“Luckys is not the new chic RoRo dive bar,” the man behind the bar says as he sets down a couple coasters and a bottle of hand sanitizer. He also tells me that mimosas and bloody Marys are “breakfast drinks” and should not be consumed at 6 p.m. on a Thursday, which happens to be when I pay my first visit to Lucky’s. He then proceeds to offer me a mimosa-flavored jello shot. Who am I to refuse?
This man is Nick Nitz, Luckys’ operations manager, whose job is to get drunk with the bar’s owner Julian Wright every month and come up with creative new cocktails. Not a bad gig, I think to myself. I am immediately inclined to trust anything he says and let him pick what to serve me. “Do you like whiskey?” he asks. I nod enthusiastically.
I quickly learn that things are done differently at Luckys. Nitz explains that each drink on the menu is a twist on a classic tipple. The cocktail he chooses to serve me: A riff on the tropical Jungle Bird, except instead of rum, there’s Teeling small-batch whiskey plus pineapple, peach, lemon, bitters and a luxardo cherry perched on top. It’s fruity, but spirit-forward and not at all something that would be served at a “chic dive bar.” No, Luckys is in a league of its own.
I also had the pleasure of chatting with Mr. Wright himself during my visit, a formidable figure in the Phoenix drinking and dining scene – he’s the founder and CEO of Fork & Dagger Hospitality, which conceived wildly popular culinary concept Pedal Haus. As I looked around at the Christmas lights, faux antler chandeliers, breezeblocks and neon signs, I asked him about his inspiration. He shrugged and said, “Just bars I like going to.” Turns out Wright was heavily inspired by fun, funky watering holes in Austin and Portland – locales known for their “Keep it Weird” mantra and eclectic daytime drinking culture. Luckys also features a spacious dog-friendly patio freckled with wooden picnic tables. Garden lights, fire pits, bocce ball and rotating food trucks add to the vibe. Inside, skee ball and a pool table give it a dive bar feel, but the red corduroy banquettes and low tables adorned with vintage candles give it an elevated skew.
“F*ck it, let’s drink!” is the motto at Luckys – and it’s preached prominently and practiced diligently. I adopted the maxim during my visit (hence jello shots on a work night and the dealer’s choice nature of my tippling). Put yourself in the very capable hands of your bartender and ask them to whip you up their favorite drink. You won’t be disappointed with whatever they choose – everything on the menu is marvelous, I promise. Start with the Moscow Mule ($12), which rotates every month (according to Nitz and Wright’s mixology meetings). Stop by in January for a concoction consisting of Wheatley vodka, mint, hibiscus and lime. If you’re digging the hibiscus, try the South of the Border Punch ($12) next. It’s a smooth yet tangy mix of tequila, hibiscus, Campari, pomegranate and chile liqueurs and lime. If you like strong sippers, try the Lucky Negroni ($12) with strawberry gin, vermouth, rabarbaro and lemon. The signature is the Irish Bird ($14), the first drink Nitz prepared for me, and my favorite of the night. Stop by from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily, ask for Nick and whatever you do, don’t call it a “chic dive bar.”