Alleys have a bad reputation. In the north central part of Phoenix, residents have worked with the city to close alleys in residential neighborhoods, where “highways for bad things” are associated with crime. Downtown, however, alleys play a more helpful role in the urban fabric by taking back-of-the-house functions such as trash collection and loading docks off the street and by breaking up blocks to preserve the opportunity for fine-grained development. Alleys can also be a place in which to hide a city’s best secrets, and Valley Bar is one of them.
Valley Bar is a music venue, cocktail lounge, and casual eatery all housed in one expansive subterranean space. The entrance is found in an L-shaped alley that connects Monroe to Central Avenue. Find the alley just west of the Cornish Pasty Company on Monroe or just north of Tom Yum on Central, a block south of the Van Buren / First Avenue (eastbound) and Van Buren / Central (westbound) light rail stations. By day, the alley is often full of trucks making deliveries, but at night look for a small neon sign and a bouncer outside the entrance.
Valley Bar doesn’t open until the late afternoon or early evening depending on the day of the week, and is generally an adults-only place. Upon descending the staircase, turn left to enter the Rose Room, the lounge portion of Valley Bar. It’s usually open without a cover charge, even when there is a concert in the adjacent music hall. The Rose Room, named for former governor Rose Mofford, is a dark place with its own secrets to tell. Look for a hidden living room by the wine cabinets and shadow art telling the story of Winnie Ruth Judd over the bar.
The bar is, unsurprisingly, the hub of Valley Bar. The cocktail menu is a salute to local politics and history. The namesake drink, the Rose Mofford, is a sweet and tart mix of vodka with rose water, simple syrup, lemon juice, and creme de violette. The Kate, presumably named for former councilwoman Kate Gallego, draws from tropical inspirations with its combination of rum, campari, lime, pineapple, and passion fruit. Other cocktails salute local notables such as John McCain, Sandra Day O’Connor, Janet Napolitano, and Barry Goldwater.
An extensive wine list, reserve spirits, and rotating draft beer selections add to the spectrum of beverages. As for food, the menu is smaller but still offers enough to provide a satisfying dinner. The kitchen for Valley Bar is actually the same one as the Deli Tavern, which is located upstairs on Central. Nevertheless, the food that finds its way downstairs is more bar-focused with only partial overlap with what’s offered above. Happy hour favorites include all sorts of fries. If ordering the sweet potato variety, try dipping them in the accompanying mustard.
The Valley Board is essentially an antipasto platter with charcuterie, grilled vegetables, hummus, pita bread, and an assortment of nuts and fruits. It’s a salty and savory mix well-suited to cocktails, but for a hot meal, the flatbreads are the best choice. A simple Margherita and a meaty Hot Italian are both modestly sized for one person to eat alone. Two people can share one if the flatbread is matched with either the Valley Board or the Big Salad, a slight variation of the Seinfeld-inspired Elaine’s Big Salad served upstairs at Deli Tavern.
There’s currently no dessert on the menu, but both Deli Tavern and Cornish Pasty Company offer sweets and are logical next places to go after enjoying music or games at Valley Bar. Expressions such as “wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark alley” reflect longstanding fear and skepticism of these underappreciated urban connectors. As suburban parts of Phoenix move to close alleys, the city core is starting to appreciate their role. Valley Bar offers a reason to explore an urban alley, making the experience more about drinks than dumpsters.
130 N. Central Ave., Phoenix AZ 85004
Van Buren / Central (westbound) and Van Buren / 1st Avenue (eastbound) stations