With such a sprawling city, intelligence on the best bars, breweries, bars, coffeeshops, brunch cocktails, and bar is crucial. We hope we can help with this guide to our Best of Phoenix 2020 winners for all things drink.
3045 North 16th Street
Rips Bar in the Coronado District opens at 6 a.m., which tells you something about what kind of place it is. If you indeed enter this bar during daylight hours, you’ll have to give your eyes a minute to adjust to the dimness inside. Then you’ll want to order a massive bloody mary — a signature at Rips — from the bartender. The Midcentury building that houses the bar was constructed in 1959, and the front room is said to be designed by a Native American architect and student of Frank Lloyd Wright. Before it became Rips in 2009, this place was known as the Pick Lick House, Dodge City Saloon, and Dutch Inn (just to name a few), and Waylon Jennings and Charlie Pride are among the legions who’ve bellied up inside over the years. These days, Rips is a destination for pool, arcade games, dance nights, karaoke sessions, and live punk, ska, and rockabilly bands — the basics of love, as ol’ Waylon might say.
Hanging out at one of Roosevelt Row’s newest bars — Killer Whale Sex Club.
Best New Bar
Killer Whale Sex Club
922 North Sixth Street
When a bar has the name Killer Whale Sex Club, you’d expect it to be memorable — and maybe a little prurient. This Roosevelt Row drinkery, which cocktail industry pros Sam Olguin and Brenon Stuart opened in early March, delivers on both counts. Outside, the bungalow-style building is adorned with a glorious mural of a rearing Pegasus rendered in orange, purple, and turquoise. Its speakeasy-like interior has lowbrow touches mixed with high-style drinks. Gold-painted fixtures are everywhere. A collage of cutouts from nudie magazines covers one wall. The Japanese shunga print The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife hangs over the bar, where the staff serves cocktails like The Hot Seat, a hibiscus-infused take on the bourbon cherry sour. There’s even merch available, including hats and shirts with the phrase “Big Daiq Energy” — just in case KWSC wasn’t unforgettable enough.
Floor 13 is not only a cool rooftop bar, it’s found in the Hilton Garden Inn where the opening scenes of Psycho were filmed.
Best Rooftop Bar
Floor 13 Rooftop Bar
15 East Monroe Street
Found on (obviously) the 13th floor of the Hilton Garden Inn, Floor 13 Rooftop Bar is a hidden gem in the middle of, or technically, above, downtown Phoenix. When we go, we like to snag one of the sundeck’s lounge chairs, orient it in a generally westward direction, and admire the Arizona sunset, cocktail in hand. But if the buzz of city life is what gets you high, the views from the tables and high-tops are first rate, too. (If you’re lucky and time it right, you might also catch some fireworks from the neighboring Chase Field.) In addition to its panoramic views and intimate bar, Hilton Garden Inn is where the opening scenes of Psycho were filmed, a fact reflected in the cocktail menu: Drinks like the MacGuffin, the Vertigo, and the Strangers on a Train pay homage to Alfred Hitchcock, as do movie posters and other decor. In other words, as you sip your drink at Floor 13, you’re surrounded by Phoenix history.
Lovecraft is a great beer-drinking joint.
Best Neighborhood Bar
3128 East Cactus Road
Any old bar in metro Phoenix can provide some booze, food, and a human being to talk to on the next stool if you’re so inclined. But Lovecraft is a bar that doesn’t just serve its north Phoenix neighborhood — it enriches it. Before the pandemic hit, Lovecraft regularly held events like tarot card readings, live music, custom typewriting poetry nights, and even a running club and hiking group. It’s a place where many of the patrons are recognized by name or face when they enter, where you feel at home whether it’s your first visit or your 20th. When COVID-19 shut down most bars, the Lovecraft team instituted rigorous sanitary protocols to keep slinging its spicy New Mexican cuisine and began offering alcohol to go. Dine-in service has since resumed, and we hope the next thing to spring back to life are the activities that make Lovecraft feel less like just a bar and more like a community.
Drinkers of every demographic and alcohol-tolerance level have bent elbows at Royale Lounge.
Best Dive Bar
2310 North 16th Street
Royale Lounge is everything you could want in a great dive: cheap drinks, Christmas lights, microwaved snacks, a wobbly pool table, pinball, a condom dispenser of a questionable nature in the men’s, and just the right amount of grime. Drinkers of every demographic and alcohol-tolerance level have bent elbows here for decades, beckoned by the glowing red neon “Cocktails” sign outside. The Royale has stayed mostly the same during that time, aside from adding small modern conveniences like an internet jukebox, a credit card reader, and HDTVs behind the bar. Like the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. We’re sure the customers at Royale Lounge would agree.
The W.A. Moeur House was built in 1910, and is now Casey Moore’s Oyster House.
Tempe History Museum
Best Place To Drink With Ghosts
Casey Moore’s Oyster House
850 South Ash Avenue, Tempe
Casey Moore’s vast selection of high-end hooch bottles aren’t the only spirits lurking about the historic Tempe bar. As legend has it, the place is haunted by the ghosts of William and Mary Moeur, the couple who built the circa-1910 property and shuffled off the mortal coil in 1929 and 1943, respectively. Ask the staff, and they’ll spin yarns about supernatural shenanigans like food being snatched off plates, mysteriously tugged neckties, and pictures falling off the walls. Some swear they’ve seen the Moeurs dancing in front of an upstairs window. You might even hear about sightings of a young co-ed who was strangled by her boyfriend back when the building was a boarding house. Truth be told, no one’s ever produced any evidence these ghosts exist, not even a group of paranormal investigators who examined every nook and cranny in 2016. Have enough pints of Casey’s beer of the day, though, and who’s to say you won’t catch a glimpse of some of these resident specters.
A rum-heavy Dark and Stormy made with Big Marble ginger beer.
Best Beverage Visionary
The duo behind The Breadfruit & Rum Bar, Danielle Leoni and Dwayne Allen, released their first carbonated beverage under the brand Big Marble Organics earlier this year. That first entry? A ginger beer that took many, many, many batches to get right. The final product is about as right as right can be, sizzling with an intense ginger flavor that takes off across the palate like a jet. Though long on ginger flavor, this ginger beer isn’t unevenly spicy or jagged. Rather, it’s beautifully round. The best part is that this is just the first product from Big Marble. Already, Leoni and Allen are dreaming up more to come. You can find Big Marble at select locations around metro Phoenix like The Gladly and Changing Hands’ First Draft Book Bar; the full list is on the Big Marble website.
Pick your poison at Hula’s Modern Tiki.
Hula’s Modern Tiki
Best Happy Hour
Hula’s Modern Tiki
When a restaurant’s menu has two pages of happy hour deals, good times lie ahead. So much the better if your happy hour setting makes you feel like you’re on vacation, as you will while imbibing at Hula’s Modern Tiki. Happy hour means several bucks are knocked off the price of tropical-themed cocktails and pan-Asian appetizers. You-won’t-know-it’s actually-alcohol concoctions like the Dr. Funk and the Painkiller come in tiki man and coconut glasses, and appetizers like spicy edamame and crispy fish bites are great for sharing. We particularly love the crispy coconut shrimp rolls and the Hula’s chicken wings, which we usually pair with the blood orange martini or the Tropical Itch (it comes with a backscratcher). Another thing about that happy hour? It’s offered every single weekday from 3:30 to 6 p.m., all night on Wednesdays, and from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the weekends. Plenty of time to pretend you’re in paradise.
A customized juice from 24 Carrots — Sasha Raj’s Tempe restaurant.
Best Juice Bar
24 Carrots Natural Café & Urban Eatery
1701 East Guadalupe Road, Tempe
A female-owned vegan cafe, 24 Carrots is as veggie-focused as its name suggests. Here, you’ll find a substantial selection of 100 percent vegan and gluten-free items for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but 24 Carrots originated as a juice bar in 2008 and has stayed true to those roots. The juice options at the cafe, which is tucked away at the adobe-style Tempe Square Shopping Center, include some house concoctions like the Apple Zinger, Beet It, and the Carrots Over Easy, as well as some daily specials. These are often scrawled on the charming (colorful with chalk and doodles) blackboard behind the register (which is also often posted on Instagram in case you’d like to check ahead). The knowledgeable staff is there to guide you in the right direction if you have any questions, such as if ginger would taste good with carrots, or what would be the best order if you feel a cold coming on. And the dining room is as appealing as the juice in your hand, so feel free to stick around for a sipping session.
The English Rose Tearoom in Carefree.
New Times Archives
Best Afternoon Tea
English Rose Tearoom
201 Easy Street, Carefree
In the midst of a global pandemic, English Rose Tearoom was there, packaging up to-go containers of sandwiches, petit fours, and scones with all the fixings as part of its curbside offerings. That was hardly a surprise. All year long — during regular years, at least — owner Jo Gemmill goes above and beyond, wowing adult and child guests alike with events like an afternoon with Edgar Allan Poe and a visit with Santa in July. Along with multiple variations of afternoon tea, menu items like the green apple, chicken, and Stilton salad; cottage pie; and mini teacups of the soup of the day make this place truly stand out. Bonus: There’s a lifesize cutout of Queen Elizabeth herself you can pose with as you walk in. Do it for the ‘gram.
A stunning concoction from Driftwood Coffee Co. in Peoria.
Best Coffee Shop
Driftwood Coffee Co.
8295 West Jefferson Street, #6514, Peoria
If craft coffee is a foreign concept to you, visit Driftwood Coffee Co. in Old Town Peoria. This west Valley coffee house, founded in 2017 by buds and owners Luke Bentley and Lance Linderman, uses beans by Arizona companies like Mythical Coffee as well as other artisan roasters around the country, like Iowa’s Horizon Line Coffee. The menu is divided into three sections: the speed bar, the slow bar, and the espresso bar; patrons can walk away with anything from a quick cold brew to something brewed via a Chemex, V60, or French press. Choose from an ever-changing menu of pastries, or just go straight for a specialty drink like the Dostoevsky (ginger beer, espresso, simple syrup, peach bitters, and lime). Other perks? Local art for sale, ceramic drinkware for in-house sipping, and a clean, simple space for work, chats, or just focusing on drinking these tasty, caffeinated bevs.
Azukar Coffee wins it again.
Best Mexican Coffeehouse
7246 South Central Avenue
Coffee shops occupy just about every street corner in this city, so a place has to be pretty special for us to make a cross-town trip. Azukar Coffee is one of those coffee shops. Located in a historic home near Central Avenue and Baseline Road in south Phoenix, Azukar is easy to miss while driving. But pull that U-turn. Azukar has a tight menu of coffee drinks with a Mexican twist: The agave mesquite latte is sweet and a little earthy, and the honey cinnamon has a slight, pleasant bite to it. There’s also cold-brew coffee mixed with horchata, mango chile limonada, and iced teas in flavors like cucumber and Jamaica hibiscus. We like to grab a breakfast quesadilla or a stuffed bolillo roll sometimes, too. It can be hard to decide whether to sit inside, which is cozy and decorated with work from local artists, or in the courtyard, which is bounded by a low wall with a mural and provides a view of the traffic on Central. But whether you stay and enjoy the ambiance or take your beverage to go, Azukar is a place you won’t soon forget.
Copper Star Coffee does everything great.
Best Coffee Beans
Copper Star Coffee
4220 North 7th Avenue
We were already crazy about Copper Star before we discovered they sell their own locally grown, house-roasted coffee beans. At first, we worried that owning a bag might keep us from the cozy confines of Copper Star, where the staff is so nice to us and the homemade bagels are so fresh and tasty. But even after dragging home a bagful of his mellow, rich beans, we found that we kept visiting Bill Sandweg’s swell coffee shop as often as we could. As tasty as our home-brewed Copper Star is, as both a hot latte and a chilly iced coffee, we can’t stay away from our favorite corner cafe.
Sorso Wine Room in Scottsdale.
Best Wine Bar
Sorso Wine Room
15323 North Scottsdale Road, #150, Scottsdale
We love a good buffet. Why commit to just one entree when there’s so many different flavors to explore? Same with wine. Which is why we dig what Sorso Wine Room at Scottsdale Quarter does with its vino selection. Sure, Sorso has more than 100 wines by the bottle, so if you’re the decisive type, go ahead and order a glass from that list. But we prefer to snag a wine card and help ourselves to one of the 32 wines available in the Sorso dispenser system. Each is available in a sip, taste, or glass size. Insert your card, press a button, and you get your desired portion. The card acts as your running tab. It allows us to try several wines while enjoying an Italian-leaning menu of bruschetta, flatbreads, sandwiches, salads, and more. Cheers to that.
Low-intervention wine bottles on the sound-absorbent cork wall at Sauvage.
Best Wine Shop
901 North First Street, #109
In the age of COVID, one can no longer wander into Chris Lingua’s shop inside The Churchill, pepper him with questions, and fantasize about the bottles displayed on the north wall. Instead, his online store awaits. It contains the most thrilling selection of wine and wine-adjacent bottles in town. Lingua sells low-intervention wines, meaning natural-leaning bottles. This is progressive stuff, the opposite of your sleepy industrial cab from Napa. Lingua stocks biodynamic ciders, orange wines from the Puglia avant-garde producer Valentina Passalacqua, and experimental cocktails canned by alums of the groundbreaking Danish restaurant Noma. If you love to drink weird and well, going to Sauvage is like going to church.
A photo in Gourmet inspired the design of the original FnB, which then inspired the design of FnB Bar.
Best Wine Program
7125 East Fifth Avenue, Scottsdale
Not that it needs the validation, but FnB Restaurant was a semifinalist nominee for outstanding wine program for the James Beard Foundation 2020 awards (2017, too). The individual behind this lauded beverage program is Pavle Milic, who’s also been FnB’s co-owner since it opened in 2009. Milic curates a varied roster of mostly Arizona wines, a passion he brought home after helping with vintages at a friend’s Napa winery. FnB offers Arizona bottles from Callaghan Vineyards in Elgin, Caduceus Cellars in Jerome, Laramita Cellars in Willcox, and Dos Cabezas WineWorks out of Sonoita. Any glass here should be enjoyed in the intimate bar area in the restaurant’s eastern chamber. There, the dark-wood bar is inviting, and the intricate, colorful tile is fun and pretty iconic to Arizona food fans — it’s an often-used and easily recognizable backdrop for food and drink photos. Milic is also in the process of opening his own vineyard, Los Milics, in Elgin, Arizona — one of Arizona’s two southern wine regions — at some point in 2020.
Best Arizona wine? It’s gotta be from Pillsbury Wine Company & Vineyard.
Best Arizona Wine
Pillsbury Wine Company & Vineyard
6450 South Bennett Place, Willcox
Many Arizona wine producers led a different life before turning into vineyard parents in our arid state. Aside from Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan’s Caduceus Cellars in Jerome, there’s also Pillsbury Wine Company’s Sam Pillsbury — a famous filmmaker turned winemaker. The New Zealand-to-Arizona journey Pillsbury made is storied, but we’re here to talk about his products — Arizona wines, the best in the state. We’re not the only ones who think so. Pillsbury continues to score awards from the San Francisco Chronicle American Wine Competition, earning 14 medals for 14 entries three years in a row. Want to try a bottle of WildChild Red, a bottle of WildChild White, or a bottle of One Night Stand rosé? Try spots like Hidden Track Bottleshop, Tracy Dempsey Originals, Sphinx Date Ranch, and the Arcadia Meat Market; big stores like Bashas’, AJ’s Fine Foods, and Total Wine; or metro Phoenix restaurants like Hearth ’61, Persephen, Fabio on Fire, and The Breadfruit & Rum Bar. Or, the Pillsbury team will deliver in the Phoenix and Cottonwood areas with a six-bottle minimum order during the hotter months.
The Hoppy Stoic will make you see hard apple cider in new ways.
11500 West Fair Oaks Road, #9473, Prescott
Imagine the taste of an apple. Sweet. Crisp. Sweet some more. You might think appley sugar is a necessary component of hard cider. But Stoic Cider, produced by the Routson clan and led by biologist Kanin Routson, turns out ultra-small-batch apple ciders so bereft of sugar they seem to wick moisture from your mouth. Stoic Cider reimagines what apple cider can be — tamping down sweetness, sharpening carbonation, and multiplying funk. The Routsons have elevated Arizona cider to a new, strange, beautiful, almost Champagne-like plane, and one that’s different from bottle to bottle. At their on-farm cidery near Prescott, they ferment using unusual, well-considered apple varieties from across the American West. They also grow arcane apples on their farm, and even make spellbinding micro cider batches from wild fruit.
A few fun selections from The Shop Beer Co. in Tempe.
The Shop Beer Co.
922 West First Street, Tempe
The Shop Beer Co. keeps things simple but executes well. The tasting room is clean and intimate; the staff is tight-knit and knowledgeable; the patio is a roomy backyard, softly lit. The latter, which separates the taproom from the onsite brewery, is a magnet for craft beer drinkers around Tempe and beyond. But they come for the beer, too. The Church Music is one of The Shop’s best brews —a 6.7 percent IPA composed of pineapple juice and a little bit of “loud.” Other tasty bevs include the Coffee Brown, an American nut-brown ale, the F.Y.I.T.M. double IPA, and the crispy blonde lager. Around since 2016, The Shop was formerly known as Cartel Brewery, but broke off from the flagship location of Cartel Coffee Lab to do its own thing about a mile north — where we hope they’ll remain for years to come.
A daiquiri that seamlessly integrates curry at Little Rituals.
Jackie Mercandetti Photo
132 South Central Avenue, Fourth Floor
Months before Tales of the Cocktail and the James Beard Association anointed Little Rituals with nominations, the people who are very, very wonky about cocktails were frequenting this new downtown bar. It’s the brainchild of Aaron DeFeo and Ross Simon, the latter the man behind Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour, just down the street. B&T is famously intense in its approach to mixology, and Little Rituals goes even further. A pink number unites miso-infused genever, lychee, and raspberry falernum. A daiquiri seamlessly integrates curry. An alliance of many amari chills under a frothy peak of salty foam, meant to conjure beachside drinking. If you want a glimpse of the cocktail’s potential, post up at Little Rituals.
The Phoenix-famous Premier CRU Margarita.
3961 East Camelback Road
Hot summer nights are always improved by a well-made margarita. (Or days — we don’t judge.) Which is why we so frequently head to Arcadia for drinks at CRUjiente Tacos. The Premier Cru margarita is our go-to — 100 percent blue agave tequila, house agave syrup, freshly squeezed lime, and a muddled orange to give it some character. But we’ve also been known to switch it up and order the bright, fresh Arcadia margarita, which adds cilantro, jalapeño, and cucumber to the mix, or the sweet and spicy Passion Fruit Serrano margarita. Whatever you choose, try to go either during happy hour, or on CRUjiente’s Margarita Mondays, when you can get any of these for a very reasonable $5 a pop.
Adventurous Stills out of Tempe is crafting spirits that go beyond the age-old macro distilleries.
Best Intrepid Spirit
Adventurous Stills Fossil Creek Whiskey
2125 East Fifth Street, #102, Tempe
Ever sat around a campfire with friends, just chilling, melding into the sights and sounds of the woods after a long day hiking? That’s the blissful sensation the founders of Adventurous Stills sought to channel into a spirit. Their particular inspirational hike occurred in Fossil Creek, hence the name of their creation, Fossil Creek Whiskey. It begins with a blend of corn, wheat, and rye, all grown by local providers. The distillate is then aged in charred white oak. The final product? It has something of bourbon, a slight sultry sweetness. But it also recalls Scotch, with a wisp of smoke, like the column rising from a campfire, making sips, life, and the universe feel all gravy.
Absinthe Minded demonstrates the spoon, sugar cube, dripper method. The distillers use opaque bottles to block sunlight, preventing browning.
Best Green Fairy
Absinthe Minded Gold
Onetime punk-rock bandmates Randall D. Ordovich Clarkson and Justin Slusher have summoned the green fairy to Phoenix. Since December 2019, the duo has been selling two absinthes macerated in Tempe. Their Gold bottle punches hard. At 140 proof, it’ll swirl and sharpen the world in under two glasses. But this lucent, yellow-green nectar offers more than ABV. Clarkson and Slusher built it using the old-school formulation out of Pontarlier, France. You get a hit of anise and fennel, sure, but these big flavors are reasonably soft. They also deploy extra botanicals like juniper berry and star anise. Enjoy it at spots like Zinc Bistro and Adventurous Stills.
Mezcal Carreño, a few rungs up from your typical mezcal.
In early 2019, the American arm of the Mezcal Carreño team, Ivan Carreño and Abel Arriaga, started distributing a handful of mezcals in Arizona. These days, they’re moving to sell their product, made in Oaxaca using traditional methods (stone wheel, open-air fermentation, a copper alembic), in dozens of states across the country. Their most singular bottle might be Ensemble 7, which blends that many kinds of agave. The product is a tightly edited, deeply nuanced mezcal that will make anyone who has ever been clobbered by a bottom-shelf mezcal smoke bomb see the craft spirit anew. Carreño recently released a bottle called Naran, which happily brings the Carreño price tag within closer reach.