Go for the craft drinks, stay for the shockingly competent mod-Asian menu at this tony Downtown hang.
If you’re a tippler who dreams of a cocktail bar with impeccable drinks, spot-on food, and the kind of big-city feel that leaves pretension at the door, Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour in Downtown Phoenix may be the place of your fantasies.
Housed in the historic Luhrs Building that, coincidentally, once housed the Prohibition Department, the months-old drinking emporium already has a sense of familiarity about it. The classically styled bar is manned by bartenders as highly skilled as they are good-natured. The curvy booths are easy to settle into. And towering curtained windows cast their glow on cheery servers who glide through the spacious room with whatever libations their thirsty customers need to take the edge off for a while.
Those with even a passing interest in cocktail artistry have probably heard of Bitter & Twisted proprietor Ross Simon, who co-founded Arizona Cocktail Week following stints at craft-intensive pubs in London. Simon may have the most ambitious cocktail program in town at the moment: a collection of remarkably sophisticated, adventurously modern, and classically thoughtful concoctions put together with premium spirits, house-made syrups, and fresh-squeezed juices. Even the ice, harder and colder than the standard bar version, has been perfected. The drink menu, literally a 24-page book, is substantial enough to make even the most unabashed cocktail geek take pause. For everyone else, there’s an easy-to-follow, color-coded chart on the back page.
So by the time you’ve taken a few pulls from a Lemongrass Collins laced with vanilla sugar or a Lovefruit Medley popping with fresh watermelon, you’re ready for a bite. And unlike some juice joints content to serve things like wings and cheeseburgers, the food here, under the direction of chef-partner Bob Tam, works bold flavors and combinations into globally inspired dishes you wouldn’t expect at a bar.
You may wonder, after a giant bowl of buttery, garlicky popcorn dusted with nori, rice crackers and Japanese spices, if you’ll ever be able to eat the popular snack the same way again. To spicy and peppery chilaquiles ($9.50) draped with a fried egg – as well as to crunchy smashed chips ($8) decorated with a vibrant array of chile sauces, salsa verde, and chunks of avocado – Tam adds an excellent, intensely flavored horseradish crema. And Tam’s thick hunks of melt-in-your-mouth Betelnut pork belly ($10.50), glazed with a delectable sweet and garlicky sauce, seem a worthy homage to the high-profile Chinese restaurant in San Francisco it’s named after – even if you’ve never been there.
But if you go to Bitter & Twisted looking for sustenance, look for the ramen burger ($12). Not, as you might expect, for the novelty of its crisp ramen “bun,” but for its sesame soy-drenched patty layered with Sriracha soba sauce, caramelized onions, pepper jack cheese, and jalapeño mayo. If you’re looking for the hottest new burger in town, this one’s a contender.
For dessert, you’ll want the Banoffee Pot, a rich, lip-smacking riff on the classic British banoffee pie with crumbled graham crackers and fresh bananas topped with a cloud of banana-flavored cream sprinkled with bits of toffee and dehydrated bananas heaped into a glass jar.
Given where you are, the sweet life is an easy thing to toast to.
Bitter & Twisted cocktail parlour
Cuisine: Asian-inspired small plates
Contact: 1 W. Jefferson St., Phoenix, 602-340-1924, bitterandtwistedaz.com
Hours: 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Tu-Sa; happy hour 4-7 p.m. Tu-Sa
Highlights: Ramen burger ($12); smashed chips ($8); chilaquiles ($9.50); hurricane popcorn ($6.50); Betelnut pork belly ($10.50); Banoffee Pot ($6)
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