By Sally J. Clasen and Mark Lipczynski for BITE Magazine
Tamara Stanger, who has worked in the culinary industry for 20 years, is well known for foraging local ingredients to craft memorable food. So it was only natural that her journey evolved into Cotton & Copper, a 50-seat restaurant she opened with spirits maestro Sean Traynor in Tempe in 2018. The public house concept pairs Stanger’s passion for using hyperlocal ingredients with Traynor’s innovative craft cocktail approach to celebrate the flavors of Arizona in food and beverage.
The throwback modern pub is not your average restaurant and bar. Rather, Stanger says the intent was to create a high-end dining and cocktail experience that everyone in the community could enjoy.
“It’s a tiny public house; a cozy, comfortable place to hang out with a modern twist on old Arizona,” she says. “We don’t have TVs. We want you to come here to enjoy conversation.”
For inspiration, Stanger travels to other like-minded establishments to see their spin on craft cocktails. “I don’t design our cocktail menu, but I am learning a lot from Sean. And I like checking out other places. It’s not just about getting a drink but watching a show. It’s cooking with booze,” she says.
Here are five cocktail bars in the in Greater Phoenix Stanger believes are cheer-worthy:
The small, subterranean bar in Arcadia might not have curb appeal (there are no street or building signs indicating its presence), but the basement establishment located in Sip Coffee and Beer Garage is Stanger’s favorite cocktail destination—for the craft beverages and the below deck vibe. “It’s my No. 1 pick for cocktails,” she says.
Chapter storylines set up the immersive cocktail narrative here, where exotic liquors and ingredients are used to create one-of-a-kind Tiki bar drinks. “This place is hidden—it takes you somewhere else. You wouldn’t know it from outside, but it’s like being transported onto a ship It’s cold down there and you hear the sounds of the ocean,” says Stanger.
And the drinks? “Even though it’s a tiki bar, it’s some of the best cocktails I’ve ever had. The flavors and the stories behind the cocktails are always interesting. Every single time I try a cocktail at UnderTow, it becomes my new favorite,” she adds.
3620 E. Indian School Road, Phoenix
Stanger is attracted to establishments that don’t take themselves too seriously, which makes Bitter & Twisted—located in the Luhrs Building (the Arizona Prohibition headquarters in a past life)—right up Stanger’s alley in terms of cheeky, upscale cocktail destinations. The downtown Phoenix bar has an award-winning and globally recognized cocktail program that features an extensive book of premium cocktails.
“It’s a high-volume craft cocktail bar where the drinks are always interesting and fun. Right now, its storyline is villains,” says Stanger, who points out the Cocaine Cowboy—a sarsaparilla and rum, root beer float concoction—as a favorite.
She not only admires Bitter & Twisted’s crafty presentation, but also owner Ross Simon’s dedication to delivering a a quality product. “Ross won’t substitute ingredients. The quality of the drinks is the highest you can get. If he doesn’t have an ingredient, he just won’t make the cocktail. Plus, people who work for him become great bartenders. He’s a great teacher and role model.”
1 W. Jefferson St., Phoenix
It might seem like a misprint to describe an exceptional, high-end liquor stop in the suburbs, but Stanger says if you’re looking for the best late-night restaurant with top shelf in cocktail credentials, head to The Brickyard Downtown in Chandler. She credits bartenders Henry Whitaker and Bobby Kramer as being the “best in the world” when it comes to mixing one-of-a-kind handcrafted cocktails in this industrial watering hole with a nostalgic penchant for ’80s pop culture and beyond.
The Brickyard Downtown’s alchemy is guided by a 15-page bar menu that features the finest liquor; house-made scrubs, syrups and garnishes to create classics that change seasonally; as well as custom recipes by Kramer and a Brickyard Hall of Fame libations list. “You’ll experience the highest level of mixology in performance and proper drinks. It’s so much fun to watch them perform. They wow you every time,” says Stanger.
85 W. Boston St., Chandler
The intimate rustic eatery in the Town & Country Shopping Center in the Biltmore neighborhood is notable for its fresh, handmade pasta and other upscale Italian eats and impeccable service. But its cocktails are equally memorable, according to Stanger.
“You wouldn’t think of Tratto as a cocktail place, but barman Blaise Faber has arguably one of the best bar programs in state,” she says of Faber’s simple, yet elegant libation lineup. “He makes his own liqueurs and the menu is simple, but thoughtful. He forages for things like chamomile and dandelion cacao. The bar menu has a cool vintage style with unique standouts.”
In addition to the Old World-style Italian liqueurs made from scratch by Faber (named Best Bartender by the Phoenix New Times in 2017), Tratto stocks an impressive collection of Italian amari. And Stanger also gives a nod to its impressive wine list.
4743 N. 20th St., Phoenix
To whet your whistle on the cocktail game, Stanger recommends heading to a speakeasy: Straight Up at Hotel Adeline in Old Town Scottsdale. The “secret” whiskey bar inside the hip, boutique hotel requires a password to enter, but once inside, it’s the perfect exposure to curated flights, specialty cocktails and an extensive list of premium and rare whiskey, bourbons and scotches.
She especially enjoys the bar’s Old Fashioned, smoked with tobacco and made with Wyoming whiskey, which Stanger’s hasn’t seen used anywhere else. “It’s a great place to become familiar with these things,” she says. “It’s the right place and people to help lead you in the right direction to find your whiskey palate.” Plus, Stanger points out the exclusivity factor in patronizing a hidden bar is just plain fun.
5101 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale