This April, we’re looking ahead to a summer filled with wine-, beer-, and spirits-fueled travel featuring the world’s best drinking destinations. Discover more from VinePair’s Summer Travel Planning series here!
Fifteen years ago, Phoenix felt less like a city and more like an overgrown suburb, saturated with large shopping centers, quiet housing tracts, and the occasional golf course. Things are different now. A transformed downtown area and vibrant neighborhoods within Phoenix’s metropolitan sprawl have stirred sleepy suburbia from its slumber. While bedroom communities still exist around here, they no longer rule the desert.
The Phoenix drinks scene has plenty to do with this metamorphosis. The Valley of the Sun is a known commodity within the industry these days, thanks to a bevy of national accolades and popular events like Arizona Cocktail Weekend. Its ever-expanding slate of imbibing options makes the Phoenix metro area an essential, far-flung landscape for the tippling enthusiast to plumb. Be forewarned: ‘Far-flung’ is not hyperbole. Exploring all that Phoenix has to offer requires excursions into neighboring cities like Chandler, Arcadia, Gilbert, and Tempe. It may cost you a little extra in ride share funds, but it’s worth the excess dollars — not to mention your time.
Here are the best places to drink in Phoenix.
Best Place to Start a Night: Little Rituals
Credit: Little Rituals Bar
Phoenix’s bar scene thrives on offering delicious food alongside proper cocktails, a combo that can be critical if you’re planning a night with multiple stops. This downtown spot, located on the fourth floor of the Residence Inn/Courtyard by Marriott Phoenix Downtown, offers an ideal starting point for your evening’s journey — however it may evolve. The bar itself was a semifinalist for the James Beard Awards in 2020 for Best Bar and earned semifinalist honors from Tales of the Cocktail for Best Hotel Bar in 2022. Such plaudits are justified: The food is elevated yet approachable and deftly avoids steering into austerity, and the cocktails are ambitious but never feel overreaching. “The drinks have to be as good as the food, and vice versa,” explains Little Rituals’ co-owner Ross Simon. “We’re in a hotel, and the hotel’s going to have hungry people. We need to make sure our food and drink are elevated to meet their expectations.” That said, there’s joy to be had here even if you’re just joining for a tipple and not an overnight stay, and you may smile particularly wide if you order the Brass In Pocket, a soothing, luxurious egg white cocktail featuring Pisco, aquavit, sherry, chamomile, lemon, and apple.
Address: 132 S Central Ave 4th Floor, Phoenix, AZ 85004
Tip: Several of Phoenix’s bars require reservations and have limited seating times, so plan accordingly.
Best Five-Star Dive Bar: The Ostrich
Credit: Crust Restaurants
Housed in the basement of the historic San Marcos Hotel, this suburban Phoenix haunt is technically a speakeasy. Despite that, the door is simple to find — just look for the bouncer. This ease of entry perfectly matches the energy found in this subterranean slice of high-low bar goodness. Don’t expect any fancy décor and ephemera that compel you to put out your pinkie. Exposed overhead pipes, cement floors, and an industrial color scheme give the place a dusty, slightly distressed vibe, almost like you stumbled upon the one bar that survived an above-ground cataclysm. This provides a wonderful contrast to the cocktails being served: classics old and new like the Vieux Carré, Aviation, and the Penicillin are offered down below, as are unique concoctions like the rye, amaro, and cinnamon syrup-forward beverage The Baker. There’s also a little history to the space: The basement served as an actual speakeasy during Prohibition.
Address: 10 N San Marcos Pl #B1, Chandler, AZ 85225
Best Self-Contained Bar Crawl: Century Grand
Situated in Phoenix’s Arcadia neighborhood and surrounded by a slate of suburban businesses, Century Grand’s exterior suggests it’s home to some fraternal organization like an Elk’s Lodge. Inside, though, the Tales-nominated venue is Disneyland for drinks enthusiasts, with a trio of sleek, distinctively themed bars to discover. UnderTow delivers classic tiki and modern tropical drinks in a nautical-themed room that emphasizes coolness over kitsch. Platform 18 whips up New Orleans-style drinks in a Pullman train car designed to look like it’s chugging through the Louisiana Bayou, and Grey Hen Rx extends the NOLA theme via a vintage apothecary setup. There’s technical ambition seen in each bar’s ambience: UnderTow’s portal windows peek out at a shifting seascape, while Platform 18’s train windows let you enjoy swampy scenery as it slowly drifts by. The ingenuity is matched by the drinks themselves, which play into each theme through exquisite craftsmanship and complexity instead of nudging, winking hokum. There is a strict 90-minute maximum seating at each space, but this still gives you ample time to enjoy three killer bars under one roof.
Address: 3626 E Indian School Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85018
Tip: Instead of scheduling all three venues in rapid succession, schedule a break in between by grabbing dinner. While several restaurants are within walking distance, consider making reservations at the James Beard-nominated Thai restaurant Glai Baan, a seven-minute ride share away.
Bonus Tip: If you want to solely focus on the Century Grand’s oldest concept, UnderTow has a second location in the nearby Phoenix suburb of Gilbert.
Best Place to Cool Off: Pedal Haus
Credit: Pedal Haus Brewery
Phoenix averages triple-digit temperatures from late May to late September. It’s a dry heat, but so is the inside of your oven. If you visit during that time, a refreshing respite is a must. This bicycle-themed Tempe establishment is a fantastic spot to beat the heat, and not just because of the mister system blasting its cool spray on the outdoor patio. Head brewer Derek “Doc” Osborne’s award-winning brews boast medals from the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup, and several of the beers he creates are exactly what you’d want on a scorching summer day: easy, refreshing, and sessionable. The selections also reflect a keen understanding of his clientele. “Doc is one of the smartest, humblest people in the business,” explains Jordan Chandler, beverage director at popular liquor store and bottle shop Trevor’s Liquor in Scottsdale, Ariz. “His beers demonstrate elite craftsmanship, but they also show how much thought he puts into being part of the community.” Osborne also whips up heartier fare like dark stouts and a boozy Belgian tripel if the heat doesn’t get to you.
Address: 730 S Mill Ave #102, Tempe, AZ 85281
Best Cocktail Selection: Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour
Credit: Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour
It’s not common to gush about a bar’s menu design, but the colorful, whimsical multi-page menus furnished by this downtown Phoenix bar exists somewhere between portable artwork and graphic novel. Crack them open, and you’ll find a flood of eclectic cocktail concepts and ideas. These range from Martini and Negroni riffs to original creations like the Bear Witness, a shochu, citrus, and peppercorn honey syrup drink that the menu says is “shaken with traumatic intent.” According to Simon, who co-owns Bitter & Twisted along with Little Ritual, there is simplicity in all this ornateness. “We’re not a menu for the geeks. It’s meant for everyone,” he says. “The menu’s size also gives it great replay value. It encourages guests to come back and continue this great journey, to try something new every time.” It’s a successful formula: The bar, which, according to Simon, is “inspired by London but Phoenix-raised,” has earned nomination love from Tales and landed a spot on North America’s 50 Best Bar list in 2022.
Address: 1 W Jefferson St, Phoenix, AZ 85003
Best Place to Try Something New: Rough Rider
Credit: Rough Rider
You’re not going to recognize every bottle on the shelf here. In fact, there’s a decent chance that you won’t recognize most bottles. This is a feature, not a detriment, as this is a bar that encourages questions and cajoles curiosity. The most obvious question may be how to get here: It’s located in the basement of an office building in the city’s happening Roosevelt Row neighborhood, and can only be accessed by using the middle elevator in the lobby. Once you finally arrive, belly up to the lengthy bar and take in all of the esoteric glory. While you do, be sure to order one of their stunning Victorian era-inspired cocktail creations including traditional tea punches and cobblers. A prime example of their old-time liquid chicanery is the Glennwood Inn, a bewitching concoction of rye, house-made chocolate mint jam, cinnamon cordial, and mint. It’s a slightly spirit-forward Thin Mint girl scout cookie in a glass.
Address: 1001 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85004
Best Subtle Retro Vibe: Highball Cocktail Bar
Credit: Highball Phoenix
Stepping inside this Tales-nominated downtown Phoenix establishment feels like stepping into 1978 — if 1978 had craft spirits and bars were making complex delicious cocktails instead of slinging 7 and 7s. Perched aloft on the second floor of a historic building, the venue’s mélange of rich woods, exposed brick, and potted plants creates a pitch-perfect sense of precise post-Bicentennial throwback elegance. The unpretentious service keeps things as warm and welcoming as an unfussy neighborhood bar, which is exactly the mood co-owners and Phoenix bar industry vets Libby Lingua and Mitch Lyons wanted to establish. “Our goal was to create a bar with a big-city feel but with a cozy, comfortable space — the kind of space our customers would want to sink into for a while,” Lingua tells VinePair. The abundant cocktail list provides patrons plenty of enticing reasons to stay, but it also gives them the opportunity to gently nudge past what they know. “Our experience honed our skills to a point where we can understand what our clientele wants,” explains Lingua. “At the same time, the bar industry acts as a network for exchanging ideas, so we also want to use the menu to keep people up to speed on what’s happening around the country.”
Address: 1514 N 7th Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85007
Best Place for a Date Night: Terroir Wine Pub
Credit: Terroir Wine Pub
A suburban strip mall may not initially strike you as an ideal location for a romantic evening. But that element of surprise and the venue’s lack of pretentiousness are among the reasons why this Scottsdale pub works so well. “Terroir has an amazing selection of wines, and they’re not uptight about what they have,” explains Chandler. “The atmosphere is pleasant. It’s got an adorable patio, too. It’s deliberately set up to get rid of all the nonsense.” This relaxed, approachable vibe makes it easy to dive into their lengthy offerings of domestic and international wines by the glass, which rotate on a relatively frequent basis. You can also purchase a bottle off the rack and enjoy it onsite for a modest corkage fee, which is ideal if you and your date plan to order off Terroir’s food menu and settle in to enjoy the evening’s live music act.
Address: 7001 N Scottsdale Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85253
Best Place to Close a Night: Killer Whale Sex Club
Credit: Those Pour Bastards
In a sense, the name tells you what you’re getting into: Tucked inside a brightly painted converted home on downtown Phoenix’s Roosevelt Row, this dark, compact space has just enough lighting to reveal the pastiche of nude models and cheeky patron photos that festoon the bar area’s walls. Pumping music delivers a ribald house party element that further drives the vibe. Yet for all its loud, fast raucousness, this is a place that takes its drinks seriously through modern riffs on classics like a Corpse Reviver #2 or daring concoctions that combine bold ingredients. It’s a funky juxtaposition that infuses the inky studiousness of a Petraske-era bar program with the giddy titillation of a teenager finding a stack of adult magazines in the woods back in the day. The sheer audacity of it completely works, making it the ideal finish line for a night of revelry.
Tip: The menu’s “silly shit” section has a wide range of irrelevant offers, like the ability to buy a compliment for $1. You can also legitimately buy the venue from the owners off the menu — for a cool $5 million.
Address: 922 N 6th St, Phoenix, AZ 85004
Best Speakeasy: Trophy Room
Speakeasies may be somewhat played out, but they can still pack a thrill when done right. This high-end, hunting-lodge-themed spot downtown demonstrates this in exceptional fashion. Guests must lock their phones away in a cabinet before entering, so forget about coming here solely for the ‘Gram. This tactic compels guests to focus on the things that make going to a craft cocktail bar worth it in the first place: well-composed drinks, conversations with others, and taking in each moment with your senses instead of through a camera filter. The potent cocktails whipped up behind these closed doors are utterly delicious, but they are a bit of a mystery to the public. While the space opened in early February, there are no menus online, and photo leaks are currently nonexistent. The only way to experience this place is to come to Phoenix and see it for yourself. If that’s what it takes to get you to check out Phoenix’s vibrant, lively drinks scene, that’s a good thing.
Address: 2 N Central Ave #101, Phoenix, AZ 85004
For more of the best places to drink, check out our other City Guides.