Story and photos by KJ Philp, August 2015 Issue.
Phoenix’s first 10-story high-rise opened April 1, 1924, and had the designation as the tallest building in the Southwest (185 feet) for decades thereafter.
Today, the new Phoenix skyline dwarfs the Luhrs Building, located on the southwest corner of First Avenue and Jefferson Street. But a recent visit to its ground-floor tenant, Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour, proved that size doesn’t matter.
Since summer in this city revolves around pool parties, air conditioning and refreshing cocktails, I decided to follow suit and hit this “stylish haunt with an extensive craft cocktail menu also features innovative bar bites” for a weekday happy hour.
Opened for just over a year, this watering hole is the brainchild of Ross Simon, co-founder of Arizona Cocktail Week and former winner of the Finlandia Vodka Cup and Don Julio Tequila cocktail contest.
As it turns out, this “world-class cocktail lounge with a neighborhood bar’s sensibilities” is housed in the building that was home to the Prohibition Department from 1920 to 1934. Oh the irony. And, upon entering, I couldn’t help feel some of the building’s history in the ambiance – from the dark wood and the brickwork to the raw look of ductwork adorning the high ceilings and the high-back booths that line the north wall, this space is the perfect balance of historic charm and modern class.
Initially, we were seated at a rather small two-top between two other parties of two, which felt crammed since more than half the place was empty at this time. I asked if we could move to one of the spacious booths and our server obliged without hesitation.
Then came the Book O’ Cocktails. Let me start by saying that this is the master’s thesis of cocktail menus, but don’t be intimidated by the more than 60 options that fill the 25-page menu, the descriptions are on point and the servers are very knowledgeable.
Being the geek that I am, I was especially impressed with the cocktail map, “a handy guide to find cocktail enlightenment on your own.” Then, what looked like a screen shot of a Galactica game at first glance, is actually a grid-style legend that ranks about 50 of their drinks from “divergent” to “play it safe” and from “to the point” to “refreshing.” It’s smart, inventive and incredibly helpful.
Without further ado, my happy hour date and I ordered our first round. As soon as I discovered the “Lime and the Coconut,” a mix of 100 percent agave blanco tequila, house-made limoncello, lime juice and pineapple syrup, and finished with a hat of coconut foam, my mind was made up. She ordered the “Lovefruit Medley,” house made strawberry and pineapple vodkas mixed with fresh watermelon, lemon and cranberry juices and sweetened with a touch of strawberry candy syrup.
Both proved to be prefect summer choices – fruity, refreshing and just as strong as we’d hoped. Which prompted us to consider our dinner options.
Admittedly, we didn’t expect this extensive of a menu. And, as it turns out, there’s been just as much care taken in flavors combinations and presentation of the bold and innovative dishes as the craft cocktails.
Through word of mouth, we knew we had to share the famous “Smashed Chips,” thick potato chips topped with a colorful combination of horseradish crema (which we asked for on the side), smoked red pepper sauce, salsa verde, avocado and twisted chili sauce. And, the orange salad, which boasts oranges, cucumber, cress, butter lettuce, pickled peppers, marinated nobel bread and herbs – hold the cotija – tossed in a light citrus dressing, seemed like an appropriate balance to the pile of potatoes.
From there, our very different palates took us in totally different directions. She ordered the grilled cheese bites, which turned out to be more like bread sticks covered in melted white American and cotija cheeses with a side of sopa de tomate for dipping, which was a much bigger serving than she anticipated. I went a little custom-crazy and ordered the Angry Panda minus the main ingredient – the crisp anchovies – despite our servers warning that there wouldn’t be much substance left. However, I was perfectly content filling the lettuce cups with the remaining ingredients, which included charred peanuts, Sichuan chilies, jalapenos, scallions, pineapple and mint. Because I consider myself more of a plant lover than a meat hater, I happily nibbled at the “rabbit food” that was still loaded with a fun variety of flavors.
While it seemed as though we ordered the most colorful and aesthetically pleasing options on the menu, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point other intriguing combinations, such as the green chili mac with the optional bacon and the fried chicken with cheese gravy and watermelon kimchi.
Now it was time for round two. Because we’d spent some time reading through the menu, we were set. I knew I couldn’t leave without trying the “Born Tequila,” five chili house-infused tequila mixed with sage, lime and mango syrups and pineapple juice, and my no-nonsense date ordered the “The Vesper,” two parts English gin, one part Lillet Blanc, shaken with great vigor and served up with a lemon twist.
I was delighted with both the refreshing spice and the lingering heat as I sipped my selection. However, the drink made famous by the Ian Fleming novel Casino Royal (1953) proved to be even a little too straight up my date, and the server was happy to swap it out for another “Lime and the Coconut.”
Our happy hour left us surprised, delighted, overly full and excited to return. So, the next time you find yourself downtown and in need of something refreshing – or just different – to sip on, Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour most definitely lives up to its tagline of #drinkbetter. Cheers!
Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour
1 W. Jefferson St., Phoenix
Hours: 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Tues-Sat (Happy hour, 4-7 p.m.); closed Sunday and Monday.