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My introduction to the unique bars of Phoenix was walking down the stairs into the dark, cramped chamber of UnderTow. Lights were flashing as simulated thunder and lightning crashed in this makeshift ship’s belly. It was electric, and I’ve since sent friends to visit when they asked what to see and do in Phoenix.

As it turns out, UnderTow isn’t the only can’t-miss bar in Phoenix. There’s something for every taste: You’ll find cocktail-centric bars, speakeasies, and even a winery founded by a rock star.

Here are just a few of the city’s most inventive beverage spots.

UnderTow bar in Phoenix, Arizona.

1. UnderTow

You’ll need to be in the know to find UnderTow. Located in the basement of Sip Coffee & Beer in Phoenix’s Arcadia neighborhood, it doesn’t offer signs or any other indicators of its presence. But step inside and head for the stairs, and you’ll find a tiki-inspired cocktail bar that makes you feel like you’re in the belly of a turn-of-the-century clipper ship. Once the oil-changing bay of a quick-service auto shop, the underground bar features decor and a cocktail menu that change annually.

The cocktail menu at UnderTow is literally a book, and with the funky names and tales that go along with each drink, you’ll have a hard time deciding what to order. The tropical tiki environment, described by one of the owners, Jason Asher, as “escapism,” is delivered “through our stories, our menus, and our immersive environment.”

2. Century Grand

Another cocktail-centric and immersive venue is the Century Grand, a sister bar to UnderTow. Also located in the Arcadia neighborhood, this swanky bar opened in the fall of 2019 and offers a timeless cocktail and dining experience. Its luxurious textiles, art deco and industrial architectural elements, and ambient features will have you feeling like you’ve stepped back in time to the 1920s.

Century Grand proudly offers the most significant single-barrel spirits selection in the country. These spirits are available for retail purchase at the bar’s whiskey shop, the Grey Hen.

Bitter and Twisted cocktail bar in Phoenix.

3. Bitter & Twisted

If you’re looking for an upscale cocktail destination in a low-key environment, head to Bitter & Twisted. Located in the heart of downtown Phoenix inside the Luhrs Building -- which once housed the Arizona Prohibition headquarters -- this award-winning bar has a globally recognized cocktail program, and the quality of the ingredients is unmatched.

Bitter & Twisted has also tested the boundaries of bar food, developing a small, eclectic, and evolving menu “full of the unexpected.”

4. Little Rituals

The sister bar to Bitter & Twisted is Little Rituals, located on the fourth floor of the Residence Inn in downtown Phoenix. The bar itself has its own “little rituals” that come from 150 years of cocktail tradition. Using only the highest quality spirits and mixers -- the citrus juice is fresh-squeezed in house each day, and the dozens of syrups, infusions, tinctures, foams, flawless ice, and garnishes are also prepared in house -- and seasonal produce and flavors, Little Rituals utilizes modern techniques and technology to create a unique drinking experience.

From The Rooftop Bar and Lounge in Phoenix.

5. From The Rooftop

High atop the Cambria Hotel Downtown Phoenix is From the Rooftop, where you’ll find open space, striking views, and craft cocktails. The rooftop setting adds a certain romance to a night out.

In addition to the view, visitors enjoy a variety of events, including Cosmic Cocktails Night, where a specialty cocktail that aligns with the current zodiac sign is featured. A fortune teller and a guide with a telescope are on hand to help guests navigate the stars.

6. The Breadfruit & Rum Bar

At The Breadfruit & Rum Bar downtown, you’ll enjoy award-winning modern Jamaican cuisine, brave new rum cocktails, and a curated collection of premium rums and cigars. The menu items focus on wild-caught and sustainable seafood, locally raised meat, and local organic produce.

The restaurant and bar’s mission is to champion both good food and sustainable practices like zero waste, recycling, composting, and supporting local agriculture.

Both the bar and restaurant have won numerous awards, and the cocktails have been called the best in the area by Arizona Foothills Magazine.

The Churchill in Phoenix, Arizona.

7. The Churchill

Roosevelt Row, downtown Phoenix’s arts district, is home to The Churchill, a covered courtyard with 10 small local businesses. Each business is located inside a recycled shipping crate. The 9,000-square-foot courtyard is used for dining, drinking, socializing, and learning, and it hosts speakers, art classes, fitness classes, sports games, and pop-up art galleries.

The Churchill is community focused, hosting regular service outings and nonprofit fundraisers, and each of the tenants completes at least 4 hours of community service each month.

8. Merkin Vineyards

Located in Old Town Scottsdale, the Merkin Vineyards tasting room strives to deliver a 100 percent Arizona experience with regional and sustainable offerings. All of the wines are produced by Maynard James “MJ” and Jennifer Keenan (MJ Keenan is the lead singer for the bands Tool and Open Circle), Tim White, and their team in both the Verde Valley and Willcox, Arizona. The produce used to create the wines is farmed by Randee Larremore and MJ Keenan’s father, Mike Keenan, in Verde Valley greenhouses, gardens, and orchards. What they can’t grow themselves is sourced from local Arizona farmers.

The tasting room has a rock-star vibe, with photos and autographed bottles of wine for sale.

The Womack in Phoenix, Arizona.

9. The Womack

In the 1960s, the Phoenix lounge Chez Nous was known for classic cocktails and soulful music. The Womack in Uptown Phoenix is a tribute to the legendary lounge and is named for the original Chez Nous owners, Andy and Maureen Womack. It’s a dimly lit vintage bar with live music in the cocktail lounge. The retro setting, signature Rum Runner cocktail, and skilled bartenders keep the memory alive.

10. Cobra Arcade Bar

Games and cocktails abound at the downtown Cobra Arcade Bar, where you’ll find vintage arcade games that require tokens. Tuesdays are Token Tuesdays, where you can receive free tokens with drink orders. You won’t find any food here, but from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday through Sunday, there are food trucks. If you’d like to reserve a table, reservations are accepted until 9 p.m.; after 9 p.m., it’s first come, first served.

A cocktail from Cobra Arcade Bar in Phoenix.

What To Know Before You Go

Ask what’s in season. Most of these are craft cocktail bars that try to use local, seasonal ingredients to bring a special flair to their cocktails. They change out garnishes or tweak little things to bring a new edge to their drinks.

Due to limited seating and high volume, it’s best to make a reservation at most of these places. Without a reservation, you might be subjected to long waits or sellouts. Consider using Yelp Waitlist, where you can check out the wait times beforehand and get a spot in line.

Heading to Phoenix? Check out our other articles on the Arizona capital here.

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