When you think of the best cocktail cities in the US, does Phoenix, Arizona make the cut? If not, it certainly should. The Valley of the Sun has been honing its beverage bonafides over the past decade and suddenly they’re quite sharp, indeed. It started with speakeasies and high-minded mixology dens cropping up in the center of the city. But now the movement has fanned outward. You can see it taking shape across the region’s stunning luxury hotel properties, as they attract top-tier talent from other parts of the country more commonly associated with the drinks scene.
Sanctuary Camelback Mountain is a prime example. The resort made waves back in 2020 when it plucked Christiaan Röllich from one of the hottest restaurants in Los Angeles. The celebrated tipple maverick—and author of Bar Chef—took his talents to the stylish Jade Bar, positioned under the shadows of Phoenix’s most famous peak. He wasted no time integrating his culinary flair into the menu, mixing lemongrass, coconut and carrot with gin and ginger in his savory Mekong. Or finding room for turmeric, saffron and harissa spice alongside bourbon and strawberry in The Marrakech. The drinks evolve with the seasons, but the creativity and scenery are constant.
Not to be outdone, the Arizona Biltmore has completely upgraded its cocktail game in recent years. The Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired property has been a highly-regarded retreat for over 90 years. But modern renovations prove that its able to keep up with the times when it comes to food and beverage. Renata’s Hearth is a point in case. Walk in through the lobby and you’ll be greeted by a “mezcal maven” who presents you with amuse-bouche in liquid form. After being seated you can select from an eclectic list of agave-based concoctions, including the bitter-yet-balanced Moradita—which combines mezcal with artichoke liqueur, tarragon and beets—of Los Muertos, a midnight black tequila number that arrives under a blanket of smoke, dressed with a marigold garnish.
If you prefer to sip your Mexican spirits neat, a smattering of flights are featured. Each one caters to a specific curiosity, whether it be tequila, mezcal, or lesser known categories like raicilla or Mexican corn whisky. Back outside in the lobby you can nightcap with more classic preparations as the Art Deco-themed Wright Bar. This is where the Tequila Sunrise was invented by hotel bartender Gene Sulit back in the 1930s.
If you’re looking to put together a craft cocktail crawl in Phoenix these days, you won’t need to walk all that far. Start off at the OG, Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour. They kickstarted the modern PHX cocktail revival after opening in the summer of 2014. Today they remain as relevant as ever, serving a colorful array of inventive drinks out of whimsical vessels including honey bears and old English porcelain teacups.
Just one block south, inside the Marriott Residence Inn, you’ll find B&T’s sister bar, Little Rituals. The standouts here range from warm-weather favorites like daiquiris and piña coladas to more “buttoned-up” refreshments such as a session martini or a milk punch. It’s a comfortable, laid back lounge that also offers a regular series of educational seminars from noted bartenders.
Another standout from the same neighborhood is Pigtails Downtown. The playful speakeasy breaks down its menu into easily understood subcategories such as “Light and Citrusy,” “Fun and Refreshing,” “Cool and Nerdy,” and “Bold and Boozy.” All of it served in an alluring den with rows of potted plants lining either side of the back bar.
But if you really want a taste of something different make your way a mile north to Garden Bar PHX. Billed as a “garden to glass cocktail bar,” this one-of-a-kind watering hole is actually located within an early 20th century California-style bungalow. It literally seems like you’re walking into someone’s home. The selections here fluctuate throughout the year, but you can always expect to find something bright and vegetal on the list. Highlights from the “Spring Break” menu include the Honeycut Highball made with Japanese whiskey and lapsang souchong tea, and a Queen Bee crafted from dry gin, genepy, pineapple and egg white.
Whether in luxury resort or converted bungalow, drinking your way through this scene reveals enviable talent and imagination. It’s all too much to be considered random—or some fleeting fad. The Valley of the Sun, as advertised, is scorching hot. And when talking about great cocktail cities in the US, Phoenix has earned its entry into the conversation.