A little Scottsdale style has managed to slip into Central Phoenix. The Vig (4041 N. 40th St., 602/553-7227, 11 a.m.–midnight. Sun.–Wed., 11 a.m.–2 a.m. Thurs.–Sat.) has become the place to go for folks who want Desert Modernist design with their cocktails and European beer. The restaurant and bar are always busy, though it’s The Vig’s “backyard” that has made it such a hotspot. On weekends, a DJ spins tunes on the large, shady patio, and friends battle it out on the bocce ball court. Despite all of the polish, the “modern tavern” is pretty relaxed and a nice place to start your evening or to finish it up with a nightcap.
Who hasn’t thought a 1960s rec room would make a perfect dive bar? Thankfully, someone had a little follow-through. Shady’s Lounge (2701 E. Indian School Rd., 602/956-8998, 11 a.m.–2 a.m. daily) has become a wood-paneled hipster haven, complete with pool table, well-stocked jukebox, and requisite beer selection, including Stella, New Castle, and Guinness on tap. The bar is small to be sure, but the laid-back crowd is colorful and eager to chat. As one of the regulars, Heidi, will tell you: Never a dull moment, never a dull conversation.
Phoenix  loves its pubs, and the George & Dragon (4240 N. Central Ave., 602/241-0018, 11 a.m.–2 a.m. daily) is the most British of the bunch, with stone walls and fireplaces, Union Jack flags, and an impressive selection of English, Welsh, and Scottish beers. In fact, the “GnD” promises the “largest selection of imported draught beer and scotch in the Phoenix area.” So why not grab yourself a Tetley’s and an order of bangers and mash? You could do worse—and an irascible but lovable staff is happy to tell you so.
Phoenix is a sports town, and there’s no better place to catch a big game with a couple hundred of your closest friends than Half Moon Sports Grill (2121 E. Highland Ave., 602/977-2700, www.halfmoonsportsgrill.com , 11 a.m.–2 a.m. daily). Thanks to big screens galore throughout the restaurant, bar, and patio, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to follow a host of games and tourneys. The ambience and food are decidedly more upscale than your traditional sports bar, though the selection of beer is up to the test of most connoisseurs. And why the name Half Moon? You’ll figure out the cheeky reference when you get there.
Rosie McCaffrey’s Irish Pub (906 E. Camelback Rd., 602/241-1916, 11 a.m.–2 a.m. Mon.–Sat., 11 a.m.–midnight Sun.) is big, loud, and always a lot of fun—perfect for a Friday night. Yes, it can be too crowded and the band too loud, but with Smithwick’s on tap and Jameson at the ready, it’s an easy cross to bear. Try to grab a booth in the back or a table out front if you’d like a quieter place to chat.
The Swizzle Inn (5835 N. 16th St., 602/277-7775, 10 a.m.–2 a.m. daily) offers everything you want in a dive bar. Cheap, strong drinks? Check. A dartboard and pool table? Check. Johnny Cash on the jukebox, a sassy bartender named Darlene, and an eccentric group of regulars who welcome newbies? Check, check, and check. This hole-in-the-wall bar feels like a neighborhood hangout because it is. I’ve even heard of people living at “the Swiz” for an entire weekend, sustaining themselves on the potluck dishes and ever-flowing cocktails. As the sign says, “swizzle in and swagger out.”
After a hike up neighboring Piestewa Peak, a little time on Aunt Childa’s patio (7330 N. Dreamy Draw Dr., 602/944-1286, 11 a.m.–1 a.m. daily) with a margarita or three could be just the cure for sore muscles. The old hacienda-style restaurant has three outdoor bars, and there’s live music Wednesday and Friday nights.
Dark, sleek, and sexy, the Merc Bar (2525 E. Camelback Rd., 602/508-9449, www.mercbar.com , 4 p.m.–2 a.m. Mon.–Fri., 6 p.m.–2 a.m. Sat.–Sun.) is Phoenix ’s finest watering hole, a chic, modern lounge that exudes quiet elegance. Softly lit lanterns and flickering votives reflect off the bar’s polished copper tables, creating a warm glow and the ambiance of a hidden Manhattan speakeasy—though this bar is tucked into the Esplanade Center at 24th Street and Camelback. You’ll find well-heeled locals, Scottsdale party girls, and guests from the neighboring Ritz-Carlton sipping glasses of Veuve Clicquot and aged Scotch. In all, the mix of expensive cocktails and seen-and-be-seen preening can be quite pretentious and a whole lotta fun.
In-the-know Phoenicians have made the Clarendon Rooftop Bar (401 W. Clarendon Ave., 602/252-736) one of their favorite hangouts, particularly at sunset when the city seems to glow and the sky is streaked with oranges and reds. The mod lounge, which is perched on the eastern roof of The Clarendon Hotel, features a view of the Phoenix skyline that few watering holes are able to top. The bar is closed in the summer, and hours vary throughout the year, so be sure to call ahead.
Bomberos Café & Wine Bar (8801 N. Central Ave., 602/687-8466, 7 a.m.–midnight Mon.–Thurs., 7 a.m.–1 a.m. Fri.–Sat., 7 a.m.–3 p.m. Sun.) is one of those neighborhood hangouts that regulars love to take their friends to. Owners Oscar and Kristi have converted an old North Phoenix firehouse into a hip, laidback wine bar, featuring polished concrete floors, large garage doors that open onto the sidewalk, and a cozy back patio with comfy couches and a fire pit for cool evenings. Bomberos means “firemen” in Spanish, and Uruguay native Oscar brings a bit of South American flair to the diverse selection of wine and beer. Order a refreshing glass of the white La Playa and sample the bruschetta. I’ll probably be next to you enjoying the same thing.
This is a place with some character—and quite a few characters. Char’s Has the Blues (4631 N. 7th Ave., 602/230-0205, www.charshastheblues.com , 7:30 p.m.–2 a.m. daily)—as well as live funk, soul, and jazz seven nights a week. Head inside the small converted cottage, grab yourself a stiff drink at the bar, and find your way to the softly lit dance floor to do that thing you do. There’s also a pool table and darts if you left your dancing shoes at home. Oh, and be sure to call ahead and ask when you can catch the stylish funk-sploitations of Soul Power, the best R&B/soul cover band this side of Detroit.
For top blues acts and killer live music, there’s only one spot in the Valley to go. The Rhythm Room (1019 E. Indian School Rd., 602/265-4842, www.rhythmroom.com , 8 p.m.–1 a.m. Sun.–Thurs., 8 p.m.–2 a.m. Fri.–Sat.) is a dark, intimate club that highlights some of the best jazz, bluegrass, and roots musicians, as well as touring acts that range from Bob Schneider and Cary Brothers to MGMT. If you work up an appetite on the dance floor, you can head out back most nights to pick up a sweet-and-smoky sandwich or plate of ribs at Rack Shack BBQ (602/279-0772, 6–11 p.m. Wed.–Thurs., 6 p.m.–2 a.m. Fri.–Sat.).
Kobalt (3110 N. Central Ave. Ste. 125, 602/264-5307, www.kobaltbarphoenix.com , 10 p.m.–2 a.m. Mon.–Fri., 11 a.m.–2 a.m. Sat.–Sun.) at Park Central Mall is another trendy destination for Valley gays and lesbians. A bit more laidback than Amsterdam, the lounge has a nice outdoor patio and features themed nights that range from trivia and movies to the popular karaoke on Sunday and Tuesday nights. It may also be the only bar in town with a daily happy hour from noon to 8 p.m.
Yee-haw! You don’t have to be a real cowgirl to enjoy a little two-steppin’ at Cash Inn Country (2140 E. McDowell Rd., 602/244-9943, www.cashinncountry.net , 2 p.m.–1 a.m. Tues.–Thurs., 2 p.m.–2 a.m. Fri., noon–2 a.m. Sat., noon–1 a.m. Sun.). Phoenix ’s “down-home lesbian country nightclub” offers free line-dancing lessons every Thursday at 7 p.m., and the Wednesday night poker tournaments make this ladies’ saloon a fun place to grab a cheap beer. The rest of the week you’ll find live music, latin dancing, or a DJ spinning tunes next to the pool tables and dart boards.
Men who’d like to give their cowboy boots a workout should head to Charlie’s (727 W. Camelback Rd., 602/265-0224, www.charliesphoenix.com , 2 p.m.–2 a.m. Mon.–Fri., noon–2 a.m. Sat.–Sun.), home of the Arizona Gay Rodeo Association. The recently expanded bar now features a larger dance floor to boot, scoot, and boogie.