Return to Phoenix 2 -- cocktail edition
For those of you who haven't read my other thread -- am moving back to Central Phoenix after 2 years in Seattle.
As much as I've enjoyed eating in Seattle, I think I've been even more spoiled by the cocktail scene here. I live in a very hip & bustling part of town and there are tons of great bars within walking distance of home. It has been more than easy to find places using fresh fruit juices, house-infused liquors, house-brewed ginger beers & tonics, etc.
I realize that "walking distance" is going to be a lot trickier in Phoenix, so I'll have to be moderate in my imbibing (or use the light rail/bus, or have a designated driver), but I'm willing to travel a little if need be.
I would LOVE recommendations for craft cocktail-type bars as described above...especially if I can pay $10 or less per drink (as expensive as Seattle is -- especially with new liquor laws -- I can get some GREAT drinks for $5-9).
The bar I'll miss most in Seattle: Montana, a divey little bar that features house-brewed Rachel's Ginger Beer. Best Moscow Mules EVER, as well as other great on-tap cocktails. If there's anywhere in the Phoenix area making a ginger beer that's even half as good as Rachel's I'll be happy, and if anyone can point me in that direction I'd be ever grateful. But I'm definitely on the look out for other interesting cocktails as well (I'm generally a tequila girl, but willing to branch out!).
Was never much of a drinker when I lived in Phoenix (because I usually was the responsible one!) but now that I've been spoiled by Seattle, it'd be nice to know some comparable options in Phoenix (especially CenPho).
Went to Old Town Whiskey for the first time and had a couple of good cocktails. Their whiskey sour has egg whites, interesting, but a bit unsatisfying to me, probably because of the foamy texture that I just didn't enjoy, not that there was anything wrong with it. The Commodore, however, was fantastic! It consisted of Maker's, lime juice, sugar, orange bitters and a mezcal rinse with an wide orange zest garnish. Nice smokiness from the mezcal and I liked the two-layered citrus flavors going on in the drink. These were in the $12-$13 range, so not cheap, but well done. I'd like to go back and try their Navy Grog, it looked pretty good.
I also had an excellent BBQ beef brisket sandwich, very tender and very thick slices in a spicy and smoky sauce with a very good cole slaw on high quality Texas toast. A dill pickle spear was the only accompaniment and it was a good contrast to the sandwich. I kinda wished they included a few of their duck fat fries on the plate, it would've made the value better at $12 for the sandwich. Fries ala carte are $5 and I'd guess the portion is big but then you are up to $17 for a very good sandwich, kinda adds up if you throw in a couple cocktails.
I went to Last Drop Saloon at Lon's this week (thanks for the suggestions in this thread) and had a good experience. Travis was behind the bar, doing a good job. We had a Moscow Mule, a Mai Tai, a Whiskey Sour and then I asked him to make me a Ward 8 which he looked up and promptly mixed up for me. All the drinks were good and tasty and well made, in my estimation. The Mai Tai could have been sweeter and limey-er for my taste, but it was a unique take with some good rums. They were a good value at $10 each, too. Obviously, Travis knows a lot, as others have mentioned. He does have an Old Tom gin and we talked about that a bit and a friend he has in Portland at Oven and Shaker, where I just visited last week. I'll look forward to going back to taste what he comes up with for a cocktail with the Old Tom. I also liked the looks of his whiskey Old Fashioned, I'd like to try that, too. It seems to be a good place to order off-menu, Travis is up for the challenge, that is for sure.
The food was alright, nothing too impressive, best thing we had was the cheeseburger sliders with chevre, bacon, carmelized (a bit too darkly) onions and I think a chipotle aioli. Roasted peppers stuffed with chevre and wrapped in prosciutto were undercooked and disappointing. Poached shrimp sopas with guacamole was tasty as was the fritta mixta with calamari and rock shrimp with onions and baby squash all battered and fried.
A second visit to Old Town Whiskey and I had a very strong and very delicious Old Fashioned. I tried the Navy Grog and it was pretty good, but I like their whiskey drinks better. I let my wife have the Commodore. Her Moscow Mule was not strong enough and lacked much ginger flavor. The ones we've had at Mabel's are potent on the vodka and the ginger, probably the best I've had.
They PHX cocktail scene is growing pretty quickly, mostly in a very good way.
You mentioned house-brewed ginger beer so I'll have to start with Blue Hound Kitchen and Cocktails in the Hotel Palomar in Cityscape. Shel Bourdan and Tyson Buehler are brewing a very nice ginger beer and their overall cocktail program is spot-on. Being downtown across from the ball park, they have to be very cost competitive and as such have mostly priced at $10 (compared to the $12-15 you will see in other places about town).
Rum Bar at the Breadfruit Cenpho for really well done rum-based punches and cocktails. $5 rum happy hour punches are always good.
Bar Crudo in Arcadia for some of the best craft drinks you will find in town. Micah rocks.
Close to Crudo is Shady's for more of a divey atmosphere but surprisingly well made drinks.
A few miles north of Crudo is The Last Drop bar at Lon's at the Hermosa Inn. Travis Nass might study more cocktail history than anyone short of David Wondrich and his drinks show it. Travis does some great things with tequila and mescal too.
Mabels on Main when Spotty is there. He makes some mean classics and is quite inventive.
Citizen Public House has a great staff and has one of the better barrel-aging programs in town, including Rich Moe's latest salt water sprayed barrel aging to simulate ship board sea spray and heating/cooling. Upstairs at Citizen R&D is always and adventure in creativity.
Jade Bar at elements has some very well done drinks.
Old Town Whiskey at the Saguaro for whenever I want brown, bittered, and stirred.
I agree with everything BillB says with a couple comments
Mabel's is almost always great IMO, sit at the bar tell them what you are looking flavors you are looking for and you will usually end up happy, also has a local dines so that makes it very affordable as well (gets you within your price point)
Rum Bar pours very weak drinks, very disappointed with their Rum cocktails - and their mai tai was an abomination to all mai tai's, except those with pineapple juice in them, they at least avoided that
Casablanca used to be good but i think the bartenders there all fled to Blue Hound Kitchen, I am sure someone else can confirm - have not been there in awhile, they have a tremendous bar selection so they can make almost anything, if they know how (or you tell them)
BHK: Food isn't the greatest (hit or miss) but the drinks are good - will be in your price range for happy hour, the brown derby there is great
OTW: Has a Navy Grog on the menu which has a similar flavor profile to the Navy Grog from Trader Vic's it is served up in coupe glass which is interesting, good drink IMO worth going there for, and they also have a local dines to put it in your price range
Crudo: good drinks and get the crispy pig ears - you will probably need an extra order after tasting them
Jade Bar: Great drinks, more on the 14-15 dollar side
cph: always good and R+D upstairs is interesting - have not had great luck asking the bartenders there to go off the menu to make drinks, i save that for mabels
last drop: need to get there
tuck shop in cen pho makes their own tonic, makes a great Gin and Tonic and I generally do not like tonic
Haven't been back to Casablanca since the Great Exodus but yes, most of the original talent from behind the bar has left for elsewhere.
Good to hear about the flexibility at Mabel's! I've only had drinks from Spotty there.
Dapuma, are you referring to downstairs or R&D regarding going off menu? I've usually don't order off the menu downstairs (Thomas, in particular, always likes a pairing challenge). Upstairs I've always stuck to menu as those are the drinks that Rich and Kris are set up for.
Haven't had drinks at Tuck (only wine) and I'm sure due back for a visiit
Ordering downstairs off menu at cph, had a couple disappointments so I never branched out again, never had that problem at Mabel's -- I don't think you can order off the menu at R + D, i think they are only set up there for those certain drinks
You can get the tonic online or at Tuck shop, only Gin and Tonic i have ever liked