When it comes to gathering and drinking, the Valley had a great year. This is in no small part due to some of the amazing bars, beer gardens, taprooms, and cocktail concepts opening in 2019. Power hits include the bachelor pad setting at Thunderbird Lounge, a revival of the original Dirty Drummer, the view from Little Rituals, and the artwork that is the Fuck Nazis cocktail from So Far, So Good.
Here, in no special order, are the best new bars of 2019. Start hydrating now.
Thunderbird Lounge710 West Montecito Avenue
We don’t have to tell you, the bargoer, that Thunderbird Lounge has become the spot in Phoenix this year. The Melrose District bar with a 1978 bachelor pad feel was opened by former Crescent Ballroom bar manager Brett Boyles, musician Jake Wiedmann, and Jeremiah Gratza — director of operations for Stateside Presents and manager of President Gator. Aside from the colorful bar and vivacious backyard-style patio, there are free arcade games, a cig machine, a jukebox, Midwestern snacks, a busy event calendar, and quite the selection of drinks.
The Dirty Drummer2303 North 44th Street
Full disclosure — I love the reverse reincarnation story behind The Dirty Drummer. The sports bar and lunch counter at 44th and Oak streets was first opened in 1975 by Frank “Drummer” Armstrong and his partner, “Dirty Dave” Werner. Armstrong died in 2012, and The Dirty Drummer closed in 2018. However, the former owner’s daughter, Dana Armstrong (creator of Valley Fever), with business partners Andrew Smith and Tom Bernard, reopened the spot in May with a strong nod to the Drummer of yesteryear. We’re talking wood-paneled walls, country jukebox, ice cold Miller Lite and house cocktails, a grill behind the bar, and a real honky-tonkin’ vibe.
Arizona Wilderness DTPHX201 East Roosevelt Street
Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. had a great year. Coolship 8 — the brewery's biggest annual project — looked like fun. And we recently read how Sonoran Prince is one of the five best drinks our food critic Chris Malloy drank in 2019. But best of all, not only for the brewery but for the visitors of Roosevelt Row, was the opening of Arizona Wilderness' second location. The food is great, the views spectacular, the beer top level in town, but above all, the Arizona Wilderness DTPHX beer garden has now become a go-to downtown drinking spot for all walks.
The Sleepy Whale290 South Arizona Avenue, Chandler
Justin Evans and chums (Tony Fatica and Ryan Kemmet) opened two taprooms this year — The Sleepy Whale in downtown Chandler and The Theodore in downtown Phoenix. And though The Theodore is another brilliant spot along Roosevelt Row, The Sleepy Whale was practically lifted onto the shoulders of downtown Chandler in its first weekend. Opening day bumped the new shop to the fifth-most checked-in location on Untappd, globally. The Sleepy Whale has 32 taps flowing with Arizona beer companies like Wren House, Arizona Wilderness, Pueblo Vida in Tucson, Dark Sky from Flagstaff, and more. Plus there's usually a food truck, the orders from which you're encouraged to eat inside.
So Far, So Good901 North First Street
Pobrecito, the cocktail bar in back of The Churchill, the 14,000-square-foot food court in downtown Phoenix, has closed. However, the Pobrecito space was recently relaunched as So Far, So Good — another cocktail bar overseen by the former spot's general manager, Sam Olguin. Once you’ve made it to the back of the food and drink court, grab a beer — or "16 Oz Crispy Ones" — or a down-to-business named cocktail like This One Has Whiskey. But we recommend the Fuck Nazis, made of equal parts Tanqueray No. Ten Gin and the citrusy Italian aperitif, Cocchi Americano. The whole thing is topped with a gooseberry and handed over with a smile.
Little Rituals132 South Central Avenue, Fourth Floor
Little Rituals is the next-level sister bar to Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour — and we mean that literally. If you haven’t been to the fourth floor of the (mouthful alert) Residence Inn/Courtyard by Marriott Phoenix Downtown hotel, you’ll find Little Rituals behind a beaded curtain and before an evolving view. Owners Ross Simon and Aaron DeFeo have brought in skilled bartenders like Chanel Godwin-McMaken, whose cocktails force people to whip out phones before sipping, and groan with delight after. A few standout drinks include the Vengeance and Fashion, the Fleur de Lis, and the now legendary curry daiquiri — or Daiqurry.
Spirit House8 South San Marcos Place, #106, Chandler
The 49-seat Spirit House is an impressive and petite cocktail bar in downtown Chandler overseen by the people behind the neighboring SanTan Brewing Company. It’s hard to tell what you’ll admire first — the seven-foot fan whirring away above the bar, the glowing shelf of liquor bottles, or the stacks of French oak barrels. And to drink, expect the flagship spirit, Sacred Stave American Single Malt Whiskey, plus other whiskeys, gins, and botanical spirits. To eat, there is charcuterie, bruschetta, salads, and tartines (open-faced sandwiches). As you sip and hopefully chat with the bartenders, keep in mind this was once a gelato shop and storage space.
Century Grand3626 East Indian School Road
As we recently stated, our beverage culture is highly underrated, something underscored by the 2019 openings of Little Rituals (above) and Century Grand. Century Grand has a 1920s train theme, but it’s hardly hokey. The latest cocktail concept from Jason Asher and Rich Furnari of Barter & Shake (the same boys behind neighboring UnderTow) offers a multi-page drink menu corresponding to old American railways. Sections include Refreshing and Smokey & Exotic, and cocktails over at the boxcar-simulation that is Platform 18 are titled things like Dead Man’s Pocket Watch and Wake the Conductor. Don't forget your trunk.
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Chupacabra Taproom14 North Robson, Mesa
Mesa is moving up quickly in the craft beer world, and in 2019, the teensy Chupacabra Taproom become another notch on the downtown area’s, um, beerpost. The 1949-built taproom is 900 square feet, brick in and out, and offers 28 handles. Many of those ever-changing taps are assigned to locally sourced beers, while red and white wines are offered by the glass. And we haven’t even mentioned the sidewalk patio, the food trucks arriving on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, or the bring-your-own-food policy.
Porters Western Saloon3944 North Brown Avenue, Scottsdale
The West's Most Western Town has one more western bar, but at least it's operated by those who know Scottsdale well. Porters Western Saloon is owned by the same people who run The Blue Moose Bar & Grill and the Old Town Gypsy boutique, so when the opportunity came to buy the suite that once housed Scottsdale’s first full-time post office, they went for it. The 1929-built structure is now a watering hole for those sipping signature cocktails like the Sonoran Sunset, the Postmaster, the Blacksmith, and El Diablo. So how can you spot this place among the bustle of Old Town? Same as before — by the iconic big horse on the balcony.