The Counter Intuitive crew has had their fun globetrotting, transporting the Old Town Scottsdale bar’s decor and menu from a New Orleans estate sale to Picasso’s Cuba, and from Chinatown speakeasies to the horse tracks of Prohibition-era Tijuana.
They aren’t done having fun yet, but they have come home, so to speak. And they’re finished switching themes.
In a relaxed atmosphere, carried over from their previous theme as a timeless dive bar, the walls now are studded with cow skulls and a taxidermied jackalope. They’re also decorated with black-and-white photographs of historic Arizona and the tiki bars and saloons that livened up the Valley in their heydays.
The goal of Counter Intuitive is to create an Arizona-driven cocktail bar. And they’ll be evolving and growing into that identity for the foreseeable future.
And, as you’d expect, the Arizona motif is at the foundation of the cocktail, beverage, and food menus as well.
“This is our first real stab at looking at local, seasonal ingredients. Local meats, local beers, local wines,” says Jason Asher, who owns Counter Intuitive with Rich Furnari. Counter Intuitive, which opened in February 2015, is their first concept under their parent company Barter & Shake. They opened up the Arcadia tiki bar, Under Tow, last August.
Right now, the cocktail menu is loaded with gin, white vermouth, and juice. “Because it’s summer,” Furnari notes.
Asher says Furnari was surprised when he first saw the cocktail list. He’d expected to see more of the style Asher has become known for: bold, heavy, big, and flavor-forward.
“I really challenged myself to work differently. I want to make light drinks."
Asher holds up the cocktail sitting in front of him, the O’Bay Your Thirst.
“Like this one,” he says. “This is a very light drink. With lemon and the liqueur that we make with bay leaf and nutmeg.” Aside from London dry gin, and a maltier version of gin called genever, the drink also contains strawberry, celery bitter, and a verjus blanc, a sour wine made from unripe white grapes, which lends added acidity.
“It’s light and it’s an easy drink for summer,” Asher says, “I feel like I could sit by the … you know? By wherever.”
“I could sit at a dark and sexy bar and drink that all night long,” Furnari adds. And now he can.
The drink is a good example of the refreshing direction their summer menu employs end-to-end. So does the The Snap Out of It, which blends snap-pea infused rum with white vermouth and honeydew melon; and so does the It’s Mint to Be, which matches vodka and rhum agricole with orange Curacao, mint, Mandarin orange, and lime juice.
An instant favorite was the Grab’n Me Gingerly, which, for a drink involving cognac, Italian amaro, and a dark Jamaican rum, is fairly uptempo for having mingled with a spritely apricot shrub, an apricot liqueur ginger, lemon juice, and thyme. Being at the tail end of the Valley's narrow summer stone-fruit growing season, the cocktail is a snapshot of Arizona at this moment.
Matching 16 new and original cocktails on the front menu, Asher and Furnari have added eight wines by the glass (and several bottle-only options on separate menu that contains the spirit list) and 13 classic cocktails, some of which you won’t see elsewhere around Phoenix. For every old fashioned and French 75, there's a Brooklynite (aged Jamaican rums, honey, lime juice, and Angostura bitters), a Clover Club (gin, dry vermouth, raspberry syrup, lemon juice, and egg white), and a Planter’s Punch (aged Jamaican rums, falernum, grenadine, lime juice, and nutmeg).
Happy hour (6 to 7 p.m. Wednesday though Saturday) sees classic cocktails priced down to $7 a pop, plus food and bottles of wine at marked down by 25 percent.
Speaking of provisions, the bar snacks have adapted to the Arizona vibes as well. It’s melon season, and local melons are balled and paired with burrata cheese made in-house, as well as honey, mint, arugula, and cashews. Heavier fare includes chicken wings smothered in a barrel-aged wing sauce and scotch eggs made from rabbit sausage and surrounded by charred carrots and caraway kraut. For dessert, there’s a local berry tart.
“It’s actually feeling like home for the first time,” Asher says, staring across the bar. They were throwing the finishing touches on drinks and food right up until they opened, and had spent the previous few days building the bar and prepping. Now, the seats at the bar are filled. “This is where we want to hang out.”
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He and Furnari say they’ve built the kind of bar they like to spend time in when they’re visiting other big cities.
“This is our bar,” Asher says.
“And It’s been a long time overdue,” Furnari adds.