At so many local hotels and resorts, the poolside restaurant is an afterthought, a snack bar that offers only a subset of the menu found in a more substantial indoor dining area. For the most part, that makes sense since people spending time by the pool may be more concerned with swimming or sunbathing than eating. Nevertheless, one recently refurbished Phoenix hotel has made its restaurant and bar by the pool the biggest culinary offering on the property. The appropriately named Lylo Swim Club is the breezy main restaurant for the Rise Uptown Hotel.
Lylo is found right by the pool in the courtyard at the center of this newly renovated and rebranded hotel. The location is on the north side of Camelback Road, halfway between the stations at Central Avenue and Seventh Avenue. Bike racks are found near the pool entrance and also across the driveway by the hotel lobby. The same gate that leads to the pool deck also leads to the restaurant. There’s a host station, but it’s staffed intermittently, so at times it makes sense to head right to the bar in order to be offered a seat, either there or at the shaded tables.
The decor is tropical and aquatic. The screens over the bar display images of sea life and oceanic scenery rather than sports, stock prices, or pundits talking over one another on cable news. The furniture features wicker chairs, tables with mosaic tops, multi-colored tile at the bar, and a mural depicting a lush, verdant environment. Because the space is completely outdoors, big ceiling fans cool the area by day and space heaters suspended from overhead warm diners on cold winter nights. Despite the proximity of Camelback Road, traffic noise is not a problem.
Of course, Lylo will also bring food and beverages right to a lounge chair on the pool deck; however, use of that space requires either an overnight stay in the hotel or the purchase of a day pass. Customers visiting the swim club only for a meal or some drinks can enjoy the seating at the colorful bar or on the covered patio next to it. Because of the pool’s proximity, everything is served in plastic or paper, and conventional utensils are replaced with a “chork,” a plastic hybrid that can function either as a fork or as a set of chopsticks, depending on how it is held.
That cross-cultural adaptability extends to the restaurant’s menu, which blends American and Asian influences in a mix that seems predominantly Hawaiian in its theme. Starters include crisp rice cakes topped with a spicy tuna mix and an ahi ceviche served with wontons instead of the more typical tortilla chips. Musubi, a Hawaiian style of roll with rice and toppings wrapped in nori, is offered in both its traditional Spam version and in a vegetarian alternative that incorporates pickled daikon radish, cucumber, ginger, and avocado in place of canned meat.
Entrees fall into categories of “bowls” and “bigger bites.” The former are rice bowls with toppings like Korean BBQ beef, huli huli chicken with grilled pineapple, and a vegetable teriyaki that can be accessorized with chicken or beef for an added charge if desired. The other bowls all reflect the poke bowl tradition of Hawaii with raw fish options including ahi with cucumber and red onion, spicy tuna with avocado and jalapeño, and garlic salmon with chunks of fresh mango and maybe just a bit too much creamy ponzu sauce sometimes obscuring the flavor of the fish.
Under the second category of “bigger bites,” the lightest item is a crispy noodle chicken salad, a large bowl of greens topped with grilled chicken, julienned vegetables, peanuts, and strips of crisp noodles. There’s a hamburger and a hot dog, both with Asian-influenced accoutrements, but the standout handheld here is the mochiko fried chicken sandwich. A poultry breast is breaded with a slightly sweet rice flour and then served in a potato bun with toppings of spicy mayonnaise and peanut slaw and a side of the Hawaiian plate lunch standard, macaroni salad.
Since going to the pool can often be a group activity, Lylo offers its fried chicken in a bucket format, sort of a Hawaiian version of the fast food classic. Ten pieces, wings and thighs, are served with mac salad, lemon mayo, peanut slaw, wontons, and King’s Hawaiian rolls as sides. Accompanying drinks include wine and beer, all served in cans due to poolside safety issues, and an impressive array of original cocktails with names full of wordplay and combinations of spirits and fruity flavors that evoke themes of tropical islands and lounging in the sun.
Opposable Rums is typical of this approach. The tall drink combines two styles of rum with fresh pineapple and lime juice and a grapefruit-cinnamon syrup. Dual rums also play a role in a cocktail that straddles the boundary between drink and dessert. The Dole Whipped is a generous serving of the pineapple soft serve popularized at Disneyland, but it’s infused with one style of rum before being topped with another version of the same spirit and then garnished with fresh fruit. The result is a flavor profile that evolves as one dives deeper into the dish.
Besides this rather fluid and boozy dessert, there are a few fruit-based items on the appetizer that may also find a place at the end of a meal. Nevertheless, the best option can be a quick walk to the hotel lobby where Pop Stand coexists with the check-in desk and a small boutique. Likewise, Cartel Roasting Company at the other end of the pool offers espresso drinks and pastry. For both day visitors and hotel guests, swimmers and sunbathers, Lylo Swim Club shows how a small hotel can elevate a poolside restaurant to the center of its food service.
400 W. Camelback Rd., Phoenix AZ 85013