The Spot: Valley Bar
130 North Central Avenue
The Hours: Monday-Friday, 5-7 p.m., and all night on Sundays (6 p.m. to close).
Perfect For: Cocktails and bar games with your favorite hipster. Maybe bring your friend with the “Love Phoenix or Leave Phoenix” bumper sticker on her car.
In so many ways, Valley Bar is exactly what downtown Phoenix has been waiting for. While Tucson and Flagstaff bars seemed to have mastered the art of the indigenous long ago (see: Club Congress and Charley’s, respectively) the Valley of the Sun had yet to produce a bar that captures the essence of what it means to be a Phoenician.
Enter, Valley Bar. From Charlie Levy, who brought you Crescent Ballroom (thanks for that, by the way), comes this basement bar and music venue, located in the bottom of a non-descript building on Central and Monroe. As you head down the steps, go straight into the Music Hall, if you are here for the show. (A great local band perhaps, or a spoken word performance. Either might be on the Valley Bar agenda) If, like us, you’re here for happy hour, make a left into the lounge.
The Interior: The Rose Room, as it’s called – after the first female governor of Arizona, Rose Mofford – is a quintessential watering hole. Are you with that group of young professionals over there, sampling the draft wine with their shirt sleeves rolled up? Or maybe you came with the artsy crowd in the corner, here to toast a local artist who just opened a gallery downtown. If you’re just looking to make friends, we suggest heading toward the game area, where you can play darts between the girl with blue hair and the middle-aged couple here on a date. Though it takes a minute to get your bearings in the dark – it is a basement, after all – the candlelight makes Valley Bar equal parts cool, romantic, and just the right amount of spooky.
Speaking of spooky, the other glow you see is coming from the art installment above the huge, semi-circle bar. Large metal mobiles with seemingly random objects (a trunk, a cactus, an arm) revolve slowly over the bartenders’ heads, behind a large, stretched canvas the runs the length of the bar. The mobiles are backlit, so that the result is floating shadows of Arizona-y icons, projected onto the long canvas. The shadows slowly wax and wane as the mobiles spin, and the effect is hauntingly beautiful.
The Drinks: Half the fun of Valley Bar is discovering its secrets for yourself, so we’ll move on to the real reason you’re here: to drink. The good news is, the cocktail menu does not disappoint. With names like The Janet Napolotini and Brewer’s Lime, each signature cocktail is a nod to a famous (or infamous) Arizona figure. All are $7 on happy hour ($8, normally) and the one we tried, the Castro Margarita, was sweet, salty perfection. In fact, in the interest of good journalism, we had two. We also tried “The Rose” Mofford, comprised of vodka, Tempus Fugit liqueur de violette, lemon juice, simple syrup and rose water, garnished with a sprig of rosemary. Light, refreshing, and completely original.
After all this cocktail sampling, we couldn’t bring our livers to sample any draft beers ($5, or $4 on happy hour) or wines ($9, or $8 on happy hour), but they were definitely there, too. And with selections like Papago Orange Blossom, Four Peaks White Ale and Dos Cabezas Red (from Cochise County), you can feel good about supporting the local economy with your selection.
The Food: Fans of Short Leash Hot Dogs, which is almost everyone who has ever tried a Short Leash Hot Dog, will be delighted to hear that those puppies are on the menu. In fact, they are the menu. Valley Bar’s kitchen is run by Short Leash, which means choosing between things like a Valley Cristo (turkey, ham and Havarti inside a brioche doughnut, deep fried and served with jam, $11) and a Grilled Cheese Pretzel (pepperoni, giardiniera and harvarti, served hot on a pretzel bun, $11). If you already know which one you’d get, you’re far wiser than we are. Instead, we went with the Valley Bar Dog (A beef link with caper remoulade, swiss cheese, arugula and vinegar chips, served on naan bread, $9.50), and talked about it for days afterward.
For smaller appetites, the menu also features a page of good decisions like fried pickles and corn dog bites. The big bummer here is that, since Short Leash is technically separate from Valley Bar, the food items are not subject to happy hour prices. Woof.
Conclusion: Thoughtful drinks, tasty food, and a uniquely “Phoenix” feel make Valley Bar our new favorite place for anything from after-work drinks with pals to a funky date night. The only reason for the minus grade? Valley Bar’s happy hour pricing is not as happy as you want it to be. A dollar off doesn’t make you feel like you’re getting a great deal, even if the product is worth the price tag. And, though you get a lot of bang for your buck in the food department, no special treatment on the Short Leash menu is a bit of a disappointment. However, the bartender who told us that happy hour does not extend to the food did quietly drop a “yet” at the end of her sentence…
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Which just goes to show you that happy hour at Valley Bar is like the downtown in which it resides: quirky, cool and full of potential.
Don’t Miss: “The Rose” Mofford cocktail. The Valley Bar Dog.
Skip This: Parking downtown. Lightrail it, kids.