This year, I’ve visited some of the newest, best, and most interesting cocktail bars in the Phoenix metro area, from a long-time Scottsdale martini destination to a brand new West Valley gem; from an underground cocktail haunt to stunning rooftops.
I enjoyed the jammy cobblers and refreshing spritzes, martinis and highballs. Some drinks sparkled and others were more subtle, but they were all good enough to keep me coming back for more.
With a range of exciting bars opening soonI can’t wait to see where the New Year takes us, but for now, these are the cocktail bars that should be at the top of your list of places to drink in the Phoenix Subway.
Old school vibe elevated to Rough Rider
A trip in the Rough Rider elevator is like a trip back in time. The bar and restaurant are located in the basement of a modern office building in downtown Phoenix, but the bar below the building is inspired by the 1800s. Portraits of Teddy Roosevelt, old leather-bound books and a long marble bar decorate the dimly lit space. The cocktail menu is designed to inspire. One section features shoemakers mixed with homemade jam, another section showcases different varieties of tea punches.
What to order: Montezuma Castle ($ 13) is made with Los Vecinos Mezcal, coconut oolong tea, rich Demerara syrup and caramel, and lemon. The smoke from the mezcal mixes with the earthy tea and is enlivened by a hint of lemon.
Details: 1001 Central Avenue N., Phoenix. 602-675-0439, roughrideraz.com.
Martinis inspired by South East Asia at the SK Lounge
For downtown Phoenix residents like myself, SK Lounge is a bit of a hike. But the glitzy cocktail bar is a welcome addition to the West Valley. Located in Surprise next to its namesake restaurant Saigon Kitchen, this small living room has taken over a former café. Now sparkling chandeliers, gem-toned velvet booths and a wall of wine bottles are the name of the game. Cocktails, made with Asian pear and Japanese whiskey, shine.
What to order: If you’re only trying one drink at the SK Lounge, be sure to order the Lychee Martini ($ 13). This smooth and subtly sweet drink made with strawberry lychee flavored vodkas is a satisfying treat.
Details: 14071 W. Bell Road, Surprise. 623-544-6400, saigonkitchenaz.com.
Refreshing sips on the rooftop of Don Woods’ Say When
When cocktail expert Ross Simon opens a new bar, drink lovers pay attention. He’s the mastermind of top Valley destinations including Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlor and Little Rituals in downtown Phoenix, as well as Lylo, a pool bar at the Rise Uptown Hotel. A few floors up, Simon opened Don Woods’ Say When, a rooftop bar offering both indoor and outdoor seating with views of the surrounding city and Camelback Mountain. Here, Simon is removing his book-style menus, popular in downtown bars, for a simpler approach that emphasizes spritzes and highballs. The refreshing cocktail styles pair perfectly with the warm evenings on the terrace.
What to order: If you’re visiting on a cold evening, the Ghost of Mamie Taylor ($ 13) is the perfect way to warm up. This drink, made with Harleston Green Blended Scotch, Laphroaig Scotch, Spicy St. George Pear, Citrus Yuzu and Ginger Ale, perfectly balances the taste of ginger and scotch with the sweetness of spicy pear.
Details: Located at the Rise Uptown Hotel, 400 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix. 480-536-8998, saywhenphx.com.
Theatrical cocktails and views at Sotol Modern Cocktail Kitchen
During the winter months, the rooftop bars are the places to be. And at Gilbert, there is only one. Sotol, located above Da’Bayou Creole cuisine, offers breathtaking cocktails that rival incredible sunsets for attention. A square bar at the center of the indoor and outdoor space serves drinks of all colors, shapes and sizes. It’s hard to look away from plays like a flaming absinthe float and cinnamon nuggets turned into sparks.
What to order: While there are plenty of fun and flashy drinks on the menu at Sotol, a much more subtle sipper stole the show. Try the Forbidden Dance with Mango ($ 17), a drink made with tequila, yellow chartreuse, luxe maraschino liqueur, lime, mango shrub and egg white.
Details: 313, chemin N. Gilbert # 301, Gilbert. 480-550-6300, sotolmck.com.
80s Glitz and Martinis at AZ88
AZ88 is far from new, having first opened in Old Town Scottsdale in 1988. But the bar is a staple classic. Come for people-watching and stay for martinis at this classy location. The bar attracts everyone from Instagram influencers to Scottsdale socialites who have been regulars since the bar opened. The bar serves a full menu, reasonably priced given its location, but the martinis are the center of attention.
What to order: It’s hard to go wrong with a Passion Fruit Pornstar Martini, but the Fleurtini ($ 14) is perfect for the holidays. This dry but balanced drink is made with Smirnoff raspberry, raspberry liqueur, lime, cranberry and champagne.
Details: 7353 E. Scottsdale Shopping Center, Scottsdale. 480-994-5576, az88.com.
Support local journalism and subscribe at azcentral.com today.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Metro Phoenix cocktail bar guide: where to go and what to order