The Royal Palms has long been one of my favorite resorts in the Valley. It’s just so transportive: You pull into its circular stone drive, walk through a quaint stone archway and enter an art-lined courtyard with a beautiful centerpiece fountain, and suddenly you’re visiting a friend’s European villa instead of cursing the traffic on Camelback Road. The art, history and romance of the property are enough to encourage rhapsodizing, but then there’s the food. On-site restaurant T. Cook’s is a special-occasion dining institution in the Valley, and I’ve enjoyed a few long, luxurious evenings of wine and fantastic food there. If you want something quicker or a little less spendy, pop into the adjoining Mix Up Bar for a dark, sultry and blessedly cool escape from the muggy oven the Valley becomes in August.
At past happy hours at Mix Up, I’ve shared with friends artisan cheese and charcuterie ($18), truffle popcorn ($8), the organic baby kale Caesar (with bits of Manchego and crispy cheese croutons enlivening the old classic, $13) and the Mix Up Burger (white cheddar, Bibb lettuce, heirloom tomato, shaved red onion and pickles on an airy brioche bun, $18).
This time, my gal pal and I split the crispy artichoke hearts ($12 regularly, $7 during happy hour), fried so perfectly that they are equally crunchy and delicate, with a lovely saltiness. They come piled atop a pool of roasted garlic and caper aioli with a citrus gremolata that brightens the whole affair. Chile de árbol salsa does the same for the lobster tacos ($14 for two), which boast black bean purée and avocado as creamy foils for the spice. I have my eye on harissa edamame hummus ($13 regularly, $7 during happy hour) and the crispy chicken wings with honey Buffalo sauce ($12 for six regularly, $7 during happy hour) for next time.
My favorite cocktail at Mix Up Bar – maybe of all time? – is the Italian Paloma, an entrancing blend of reposado tequila, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, Aperol, lime, house-carbonated grapefruit juice and basil ($15). I fell in love with that drink five years ago and have since bought all of the ingredients to make it myself at home (I get close, but it’s never as good as at Royal Palms) and wrote about it in our cocktail guide a few years ago. She was even our cover girl!
But this time we’re here for a media invitation to try head barman Tyler Strasser’s new seasonal cocktails, a slew of summer sippers that are $15 each. Our takes:
- Smoke on the Watermelon (Xicaru Silver Mezcal, agave, lime, watermelon and hellfire bitters) – Smoky and mezcal-forward, this one got an immediate thumbs up from us, since we’re both mezcal gals. The watermelon gave it a nice sweetness, but thankfully not too much.
- Fresh Prince (Ketel One cucumber and mint vodka, aloe liqueur, lime and simple syrup) – A spa cocktail, in the best possible way: light, refreshing, dangerously gulpable.
- Silver Rose (gin, raspberry shrub, lemon, simple syrup and egg white) – My favorite of the bunch, a tart and slightly sweet riff on a gin fizz that made me feel like Daisy Buchanan.
- Kiwi-Colada (Bacardi Silver, lime, coconut syrup, pineapple juice and kiwi) – A restrained take on tiki, with pleasant funkiness from the kiwi and satisfying creaminess from the coconut syrup.
- Royal Peach (vodka, Breckenridge bitter, crème de peach, simple syrup, peach shrub and bitter) – The sweetest of the lot, this one drinks like a liquid peach cobbler. Well, not that sweet, but it has that comforting, summery essence.
- Bourbon Bergamot (Knob Creek Bourbon, Earl Grey tea, St-Germain elderflower liqueur and lemon) – Beautifully floral and herbal. This was my whiskey-loving friend’s favorite, and even I, a confirmed whiskey hater, really enjoyed it. Such a balanced and multifaceted drink.
These cocktails are not discounted for happy hour, but three others are: Sip of the Day (bartender’s whim), Mix Up Mule (a Moscow Mule with house-made ginger beer) and Orange Grove (spicy tequila, orange, lemon and cinnamon demerara) are each $9. Draft beers – all local! – are $5, and select wines (a Pinot Noir, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Chardonnay and a sparkling) are $7 per glass.
THE INSIDER SECRET
There are four fun daily specials at Mix Up Bar, in addition to happy hour. Time your visit accordingly for:
- Monday: $2 Shrimp Mondays get you shrimp cocktail for only two clams
- Tuesday: Tacos & Tequila Tuesdays mean tacos are $5 apiece and margaritas are $8
- Wednesday: Wine Wednesdays bring select wine specials
- Thursday: Bourbon & Burgers Thursdays offer $10 burgers and select bourbons and bourbon cocktails for $8
Happy hour runs Sundays-Thursdays from 3-6 p.m.