We've got big news for Valley cocktail fans: Counter Intuitive, the Old Town Scottsdale bar with a rotating menu, will soon be changing its notoriously short and late hours of operation. Starting next month, you'll be able to belly up to the bar from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. every Friday and Saturday night. The new hours launch Friday, May 6 — the same night the bar will premiere its new menu theme.
We also know what that new theme will be — Agua Caliente Racetrack: Opening Day 1929. Essentially, that’s drinks and food inspired by the Mexican borderlands and the Prohibition era in Tijuana — as in the hey-day of high-profile horse betting in the border town. Once dubbed Satan’s Playground, Agua Caliente Racetrack in Tijuana was a glitzy gathering place for the rich or the rich-for-a-day.
According to Jason Asher, the bar’s director of beverage development, the Prohibition theme could come as a surprise. So far, the bar has been praised for its ability to dodge the Prohibition and speakeasy genre that's become ubiquitous with new bars aiming for craft categorization.
“So, we went ahead and made a Prohibition bar anyway,” Asher says. “But the Prohibition era lets us do a lot of things. We can take the Tequila Sunrise, a drink Arizona is known for … and we get to take a long look at Tijuana. We’re going to expose that place.”
With the new menu, the bar, as always, is hellbent on exploring the history surrounding the rise of cocktail culture in the Americas. The fourth menu switch comes six months after Counter Intuitive left Picasso’s sultry Havana nights to dock stateside and transport drinkers to the shadows of America’s turn-of-the century Chinatown social clubs. The Big Trouble in Little Chinatown menu ran for six months, and so will Agua Caliente Racetrack.
Expect a wide array of drinks — there are more than 30 on the menu, they’re all new, and they're nearly all named after hoses that raced at Agua Caliente — unified by their inclusion of agave spirits. Craft cocktail fans are probably already familiar with tequila, and may be getting to know mezcal. But with Counter Intuitive's new menu, be ready to learn about town-by-town origins and more about sotol, bacanora, and rancio. For the first time ever, the bar will even dedicate a section of the menu to spirit tastings — and at accessible prices — in the hopes of educating drinkers about these spirits' flavors outside of mixed drinks.
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You can also expect big flavor and spicy drinks. Asher, Executive Director Rich Furnari, and Assistant Director of Beverage Development Micah Olson have embraced the role chiles play in Borderland food. For example, the Lemon Hills (hibiscus, honey, lemon, orange bitters, mezcal) contains the increasingly popular Ancho Reyes Liqueur; the tropical Golden Prince (lemon, tiki bitters, nutmeg, tequila, apricot liqueur amaro, orgeat) balances sweet passion fruit juice with Tapatio; the Gallant Sir (cantaloupe, tequila, bacanora, amaro, scotch) features muddled fresnos; and the luminescent green Onrush (pineapple, lime, tequila, genepi) boasts poblano peppers and green chile vodka.
And, of course, you can expect some seriously tasty food, though at first glance the menu may seem simpler and more direct than past iterations. Director of Culinary Development Garrison Whiting ran with an initial prompt of Mexican street food and came up with items including complex chicken mole tacos on charred flour tortillas of his own making and comforting breakfast burritos with house bacon and chorizo, gooey American cheese, and bright tomatillo salsa.
The physical menu, designed by graphic artist Erik Maurer, is also a delight. It includes an ingenious handicap score for each drink, assigned by Asher and company, and serves as an easy way for guests to demystify their drinking. The higher the number, the less familiar and/or boozier the drink. The straightforward Paloma (tequila, lime and Mexican Squirt soda), for instance, is a 1. The menu also includes an illustration, adapted from an artifact of the racetrack, that contains the who’s who of the Valley’s cocktail scene.
Editor's Note: This post has been changed from its original version. Counter Intuitive's new menu launches to the public on Friday, May 6 not Thursday, May 5 as was previously indicated.