Recently I was on a trip to Phoenix and I had a surprising experience. Not one that I expected to surprise me. It was actually one of the things on my itinerary that I wanted to skip to get some extra time in to rest, get some work done, and sneak in a little more pool time (I’m always trying to sneak in pool time). But out of respect to everyone involved I didn’t bail and I’m so glad I didn’t.
This was a good lesson in being open-minded for me. The one thing I didn’t really want to attend — mixology and trying drinks at a cocktail bar — was one of the most memorable experiences from the trip! It literally changed my mind about cocktails. Basically I realized I’ve only ever had a few really good cocktails in my life. Most cocktails are just shit. Syrupy processed crap. So when you find an establishment that makes fresh cocktails, that’s a plus, but Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour in Phoenix was so much more than a cocktail bar that makes good fresh cocktails.
In addition to making insanely good cocktails (they only use premium spirits, fresh fruit, herbs and the tastiest bitters and tonics), Bitter & Twisted has a strong and interesting concept that starts with the menu and even goes down to the type of vessel the drink is served in. The menu is fairy-tale-inspired Book o’ Cocktails, a custom illustrated cocktail menu with a HUGE selection. There are children’s books all over the bar (in a classy way).
On top of the fun concept (I mean have you ever heard of a cocktail menu based on fairytales?) the owner, Ross Simon — who spent an hour making cocktails for us and answering all of our questions and dealt with my pickiness — was fascinating and obviously hard working. He spent 10 years pitching the concept for the bar to get it funded.
Another fun fact — the bar is literally in the former Arizona Prohibition Headquarters from decades ago. Oh the irony.
So let’s talk about THE COCKTAIL that literally changed how I feel about cocktails. I told the owner I was picky and didn’t enjoy many cocktails. So he asked me what I liked (vodka, grapefruit, non-sweet, tart, fresh) and what I didn’t like (super strong, whiskey, gin, syrupy fake tasting mixers, dairy mixed with alcohol, and a lot of things I don’t know what they are — real helpful).
With that in mind, he made me the Jefferson Clarified Milk Punch. Which I probably never would have ordered because of the word milk in the title. I should have asked but I didn’t see or taste anything milky about it. It’s not that I don’t like milk, I just typically don’t like dairy products mixed with alcohol.
This drink was so light, refreshing, and tasty. Dangerous because I could have drank several of them. But since they are served in a teacup, it almost forces a slow sip. This cocktail alone really changed my attitude toward cocktails (but also raised the bar for every cocktail I have in the future). The flavor and sophistication is just something I’ve never tasted before and I’ll be craving it for the rest of my life!
Don’t just take it from me, Bitter & Twisted has won tons of awards. Most notably Top 10 “World’s Best Cocktail Menu” 2017 which apparently is a big deal in the cocktail world.
One thing I love about Bitter & Twisted is how they limit the number of patrons they will take in. They want everyone to have a good experience, so they don’t want the bar to be shoulder-to-shoulder where you can never get a drink. It’s a classy spot where you can actually hear the people you are there with because it will never be overcrowded. This business decision — to basically turn people away in favor of creating a higher quality atmosphere for the people already there — speaks volumes to me about the type of business it is.
Personally I’m just at a point in my life where when I’m going out for drinks with people, I’d rather pay a little more for high quality drinks, a nice atmosphere, and good service.
Overall, Bitter & Twisted has seriously delicious cocktails like you’ve never had before, and a sophisticated atmosphere that is guaranteed to never get overcrowded so you can always get a drink and hear the people you are enjoying it with. If you are in Phoenix, I highly recommend going and enjoying the menu for yourself!
All photos by Meg Biram