You’re meeting an old buddy for a sidecar. Or grabbing an after-work Manhattan with your boss. Or maybe your sister needs to bend your ear over a chilled pinot. Here’s the good news: Phoenix and its surrounding cities are bursting with great bars and cocktail lounges, suited for a range of hangouts. Here are a dozen of the best for your consideration.
Tonto Bar & Grill (Cave Creek)
In addition to being an all-around great place to gather with friends before a round of golf, Tonto is an education in Sonoran and Native American flavor combinations. Cocktails muddled with locally grown herbs and poured with Arizona-made tequilas and mezcals are the specialties. Part of this bar’s agenda is to preserve local heritage by sharing the stories of its property’s past. In the cooler months, there’s a pet-friendly patio.
K O’Donnell’s Sports Bar (North Scottsdale)
Talk about sports coverage: This family-owned neighborhood sports saloon offers nearly six dozen different wide-screen TVs, blasting various games and matches in a sprawling indoor-outdoor venue. Sixteen on-tap beers are the specialty of the house, founded in 2005 by local poker legend, Kevin O’Donnell; it’s now run by his daughter, Jennifer. She’s the brains behind the cigar-friendly terrace and the weekly team trivia night. To all that, add standout pitchers of margarita, and it’s no wonder the crowds keep coming.
Highball (Downtown Phoenix)
The gleaming copper bar at this new downtown addition, which firmly focuses on impeccably crafted cocktails, is just one of its inviting amenities. Plush leather couches, low tables, and comfortable, overstuffed chairs set the scene for complex drinks such as salt-foam margaritas, spicy palomas, and signature whiskey sours. A daily “mini hour” offers seven different craft cocktails and wines for seven bucks a pop.
Weft & Warp Art Bar + Kitchen (Central Scottsdale)
Maybe you’re tossing back a chilled martini from a comfy chair facing the glass-walled kitchen. Or perched out back sipping Chardonnay high above a sparkling swimming pool. Or seated with a craft beer at Weft and Warp’s garden table, gazing at Camelback Mountain. Whatever your pleasure, you’re likely to find it in the cocktails and comfortable spaces of this eye-catching lounge. Expect Sonoran-inspired drink specials, garnished with ingredients grown in Weft and Warp’s own gardens.
UnderTow (Arcadia Lite)
As if expertly crafted ice-cold cocktails weren’t enough, UnderTow offers an immersive, nautical-inspired atmosphere where guests can sit in the belly of a turn-of-the-century spice trader’s ship. There, maritime décor and special effects, worthy of the best pirate movie, are paired with specialty beers, wines, and drinks made from rare rum and top-shelf tequilas. Costumed waitstaff can recommend various coconut- and tropical-fruit-infused cocktails—and might even be coaxed into the occasional sea shanty.
Rott n’ Grapes Uptown (Central Phoenix)
Named for its owners’ twin passions—Rottweilers and wine—this friendly, open-air lounge’s slogan is “Make America Grape Again.” Its agenda includes education, so servers are trained to describe and discuss every one of the 90 different grape varietals on the menu. There are also monthly tasting events and a wine club designed for expanding one’s vino knowledge. Specials include a 12-buck-a bottle Champagne deal on Sundays and all-day happy hours on Thursdays.
Garden Bar (Downtown Phoenix)
This 1914 Californian Craftsman bungalow is known for its wide front porch—a great spot to sip on a mojito, served in an extra frosty glass. Indoors, this warm and welcoming garden-to-glass bar provides homey seating in the dining room, living room, and former bedrooms of the original home. Offerings include high-end local brews and top-flight reds and whites, plus curated collection of seasonal cocktails. As an added perk, dogs are welcome to join imbibers on Garden Bar’s front porch or side patio.
Lou’s Bar and Grill – Papago Golf Club (Central Phoenix)
Whether you’re here for scenic views of one of Phoenix’s most lush public golf courses or after a quick nine holes, you’ll wind up with much more at this full-service bar. During cooler weekends, visitors enjoy live music on the shady patio, just 100 feet from the first tee, and year-round lawn games on the adjacent fenced yard. Papago Park’s spectacular rock formations are visible from inside the 9,000-square-foot stone-and-steel clubhouse, where an ever-changing list of specialty cocktails, premium wines, and draft beers are served.
Little Rituals (Downtown Phoenix)
The success of this popular nightspot can be attributed to the details. Only top-shelf spirits are offered here, poured over hand-stamped ice into drinks made with fresh-squeezed citrus and house-made syrups, tinctures, and infusions. Skillful bartenders serve cocktails enhanced by aromatic vermouths and sherries, and signature martinis include one fueled with espresso. Guests hang until 2 am—reservations are practically necessary—celebrating all sorts of rituals, ordering from an always-changing list of 30 custom cocktails, beers, and wines.
Belly Kitchen and Bar (West Phoenix)
According to its long list of esteemed founders, the relaxed vibe of this midtown lounge required two separate spaces on two different floors—one for dining, and one for the tranquil enjoyment of handcrafted cocktails and natural wine. Drinks are inspired by Southeast Asia, and many are fruit- and citrus-based while others are flavored with botanical shrubs and tangy vinegars. If you’re stumped on what to order, consult the waitstaff—they’re more than happy to recommend specialty concoctions, based on what you usually sip.
Ladera Taverna Y Cocina (Uptown Phoenix)
Nestled into the shadows of Sunnyslope Mountain in uptown Phoenix, this popular cantina has earned a reputation as the local go-to haunt for tequila and mezcal-centric cocktails. Ladera, which means “hillside” in Spanish, specializes in agave-flavored drinks, such as The Slope, a wild combination of mezcal, grapefruit bitters and fresh lime juice infused with serrano peppers. The casual south-of-the-border ambience—with piped-in Tejano music—lets guests pretend they’re in Tijuana.
Dartboards, pool tables, and giant TVs, tuned to campy old movies and football games, are the distinguishing features at this popular lounge, just south of Arizona State University. One-of-a-kind craft beers and cocktails mixed with juices, sodas, and fusions made from scratch in-house are served on a patio canopied by an ancient shade tree. Here, a well-stocked grab-and-go cooler bursts with beers, packaged cocktails, and soft drinks.
Robrt Pela is an NPR affiliate correspondent whose writing has appeared in Psychology Today, The Advocate, and for 30 years in Phoenix New Times.
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