This post is part of our Phoenix/Scottsdale tour : click here to get the eagle-eye summary of all of our experiences.
Hotel bars, especially the elite establishments in Paris and London, are some of the greatest and most storied bars in the world. We don’t have quite the same legacy with our hotel bars in the US (with some fantastic exceptions, Eleven Madison Park, Nola’s Monteleone, the NoMad Hotel bar, etc.) and majority of them are attractive but predictably conservative. Menus tend towards the classics with a few token signature cocktails that are pleasing to the eye but less so to the palate.
This goes trebly with bars at fancy resorts and I fully confess that Lorri and I only heard of the jade bar (yes, properly spelled in lowercase for maximum serenity and relaxation!!) by its reputation as one of the best bars in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area, so were surprised as we pulled into the valet parking at the Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort, one of the more stunningly luxurious establishments we’ve seen in the Southwest USA. After a short walk down a stone staircase, we seated ourselves in the gorgeously sculpted jade bar and its near-pornographic views of Camelback Mountain. All of our “this place is too pretty to be good” alarms were blaring!
Those alarms were immediately calmed by the bold, assertive menu – not a single classic here, and ingredients more suited to a trendy Manhattan fusion restaurant than a bar that easily could coast on its sumptuous location instead of striving for excellence with tricky, high effort originals.
Lorri went for the rum-based Flight of the Honey Bee, a creation that must have a miniscule margin for error. Jamaican rum can easily go into “hogo” territory : petrol and rotten bananas are two of the DESIRED flavor profiles for many Jamaicans, so just imagine the UNDESIRED ones!. Rhum agricole (made from sugar cane juice instead of the MUCH more common and forgiving molasses) is similarly tricky with their funky, umami notes. Punt e Mes is a notoriously quirky vermouth, pomegranate is a colorful bitch who doesn’t want you to get your sweet/sour/fruity balance right … and sure, why not go for SImone Biles-level of difficulty and throw egg white foam in there? Expecting this cocktail to go right is like throwing a bunch of serial killers into the Thunderdome and hoping that they come out like a pack of flower tossing Hare Krishnas.
Surprise! The Flight of the Honey Bee was a tour de force of libation alchemy, more than the sum of its boisterous parts. If pressed, I may have guessed the rum components but otherwise this drink has its own pedigree of richness, savoriness and tropicality.
I went for the Marrakech, another complex build that could be its own Flavor Bible chapter. The strawberry supplied enough acid to brighten up the bourbon, and the harissa/turmeric spices were smartly deployed as gentle accents rather than push the drink into “Liquid Curry” territory (a common mistake that happens when the bar director raids the kitchen’s spice cabinet. One of the better bourbon-based originals I’ve had in a long long time!
At this point a series of signs caught my eye – very cool to see that rock star bartender Jillian Vose (currently beverage director of the iconic Dead Rabbit in NYC) is a jade bar alumnus!
As is her wont, Lorri went for mezcal next and The Little Leaf impressed with its gorgeous vibrant hue and its clever touches of cilantro, cumin and jalapeno to achieve an easy drinker with accents of smoke, heat, herbs and spice.
My second selection was The Mekong, another aesthetic winner. At first glance you might worry that you’ve been handed a tumbler of yesterday’s creamsicle … but at first TASTE you’re transported to a somewhere far from Arizona, thanks to the usage of coconut, kaffir lime (or makrut lime for a less perilously fraught term), lemongrass and yuzu.
I generally dislike yuzu’s floral/fruity vagueness, but jade bar has an uncanny knack for incorporating ingredients we dislike (yuzu, cucumber, vegetal peppers) in a context where they totally work. There’s some very deep experience and artistry at work here, and I noticed the very appropriately named “Bar Chef” book on display, authored by the jade bar’s Christiaan Röllich (Instagram: @christiaanrollich).
I was immediately struck by the verbal and visual resemblance to Morgenthaler’s classic “The Bar Book” and the deeper I got, the more “Bar Chef” did seem like its spiritual successor. Going far beyond mere recipes (which it DOES have, all originals), you’ll get into bitters, syrups, tinctures, and even the making of house liqueurs.
Most unusually (and welcome) are specific bottle selections in each category with the pros and cons of each bottle. Liquor selection is a vital but very under-discussed aspect of superior cocktail making and it’s great to see Röllich’s thinking here. I suspect that the high turnover rate on bottle brands is one reason why authors are hesitant to include this type of information (losing future brand representative gigs might be another!!). Still, even if some of these brands go extinct it’s still valuable to future generations to have the best bottles documented (it’s taken an astonishing amount of journalistic effort to track down the rum bottles used in classic tiki), and even more so to see what factors an elite bartender considers when he/she uses a specific liquor.
Finally, we must mention jade bar’s whiskey selection – while on the (very) pricy end, there’s a real murderer’s row of hard-to-find bottles here: Pappy’s, BTACs, Parker’s Heritage, and the like. We did some Olde St Nicks and the new Weller Single Barrel (very good, we liked it better than last year’s Weller Full Proof).
One could easily spend a solid weekend drinking through these unicorns (and your annual expense account) without even a single cocktail, but that would be a shame: the true unicorn here is jade bar’s stellar beverage program!