand rice lager.
Chef Miller doesn’t dwell solely in the realm of bar snacks for his five-item menu. While one can snack the night away on hyper-crispy salt and vinegar-spiked taro chips, seasoned with togarashi chile pepper spice, there are heartier finger foods, such as the tempura-fried pickles with miso aioli dipping sauces and a bowl of shishito peppers topped with bonito flakes and black garlic and sitting in a miso vinaigrette — all of which seem ripe for sharing. The hamachi tartare meets chips and dip-style guacamole halfway; you’re given wonton chips to scoop up a mixture of avocado, blistered tomatoes, seaweed, sesame, and charred scallion vinaigrette. It’s another share-size appetizer — but one hefty enough it could pass as a light entree. Which brings us to the most sizable option, a scallion pancake wrap-style sandwich of flank steak, shiitake mushrooms, bean sprouts, cucumber, and cilantro, served alongside a mushroom eel sauce for dipping — or, rather, dousing.
We are happy to report: You will want to eat this bar food.