Phoenix New Times
The last few years have been big for the local cocktail scene. Newcomers Bitter & Twisted and Counter Intuitive are proof. But that’s not all. In a town where the restaurant-bar now reigns supreme, there’s even more good news: bars are now, more than ever, embracing cross-pollination of talent, staff, and ideas, and are doing their best to bring up the next generation of bartenders.
Here are the 10 Best Cocktail Bars in Metro Phoenix.
Rum Bar is deep down the rabbit’s hole of rum and, like a bottle of 21-year-old Appleton Estate, it isn’t looking to surface for air. There are worse places to start on the bar’s new 2015 menu than the Sometime in August, which mixes 5-year Appleton Estate with pineapple shrub, lemon, pimento dram, and bayleaf bitters. The Straw Man, which may sound too sweet with pressed strawberry, hibiscus syrup, Campari, cardamom bitters, and white rum, is delightfully spiced and surprisingly balanced. Of course, there are the signature rum drinks, too, including classic mojitos and the Brazilian caipirinha, and any rum on the bar’s shelf can be turned into a daiquiri.
Counter Intuitive and Cowboy Ciao
When Counter Intuitive opened in February it became the third cog in Peter Kasperki’s Old Town Scottsdale wheelhouse — cocktail-centric in the way that Kazimierz is wine-centric, with all-star names like Crudo’s Micah Olson and Jason Asher, formerly of Jade Bar, attached to the project. The bar’s designed to be an ever-changing concept; with new menus every few months inspired by different people, places, and things. Skilled bartenders walk over from Cowboy Ciao to help out at the bar, for the first few months, dragging the body and soul of a fictitious New Orleans man with them. The result? New Orleans-specific classics such as the sazerac, and re-imagined and refined Alabama Slammers. Next the bar takes a trip to the tropics with a new themed menu focused on Havana, Cuba.
Of all the spots on this list, Crudo might be the most revered — by industry peers, cocktail nerds, and anyone simply looking for a spot-on old fashioned. It seems like everyone and anyone can settle into a stool at Crudo’s bar and find something to obsess over on Micah Olson’s seasonal menu or the bar’s list of classic concoctions. And it’s not just the creativity that keeps us coming back; it’s also the experience, atmosphere, consistency, and personalities behind the bar. Those crispy pig ears don’t hurt, either, or the stellar onslaught of classic drinks off the killer happy hour list — aviations, negronis, daiquiris, you name it. Social media buzz is a force to be harnessed when it comes to 21st-century drinking, and hashtags such as the menu-contributing Andrew Calisterio’s #LoveLetterToMyLiver make sure Crudo’s patrons are the envy du jour when they upload to Instagram. We’re also looking forward to the Crudo team’s new restaurant Okra, and the drinks that will pair.
Citizen Public House
We’ve never had a bad drink at Citizen Public House; the service is stellar, as well. The $5 barrel-aged negroni is always a good deal, and as far as we’re concerned, Citizen is home base for a night in Old Town: the beginning, the end, or both. The top notch staff, and top shelf booze, will be there from open to close.
The Clever Koi
The cocktail menu at The Clever Koi demands an adventurous attitude. Take a look at the seasonal creations by Joshua James such as the #RUMONFLEEK (Campari, 151 Rum, Cinnamon syrup) or the Lychee-Li and you’ll cast away the classic cocktail you came in craving. His riffs fare far better than par, and some drinks flat-out lack context for comparison. The Little Sheba, for example, combines all of the elements of a picnic gone astray — the nuttiness of orgeat, blackberries, raspberry brandy, and tequila all thrown over citrus-zested ice — but tastes like a painless vacation. For all of the menu’s demands, the rewards are high and, somehow, the tinkermental James remains focused on Asian flavors to a commendable and uncontrived degree. His Negroni Week cocktail was aged in an Japanese Oyster-stout conditioned barrel, and he’s working on a high-profile, low-tide edit on the classic martini: kombu-infused gin that has the clean salinity brined olives lack, with an aroma that evokes wet beach stones and salt-peppered air.
The Last Drop
This year’s winner of Beverage Master of the Year from the Arizona Culinary Hall of Fame, Travis Nass, is in a league, a world, and a bar of his own, with a dedicated following that’s impressive for a dude with a metal drink shaker. He does it all from the Last Drop at Lon’s at The Hermosa, a hotel just a minute off of Camelback but straight from the pages of Cowboys and Indians, a publication with cover stories on guys like Tom Selleck and Kevin Costner when they’re at their most western. Both men, we’re sure, would surely cozy up to Nass’ tough-as-nails cocktails. Strong drinks — some of the booziest profiles in town, in our opinion — unusual combinations, and hard-to-source ingredients are the name of Nass’ game. So of course he has Sotol, an herbaceous and smoky cousin of mezcal and tequila, on his menu.
Blue Hound Kitchen and Cocktails
Blue Hound helped breathe life into Downtown Phoenix’s stale cocktail scene when it opened at CityScape, which was, until then, a sure-fire home for upscale projects but unlikely to attract anything too “craft.” So Blue Hound came as a surprise, and so did edgy drinks such as Head Mixologist Stephanie Teslar’s Lawless cocktail, which dashes her “truckstop bitters” (made with everything you’d find at a truck stop) into wormwood liqueur, whiskey, and demerara sugar. Finally she pours the mixture into a tobacco-smoked glass. The final concoction smells like vanilla bean ice cream and rum baba.
Very few duos behind the bar appear to be as well-paired as Bar Manager Michael Allmandinger and next-in-line Libby Longlott of The Parlor. Stemming from a kitchen stocked with fresh herbs and produce and the garden just outside the bar’s windows, The Parlor’s simple and serious drink menu is charming, sophisticated, fresh, and sometimes savory. True Italian spirit lives on in Negroni remixes such as the Negroni Bianco (gin, contratto bianco, and Salers, an herbal French aperitif made from gentian root) and “Negroni’s summer bunkmate,” the Mona Lisa (grand marnier, lillet blanc, gingembre). While you’re there, lean in to look at some of the quirky, foreign modifiers on their shelves — or, even better, ask Allmandinger what he’s been sipping on after meals, and with great passion he’ll point you towards amaros so good that you’ll throw out the evening’s second cocktail in favor of meticulously crafted digestifs.
Bitter and Twisted
Bitter & Twisted is a clear sign that the showmanship and grandeur of big city mixology has arrived in Phoenix. It wouldn’t and couldn’t have existed five years ago, as most of today’s best local cocktail programs were still in infancy. The cocktail gadgetry — like the Perlini carbonated cocktail shaker used for the L.I.T. Up, a Long Island riff — is at high contrast with the historic Luhrs building in which the mixing takes place inside. The water is nano-filtered and the ice is, across the board, far better than most ice in town, which naturally leads to refreshingly blended and frappe-style frozen cocktails. The martinis are chilly, too, served at 10 degrees Fahrenheit. And you can decide if the toasted meringue garnish on the On Like Donkey Kong drink is innovative or not, but one thing is for sure: it’s fun as hell. With a new menu just out, Bitter & Twisted returns stronger than the first time around and with the talented staff prove itself all over again.
Upward Projects’ concepts (which include Postino, Joyride Taco House, and Federal Pizza) aren’t know for their cocktail programs, but Windsor is the exception. The menu hasn’t changed much over the years, but the restaurant is still producing fun cocktails in one of Central Phoenix’s hippest corridors. We love Windsor’s glassware, and the straight-forward nameless menu on which all drinks simply go by number. The No. 19, for instance, hits Thai tea-infused rum, more rum, and house-made orgeat with fresh lime — a perfect drink for spring. And for summer? The No. 04 keeps it light with gin, hop bitters, grapefruit, and cardamom syrup.