Summer in Phoenix is undeniably hot, as black asphalt absorbs bright sunlight and emits unnecessary warmth, causing people to seek a cool respite from the bright rays.
Fortunately, in downtown Phoenix, amidst the traffic noise from construction work and confusing one-way streets, there are plenty of places to relax.
But some spots are definitely off the beaten track, available only to those who know the secrets of the city’s back alleys and city basements, and the history they preserve. These places are perfect for those looking to escape the heat and disappear for a while to relax.
Here are a few of our favorite secluded and mysterious hangouts in Phoenix hiding downtown, waiting for customers to sip on a cooler spot and dream of balmy days.
Excluding 218 East Portland Street
Wednesday and Thursday from 5 pm to midnight; Fridays and Saturdays, 5 pm to 1 am, Sundays, 5 to 11 pm
Behind the black bungalow that houses Lom Wong Thai Restaurant, across from the Cambria Hotel near Portland and Third Streets, is Khla, an Asian-style cocktail bar. Khla means tiger in Khmer, and you don’t have to look hard to find one.
Follow the alley to a purple lit sign with an orange striped animal, dead center, and you’ve arrived. Wander through a large door into a dark bar dotted with small candles and neon lights illuminating golden lion statues.
Order the Manila Vice, a sparkling purple drink made with Filipino and Jamaican rum, the obi, a purple yam that gives the cocktail its color, and the coconut, calamansi citrus, orange, and pineapple. The sweet concoction will come to you in a wine glass topped with pastel mochi.
For something a bit more spirit-forward and less sweet, try Khla Martini with perilla tea infused with sherry, vermouth, and bitter eucalyptus. Head out onto the patio decked out with hanging lanterns, floral tablecloths, and 3D black and white murals that will entice you into the whirlpool as you sip your drink.
And if you get hungry, small bites like fried chicken and sticky rice from Lom Wong will do the trick.
50 East Adams Street
Friday and Saturday, 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.
It may be tucked inside the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel, but tourists don’t advance inside Melinda’s Alley unless they really know their way around. The dimly lit basement is accessible from an alley north of the hotel between Central Street and First Street.
A colorful mural titled Malinda marks the entrance to commemorate Malinda Curtis, a black woman who lived in the neighborhood in the late 19th century and bears the name of the bar. Her hair is ablaze in bright shades of blue, yellow, and orange, with a modest door on the strip in the middle of the colorful mural.
Go down the stairs to a concrete vault lit in red. The site once housed the Adams Hotel, a luxury hotel built in 1896 that was destroyed by a fire in 1910, hence the flames depicted in the fresco. And the red lights in the bar is another ode to Malinda, a charming and controversial woman who is said to have spent time in Tucson’s Maiden Lane, a red-light district.
With antique furniture and unfinished concrete walls, the underground space has an upscale yet creepy vibe, even though there’s nothing it can’t fix. There are a few drinks on the menu, which changes often, but Old Fashioned is rumored to be the regular.
1 East Washington Street, Suite 128
Monday to Thursday, from 4 pm to midnight; Saturdays from 2 pm to 2 am; Sundays, from 2 to 10 pm
In CityScape on Washington Street and Central Avenue, across from Urban Outfitters, one will find orange traffic bollards, piles of two by four, and workers in hard hats. But don’t let light rail construction deter you from Pigtails, a handcrafted cocktail bar.
Stepping into a bar raw with fresh oysters and jumbo shrimp makes you wonder if you’ve accidentally entered the restaurant’s back kitchen. But the neon red “Cocktails” sign reassures you’re on the right track. Then the bright space gives way to a opaque room with black walls, booths upholstered in tan leather, and a plant-lined bar with spirits perched atop jagged wooden shelves.
If you come with a group and are feeling adventurous, go to the Mystery Punch Bowl, which serves four to five. This place has plenty of cocktails, whether you’re in the mood for a cold Sweetz with your choice of spirit or a Thai eye with Dos Maderas Rum, Thai tea, Angostura Amaro and house blend coconut, vanilla, and lemon.
Instagram-worthy drinks are marked with the little camera logo, because they’re so pretty that they’ll make your influencer “friends” jealous, like Fresa Than a Muh Fucka, a vodka and strawberry topped with tiny strawberry seeds, or opt for something more technically challenging, like Femme Fatale Smoky cocktail with Private Barrel Select Maker’s Mark, Creme de Noyaux, Lucano Amaro, salted caramel and walnuts.
The menu is great for the patron, with familiar snacks like the charcuterie board, carnitas nachos, and Caprese flatbread. Happy Hour runs from 4-6 p.m. daily, with $10 drinks and $1 off raw bar items and discounted snacks.
1001 North Central Avenue
Tuesday to Thursday, 3 to 11 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, from 3 pm to midnight; Sundays, from 3 to 10 pm
Rough Rider is located within a glass building on Central Avenue and Roosevelt Street that also houses the Bunky Boutique and Now or Never, an upscale independent retail store.
Enter the lobby from the east or north side of the modern building, then take the middle elevator down to the basement to be transported back to the late 19th century at this western-themed bar. The pub is an ode to former President Theodore Roosevelt, who ruled from 1901 to 1909.
Before he became president, Roosevelt commanded the United States’ first volunteer cavalry, “a mix of forces ranging from Ivy League athletes to jubilant club singers to Texas Rangers and Indians” who fought in Cuba in the Spanish-American War in 1898, according to the Library of Congress.
Only the volunteer group saw combat during the war, earning the nickname “Rough Riders”.
Reminders of their conquests can be found throughout the restaurant, from portraits of Roosevelt to gold bullet casings inserted into the edge of a marble bar, wood paneling, dark leather, and plenty of whiskey.
Cocktails abound, with traditional recipes dating back to the 19th century like Abuelita’s Elixer with Plantation Fiji Rum, cinnamon Demerara, coconut, vanilla, and egg whites, and cobbler-style drinks with house-made jams like the Treaty of Paris, made with a house sherry blend, Vanilla and blood orange jam, valernum, Caribbean liqueur, and lemon.
But the food here is not to be missed either, with plenty of options to fill you up. A baked crab dish served with toasted Noble Bread is a nice start, while the veal schnitzel, 10 ounces of veal chops covered in a creamy mustard sauce and served with sauerkraut, should satisfy even cravings.
401 West Van Buren Street, Suite C
Monday to Thursday, from 5 pm to midnight; Friday, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., Saturdays, noon to 2 a.m.; Sundays from noon to midnight.
It’s pizza in the front, party in the back at this hidden dance club. Enter Ziggy’s Magic Pizza Shop, a tan building with striped awnings on Fifth Avenue and Van Buren Street, and grab two slices.
Pepperoni and cheese are regular, while pizza of the week ranges from selections like Rude and Sexy, with cups of pepperoni, grilled chicken, spinach, pineapple, and mozzarella, to a touch of bourbon with bourbon beef, sauteed peppers, onions, mushrooms, cheddar cheese, and ricotta, Covered with hot sauce.
Step past the yellow-tiled pizza counter, slices in hand, to a pair of swing doors that give way to a steel door with latch. Open it up and find yourself inside Stardust Pinbar, a disco of days gone by, complete with a lit dance floor centered on a disco ball and surrounded by Deadpool and Star Wars-themed pinball machines.
Cocktails are sweet and colorful, like the Ziggy Pop, made with Stoli Cucumber Vodka, pineapple juice, and Jolly Rancher simple raspberry syrup, and Pop Rock’s edge, or Bad Bunny, a mix of Captain Morgan, coconut syrup, hibiscus simple syrup, mango-lemon puree with tagine.
Sit on an antique upholstered chair or hit the dance floor as you lose yourself in this hidden galaxy. And if your stomach starts grumbling, you’ll find more cheese slices just a few steps away.
130 North Central Blvd
Mondays, 6pm on showtimes, otherwise closed; From Tuesday to Sunday, from 6 pm to 2 am
Valley Bar, which opened in 2015, is the OG hotel in downtown Phoenix. But getting to the music venue requires some ingenuity.
The bar is located on Central Avenue in an alley between Adams and Monroe Streets. You’ll pass a few trash cans and parked cars before reaching the entrance, a door wedged into a white brick wall surmounted by a small sign that reads “Valley Bar” in large letters.
Walking down the ladder into the popular space inspired by Winnie Ruth Judd, the medical secretary in Phoenix who murdered two of her female friends, dismembered their bodies and stuffed them into boxes, then boarded a train to Los Angeles in 1931. When she arrived, police asked Judd to open her stumps citing a foul odor. She was eventually convicted of murder in Maricopa County Courthouse.
An animated film spinning over the bar tells Judd’s harrowing story through tiny train cutters, dismembered body parts, and prison bars, illuminated by lights that cast creepy shadows on yellow walls.
Regardless of the true crime, Valley Bar is a fun place to listen to your favorite band or DJ, play pool with some friends or sip an Arizona-inspired cocktail.
The Yassamin-i Martini, made with Borghetti Caffe, Singani 63 Brandy, and nitro cold brew is an ode to Phoenix City Councilman Yasamin Ansari, while this Ducey is a nod to the Governor, made with Angostura Bitters, cinnamon, tawny port Four Roses Bourbon, Lemon Juice.
Snacks from Cocina 10 at the Crescent Ballroom are also on the menu, from guacamole to cheese quesadilla or carne asada burrito. Just don’t let killer tales ruin your appetite.