A great bar doesn't necessarily make a great holiday bar. It's a subtle but important distinction. For instance, Acme in Old Town Scottsdale is a great place to shoot pool and possibly glimpse a catfight, but it's not a place that engenders what we in the business like to call "yuletide spirit."
After all, a great holiday bar should feel cozy, convivial. There should be a fireplace, holiday-themed poinsettia concepts and polite people who don't use steroids and won't try to chump you in front of your woman. Sorry, Acme.
To this end, I've compiled a modest list of bars and nightlife haunts that always help facilitate my holiday warm-and-fuzzies - and, of course, my buzz.
El Chorro Lodge
Straddling the flats of east Paradise Valley, this James Beard-winning dining destination refuses to advertise itself as a holiday hot spot - nonetheless, the place is elbow-to-elbow with young-ish holiday revelers each Thanksgiving eve. In fact, the throng is so unmanageable that El Chorro actually had to turn away patrons last year. So what's the draw? A festive, rustic patio scene and the virtual certainty that you'll trade cell phone numbers with a long-lost friend - whom you will not see until next year at El Chorro.
>> 5550 E. Lincoln Drive. Call (480) 948-5170 or visit elchorrolodge.com.
No fireplace, no booths, no pianist conjuring the achingly sweet strains of "Christmas Time Is Here," but when they string the rainbow lights in this Old Town hooch-hovel, it somehow assumes a holiday splendor that can't be denied. It's like your grungy old apartment from college, magically transformed into a low-budget Christmastime redoubt by a quick trip to Kmart.
>> 7011 E. Indian School Road, Scottsdale. Call (480) 990-3433.
The Lounge at T. Cooks
For upscale holiday drinking, it doesn't get any better than this piano lounge on the grounds of the Royal Palms Resort and Spa in that culturally disputed corridor of east Phoenix near Camelback Road. The house pianist, Dwight Brewer, makes sweet music on his baby grand five nights a week, and the place glows like some Leona Helmsley patrician pipe dream made real. After a few glasses of Bordeaux, you'll forget there was such a thing as a "holiday budget."
>> 5200 E. Camelback Road. Call (602) 808-0766 or visit royalpalmshotel.com.
First of all, this Old Town speakeasy is underlit - a must for any vibe-mellowing holiday bar. Secondly, there's music - usually jazz, blues or some other soulful musical form that makes you feel like a brooding protagonist in a Wong Kar Wai movie. Lastly, there's wine - a whole lotta of mother-loving wine. It's holiday spirit without the spirits.
>> 7137 E. Stetson Drive, Scottsdale. (480) 946-3004 or www.kazbar.net.