Best of Phoenix

Best of Phoenix 2018: Our Favorite Bars

Best of Phoenix 2018: Our Favorite Bars
Courtesy of Undertow

There is no shortage of watering holes in metro Phoenix, from high-end cocktail repositories to the dive-iest of dive bars. Here are our picks for the best places in town to catch a drink.

There's no better place to eat at the bar than Tratto. - CHRIS MALLOY
There's no better place to eat at the bar than Tratto.
Chris Malloy

Best Place to Eat at the Bar: Tratto
4743 North 20th Street

Chris Bianco's Italian-Arizonan trattoria evolves with the Sonoran micro-seasons. Roasted eggplant with olive oil might be in one day, out the next. How do you know what's best to order? You sit at the bar and catch the ear of Blaise Faber, one of the Valley's most congenial and skilled bartenders, as he froths egg whites and measures house-made apricot liqueur. The bar at Tratto is an escape. You feel almost like you're sitting in a formal restaurant in Florence.

Best Irish Pub: Seamus McCaffrey's Irish Pub and Restaurant
18 West Monroe Street

This pub is authentically Irish, from the Guinness on tap to the Emerald Isle memorabilia scattered around the bar. Founder Seamus McCaffrey is also tied to sibling Irish pubs in Phoenix: Rosie McCaffrey's on Camelback Road and The Dubliner in north Phoenix. But the atmosphere at Seamus McCaffrey's is second to none. Founded in 1991 and next door to the Hotel San Carlos, you might think you're in Ireland after knocking back a few pints in the dark wood booths. The menu includes corned beef and cabbage, fish and chips, shepherd's pie, and potato skins. Sláinte.

Lauren Saria
Best English Pub: George & Dragon
4240 North Central Avenue

There's so much we envy about our friends across the pond. They've got great accents, Harry and Meghan, and they've got classic English pubs, dimly lit bastions of beer and conversation. Until we can get back to Jolly Olde England, we indulge our Anglophilia at George & Dragon, a central Phoenix mainstay for more than two decades. The G&D is the place to have a pint (or several), enjoy some traditional English dishes (there are several types of pasties and curries, bangers and mash, shepherd's pie, and more), and watch some football — meaning soccer.

Courtesy of Undertow
Best Tiki Bar: UnderTow
3620 East Indian School Road

Hanging out at UnderTow is exactly like sailing the seas in a 19th-century ship's hold — if your boatmates were thirsty hipsters instead of weathered seamen. The tiny underground space is adorned with faux portholes and barrels, tiki carvings and lanterns, to set the mood. Then come the drinks. UnderTow dropped a new menu in mid-September. Like the previous two iterations, it's divided into UnderTow originals and tiki classics, and most drinks on both sides of the menu are new to the bar's lineup. We like the fruity, potent Signal Fire, made with tequila, rums from three islands, orange curaçao, mango, habanero, orange, pineapple, and lime.

Best Country Bar: Roman’s Oasis
16825 West Yuma Road, Goodyear
You really can't miss this west Valley honky-tonk. Marked by farm equipment, a giant chicken, and other sun-bleached kitsch, Roman's Oasis has been in place since 1998, when the Alabama-born owner — Roman, obviously — could count just a few houses within sight of the country bar. Now, 30 years later, Roman's Oasis is still packed with a boot-scooting, table-slapping crowd. There are several rooms, meaning several bars and dance floors, and the calendar lists karaoke and dance lessons, as well as tournaments for cards, darts, and shuffleboard. There's also a full kitchen, good people, and lots of what matters: cold beer.

click to enlarge The entrance for underground piano bar Low Key on Mill Avenue in Tempe. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
The entrance for underground piano bar Low Key on Mill Avenue in Tempe.
Benjamin Leatherman
Best Piano Bar: Low Key Piano Bar
501 South Mill Avenue, Tempe
Elbow your way past the college crowds on Mill Avenue, make it past the bouncer, and descend a flight of stairs to enter Low Key Piano Bar. Once inside, you can watch two dueling pianists perform high-octane renditions of pop hits new and old. A rotating crew of genuinely talented musicians go for broke onstage in front of a sea of low tables. Be prepared for the inevitable patron who has one too many syringe Jell-O shots or fishbowls of alcohol, and then jumps onstage to hog the microphone. Low Key stands out among the other varieties of nightlife on Mill Avenue, and is the perfect place to end your evening on a high note.

Best New Bar: Hatter & Hare
6101 North Seventh Street
This newly opened cocktail lounge in the Seventh Street restaurant district takes more than a few pages from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. As such, Carrollian whimsy abounds inside Hatter & Hare, from murals depicting the Cheshire Cat and other characters to kookily off-kilter furnishings and signs declaring "Eat Me" and "Drink Me." Should you heed those commands, the similarly fanciful menu offers sandwiches shaped like hearts, and themed drinks like the White Queen, Jabberwocky, and Tweedledee. They even serve cocktails in a teacup the size of a punch bowl. Be forewarned: If you choose to polish off one of 'em by yourself, you might wind up feeling like you've tumbled down a rabbit hole for realsies.

Three tastes of beer: grisette, New England IPA, and stout. - CHRIS MALLOY
Three tastes of beer: grisette, New England IPA, and stout.
Chris Malloy
Best Craft Beer Bar: The Wandering Tortoise
2417 East Indian School Road

Many craft beer bars carry local just to carry local. The Wandering Tortoise is different, curating a selection with a rigor that shows that the owners, Shay Gau and Justin Evans, have a more complete understanding of beer. The Tortoise's 22 taps flow with some of the best and rarest offerings from top Arizona breweries, including Wren House, Arizona Wilderness, and Pueblo Vida. But the owners go further, procuring treasured kegs and cans from intriguing far-off breweries like Omnipollo (Sweden) and Melvin Brewing (Wyoming). A stunning selection of to-go bottles and cans awaits you as well.

Best Game Bar: Bonus Round
24 West Camelback Road
Game bar Bonus Round is total geek heaven. Besides the fact that it's literally next door to a comic-book shop, the bar features signature drinks inspired by Star Wars and other nerdy subject matter (we like the fruity, potent Plasma Grenade), weekly bar trivia sessions, movie screenings, and tons of fan art dotting its walls. Oh, and Bonus Round has games. Lots of games. Like, an insane amount of games. Beyond its selection of 18 arcade titles, there's a living room-like area outfitted with a big-screen TV equipped with a number of emulated old-school consoles. Nearby, you'll find shelves overflowing with games of the board, card, tabletop, and party variety, ranging from old favorites like Risk and Clue to more modern examples like Settlers of Catan.

Best Uncategorizable Bar: H.B. Hanratty’s
537 East Camelback Road
Is it a saloon? An Irish pub? A dive bar? All of the above? This bar on Camelback Road has a front porch that would fit in during the days of the Old West, a name that suggests Irish heritage, and an interior that could only be described as dive-y. Still, in an era when brand is everything and most restaurants and bars rely on gimmicks to get customers in the door, you have to respect H.B. Hanratty's amazing generalness. There's alcohol. There are darts. There's billiards. There are even pinball machines and the classic arcade hunting game Big Buck Hunter. If you want more in a bar, go somewhere else.

Best Sports Bar: Santisi Brothers
2710 West Bell Road
Let's face it, sports bars can be a dime a dozen. Frankly, it takes something special to stand out from the lineup of other jock joints in town, which Santisi Brothers does with ease. Its enormous selection of 130 television screens (a.k.a. the "Wide Wall of Sports") trumps any other sports bar in town by itself. There are also plenty of activities taking place nightly at this north Phoenix hangout, ranging from karaoke and poker to fantasy sports sessions. Add in its similarly staggering selection of food and drink options (which include a wealth of hand-tossed pizzas, delicious wings, and a variety of Italian favorites), and Santisi Brothers stands tall over its competition.

click to enlarge The neon sign for famed Mesa dive bar The Hambone. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
The neon sign for famed Mesa dive bar The Hambone.
Benjamin Leatherman
Best Dive Bar: Hambone Sports Bar
903 East Main Street, Mesa
There are many, many dive bars gracing the neighborhoods of our vast metropolis, but Hambone Sports Bar sets itself apart with a couple of distinct attributes. First, the Mesa strip mall bar has been The Hambone since 1958, or whatever year it opened — no one really knows for sure. It's first and foremost a pool bar, meaning six or so billiards tables dominate the room. The best part? You can smoke inside as there technically aren't windows, just screens. Yes, it's also a little warm, so good thing there's a bar and experienced bartenders to go with it. It opens at 6 a.m. Monday through Friday — a classic dive bar move — and at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Best Place to Day Drink: Casey Moore’s Oyster House
850 South Ash Avenue, Tempe
When you think about it, Casey Moore's Oyster House — a freaking mainstay of the Tempe bar scene — is a big place. First, you have to make a decision on where you'd like to drink — options being the inside bar, a couple of side rooms, the spacious front patio, and the back-bar area shrouded in canopies. If you're arriving during the day — and we suggest you do, as the patio is dog-friendly till 5 p.m. — make your decision and order a drink, because it's about to get fun. Spot old friends, out-of-towners, obvious regulars, and students just realizing they maybe shouldn't have brought their parents here for lunch. What's more, you can couple this quality people-watching with the lengthy and well-executed food menu.
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Elizabeth Maria Naranjo