Josh Parry is serious about drinks.
He will not allow his bartenders to free-pour the sweet and sour in one of their signature cocktails, a Cucumint Martini. It must be measured with a jigger.
"It's that exact," he says. "If you pour it perfectly, it will taste perfect."
He insists on juices squeezed fresh daily, a housemade sweet and sour ("I wouldn't go near a bottle of sweet and sour with a 10-foot pole," he says) and a carefully crafted, original version of simple syrup in his bar. He chose his bartenders (Tony Kitchen and Megan Silvertooth) with care and a long list of requirements -- eventually finding true mixologists who feel that "this is their art," as he puts it.
Parry, a former restaurant server and mortgage broker (yes, mortgage broker), had never been a bartender himself until he decided about three years ago to open a bar.
He partnered up with longtime friend and L.A. bar owner Mike Winn, and the result is SideBar, which opened last November at 7th Avenue and McDowell in downtown Phoenix. With a swanky, retro feel and movies like "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" playing to a techno-beat soundtrack, Sidebar has quickly become the newest downtown place to be seen.
A man whose friend once described him with a quote from a Woody Allen movie -- "chronically dissatisfied" -- Parry insists on perfection behind his bar.
"I constantly am taste-testing everything, making sure that the recipes are right, the juices are fresh," he says. "I drive my staff insane, constantly perfecting."
Perfect with a twist, that is. The drinks range from the Cucumint Martini and the getting-to-be-famous White Rabbit to the CenPhopolitan (for that recipe, tune in Friday). In short, the SideBar is becoming associated with the throwback cocktail culture, and it's beginning to define the downtown crowd.
"The best parties I've thrown are parties where I invited a whole bunch of people who don't normally hang out together," he says. "It just triggers something."
He throws that party nightly, attracting what he calls the most diverse group of people around.
Urban professionals, longtime downtown residents who have been "fighting the good fight" for 40 years, the new urbanites flocking to the historic districts, the gay community, neighborhood artists -- he continues for a minute or two, unwittingly offering up a new definition of who is "downtown."
"I gambled a lot on downtown Phoenix," he says.
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Maybe that's why Parry refuses to gamble on what makes a good drink.
"I think of making cocktails like making perfume," he muses. "You have an end note and a base note, and it kind of starts and the flavors should do the right thing all the way through."
But in the end, his philosophy is simple.
"I refuse to serve crap," he says. Looks like both bets were worth it.