In September, Phoenix New Times celebrated the cream of the crop with our 36th annual Best of Phoenix edition. Here are our top picks for places to drink in metro Phoenix.
Best Brewery: Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. It's funny how one brewery can come into the craft beer scene in Phoenix and completely blow it up. Sure, there was plenty of great local beer in town before Arizona Wilderness Brewing, but in just about a year, it's already been named best new brewery in the world by beer geeks in the know and has put our fair state on the map in ways it hadn't been before. Maybe it's the focus on using as much local grain as possible. Maybe it's the unique ingredient list, from cacao nibs to spruce tips. But once you get your first sip, you know it's something new. The almost daily changing list of experimental microbrews has us coming back for more and, with its being a Kickstarter-funded endeavor, we're just glad these artful brewers got the opportunity to open in the first place.
Best New School Cocktails: The Clever Koi In terms of being on the cutting edge of cocktail trends, The Clever Koi's back bar stock is as hip as the bar itself looks. With an ever-changing rotation of en vogue herbal liqueurs like Ancho Reyes, Suze, and Génépi, mixologist Joshua James crafts drinks that are crisp, clean, dry, and balanced. You can say goodbye to syrupy drinks forever because James' increasingly simplistic take on cocktails makes all those Coke highballs and juiced-up mocktails look like kids' stuff. Though the drink menu is updated seasonally at The Clever Koi, you usually can rely on a Pimm Jung Ill (an amaro-spiked Pimm's Cup) or Bee's Knees during happy hour and a Sloe Burn made with bourbon, sloe gin, shiso, and Thai bird honey for dinner.
Best Old School Cocktails: Second Story Liquor Bar Second Story Liquor Bar might be a new spot on the Scottsdale dining scene, but bartender John Christie has been around. Originally a Bostonian, Christie made an indelible imprint on Valley cocktail bars during his time at the now-defunct Old Town Whiskey. Back in action behind the stick, he still loves his whiskey, even teaching whiskey classes at the bar from time to time. However, his menu, which features the granddaddy of the modern cocktail, the Philadelphia Fish House Punch, is more than just great Old Fashioneds. Bubbly types should go for the French 75. If you're feeling a little worse for the wear, maybe a Corpse Reviver is in order. Even gin lovers have something to look forward to with the Gin Fizz. Anyway, you get the point -- Christie does classics right at his Mad Men-era-inspired bar in Scottsdale.
Best Cocktail Program: Last Drop Bar at the Hermosa Inn If any bar menu typifies both reverence to the classics and a new Arizona cocktail outlook, it's Travis Nass' menu at Last Drop Bar. That's because while he keeps old favorites in the repertoire, the cocktails he creates almost always are well-balanced and light -- even when they're liquor-forward. Bringing the cocktail scene away from the over-juiced attempts at refreshment that plague many local watering holes, Nass presents grown-up drinks for a more developed palate. If you've ever wondered what Phoenix cocktails should be like, know that they should be something like the smooth, clean, and simple craft concoctions at the Hermosa Inn's bar. For the less adventurous, he'll surely whip up any of the old favorites from memory, too.
Best Wine Bar: Kazimierz World Wine Bar You've probably heard about this Scottsdale spot and wondered about how to spell -- let alone pronounce -- the complicated name. And even if you've never stepped foot inside, chances are you've walked by it a million times without ever knowing it. The unmarked entrance -- which, by the way, predates the new speakeasy trend -- leads into a dark, ancient-looking space built to remind patrons of an underground wine cellar. The interior is cool enough to make us want to go back, but it's the extensive wine list that really does the trick. To call Kaz Bar's menu a "list" isn't really fair. It's really a veritable book, with more than 3,200 wine selections if you're going for a whole bottle. The by-the-glass options are far less numerous but still give you plenty of choices in different styles from around the world.
Best Whiskey Bar: Magnum's Cigar Bar This ain't your grandpa's whiskey bar. Well, actually, this is probably exactly the kind of spot your grandfather would've hung out in (and probably still does hang out in). But there's room for you, too. The North Phoenix bar is unmistakably a cigar bar first, based on aroma alone. However, even if you aren't a smoker, the ventilation system makes it so there's only a cigar aroma without the giant cloud of smoke. Plus, the whiskey list, which reads like a book and is set up on shelves like a library, is killer. With whiskey and cigar pairings courtesy of Jason Asher, this spot really is about the spirits and stogies. Even the cocktails are mostly whiskey-based, with Sazerac, Old Fashioned, and even a peaty Laphroaig cocktail on the menu for $12 to $15.
Best Happy Hour: Bar Crudo Let's be honest: Bar Crudo could've pulled a win in several cocktail categories. However, none of the others really put forth everything this Arcadia spot has to offer quite like the happy hour category. From a long list of classic cocktails made to the rigorous and historically accurate standards co-owner and master mixologist Micah Olson enforces in his bar to the phenomenal bar bites with Italian flair, everything you could order is dirt cheap (cocktails are $7 and dishes range from $5 to $12) for the quality you're getting. After all, well liquor pretty much means nothing at this bar and those crispy pig ears are the stuff dreams are made of. Take a seat in the beautiful lounge and bar area Tuesday through Saturday from 5 to 7 p.m. and get the full Crudo experience.
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Best Place to Drink and Work: Lux Central Nerd alert! We like to take our laptop to a coffee shop and call it a night on the town. And that's what it is at Lux, where you can start your day with a shot of espresso and end it with a craft cocktail. We're nerds but we're not alone -- just about any time, you'll have trouble finding a spot at a table or the bar at this CenPho hangout. The DJ's always playing something interesting, the eavesdropping is top-notch (as long as you don't happen to sit next to some church mice -- unless that's your thing) and the drinks are delicious. Just be careful not to spill that gin and tonic on your keyboard.
Best Place for a Twilight Drink: Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale Looking to impress a visiting tourist or just yearning for a great place to kick up your feet after work? Head to the patio at the Four Seasons resort, where a tangy Copper City Mule awaits you -- not to mention some of the most stunning, sweeping views of the desert to be had. Those vistas, combined with a daily happy hour from 3 to 5:30 p.m., make for an unbeatable twilight drink. A killer list of tap wine, tap beer, and by-the-bottle vino choices will have you staying well past sunset (and what a sunset it is!), then heading into the Four Seasons' Proof, an upscale, homestyle diner where you can add a little dinner to the perfect dusk-hour cocktail.
Best Place for Drinks After a Show: AZ88 To be honest, we can't think of a bad time to drink at AZ88. But we particularly love heading over to the bar/restaurant after a show at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts or Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, in part because this is the hangout for artists, musicians, and other performers. Long the home to the revolving designs of Janis Leonard, who passed away this year, AZ88 has set the stage for drinks, dinner, and conversation on many an evening. We recommend the lavosh and a martini -- our favorite is the espresso, strong and sweet with a bean floating on top -- and a seat on the patio, when the weather is nice. Late in the night the music gets loud and the crowd a little crazy, and that's all part of the fun.