4155 E. Grant Road
READERS' PICK: So the place is a little seedy. The patrons have been sporting tattoos since before tattoos were cool. And the tropical decor hasn't changed at the Kon Tiki since you went there with your parents (good god!) 35 years ago. But it's still the kind of place where adventures begin. Not Bogart adventures, understand. More like Vincent Price. But for a secret rendezvous or quiet assignation, there's no other place.
The social lubricant is rum -- there's a veritable Bubba Gump of rum punches, in fact. And the queen of them all is the Scorpion. Been there forever. Last time we were in, we saw six of the bowl-sized beverages at different tables, and the place wasn't even all that crowded. Two of the patrons were crying their eyes out, the others whispering conspiratorially. All before six in the evening. Even if you love Tucson, sometimes you gotta just feel like you're somewhere else. The Kon Tiki is that kind of place. (We do miss the take home Tiki glasses, though. There was no more highly coveted prize for a 12-year-old.)
One can infer from our readers' divergent takes on The Shelter (see Best Dive Bar, page 120; and Best Bar for a First Date, page 122), it's a lounge that appeals to a mixed set. But one thing on which we all can agree is that The Shelter is a place where the venerable cocktail is treated with dignity. This neighborhood bar (yes, it's part dive) is like an aging diva dressed to the nines in a nostalgic fabric that's inimitable and slightly rakish. The same could be said for their unabashed cocktails: potent martinis, garish cordials, and expert old-fashioneds shaken and stirred without hurry or apology. You'll get the perfect cocktail every time, and the perfect atmosphere to let it soak in.
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Kingfisher Bar & Grill, 2464 E. Grant Road. Readers might like the Kingfisher for its simple, sophisticated setting: solid hues and serious art lend themselves to a relaxing cocktail break. But we like it for the 20 different types of tequila the bar regularly has on hand. And the bartender or server likely can assist you in determining which will appeal to your quirky palate. Kingfisher doesn't stop with one specialty area. If it's Scotch you seek, choices span more than 15 types. If your interests lean toward port, cognac, bourbon or whiskey, be prepared to ponder a long moment on the options. The cocktail lounge is small, with room for about a dozen people at the bar and another two dozen in the booths and chairs. Smoking is welcome; in fact, Kingfisher stocks an excellent array of fresh cigars. This is the place to go for a serious cocktail, not a place to watch the game. (Also see Best Late-Night Restaurant, page 65.)