[Note: This review is for the Rural & Elliott Vine location, though we also visited the Apache location and found the wings and beer to be identical and the atmosphere to be more bro-tastic. If college is your thing, do the Apache location. If Happy Hour is your thing, do the Elliott location. If you're not in AZ...why the hell are you reading this?]
You just can’t go wrong with the classics…unless of course the classics actually suck and you’re just letting nostalgia blind you. Such is the case with things like the 80′s GI Joe cartoons, the Howard the Duck movie, Ecto-Cooler (fuck you, it’s slime), sugar sandwiches, the two rap songs on the Beavis and Butthead Do America soundtrack and a million other things I loved as a younger person that ended up being fairly shitty once I grew up and looked back at them.
Before we were Phoenix Wing Crusaders on a mission, we were just fat schlubs eating wings wherever we could get them. Granted, we’re still just fat schlubs eating wings, but that’s beside the point. The point is, The Vine was one of the few places we ate at (pre-WhyDidIEatThis.com) that I still had fond memories of, and I was terrified of going back there and finding out it wasn’t how I remembered.
Still, we just needed to get back to something familiar and comforting because we were getting downright depressed from the series of bland wings we’d been battered with, and this boy’s too young to be singing the blues. So goodbye weakly cooked wings, where the skin is so soggy I’m crying. You can’t make me eat another, I’m going back to The Vine.
And yes, I really just reworded an Elton John song for the sake of hot wings.
There’s nothing special about the atmosphere in The Vine. It’s dark like older sports bars used to be before corporate interests decided to make everything all bright and stupid for “families” and “kids” and “babies” and whatever other stupid things you can think of that I can put into “quotations”. I kind of miss dark and dank sports bars, where the only real light came from the glow of the TVs and the neon beer signs, as they remind me of my childhood (don’t ask) so The Vine is actually rather welcoming for me.
The crowd in The Vine is actually fairly similar to the crowd in Zipps, just a little lower down on the social ladder and thus more up our alley. There’s always one of those guys in there that wears a tanktop and track pants and holds his keys in his hands and kind of looks like he’s on his way to work out but never goes and you can tell he’s too broke to dress well so he dresses down and still doesn’t manage to pull that off. There’s that one guy with jeans that are too light-blue to be of this decade, who wears shoes from Big 5 and has a holster for his cell phone that’s about a generation too old. To round it out, there’s of course that one creepy old guy that calls all the bartenders “hun” and “babe” even though they may not be attractive at all and he’s just creepy and desperate and probably wearing a Poise Pad. It’s a grand cast of ne’er-do-wells to be sure.
We do wing nights on Thursdays, so it turns out we were in luck for our trip to The Vine: Thursday is Stein Night, with $2.99 steins of beer. It’s stupid-cheap, like the kind of cheap where even if you were thinking of being a DD and drinking soda that night, you’d have a cheaper night just drinking beer so you might as well get drunk and tell those irresponsible suckers who thought you were driving them home that you’re too tanked to give a fuck about their well-being.
After ordering some steins-o-beer, we turned our attention to what’s really important: the lack of hot women. Ok, no, I mean the wings, but it wouldn’t kill anyone to put a little more eye candy in The Vine, jeez. We ordered the Hot, of course, and then got a dozen of the SuperHot as well. I have to say that I like the naming here. No “suicide” to speak of, because suicide is a stupid name anyway. SuperHot just denotes “Like Hot, but hotter” and I’m fine with that (I should say that in the past I had also eaten the Maple Hot before, and despite my hesitance because I’m not a sweet wing fan, I remember them being rather good for a sweet wing. Not sickly sweet, no ridiculous fruit flavors, just maple and hot).
Sadly, there was no basketball on TV as the NBA All-Star weekend was starting up that Friday, so we were forced to watch either hockey or shuffleboard or curling or whatever sad things are on sports TV in February. I always laugh at the announcers that are stuck calling games for sports that are barely sports, like competitive eating or yo-yo competitions or the WNBA. How sad must they be to have to learn the nuances of something so pointless just to be able to call the competition in real-time for a paycheck?
The Vine was lively that night with the sounds of people bitching about work and guzzling giant mugs of beer, luckily drowning out the sad-sport commentators on ESPN 8 the Ocho, and we waited patiently for our chicken-pops to arrive.
These wings came out steaming hot, just sizzling with that fresh-out-of-the-fryer heat, and you could smell them coming around the corner. The Vine serves their wings with celery, no carrots, and ranch by default. The SuperHot were a more bright red color, the hot more subdued and maroon. You could see the flecks of pepper in the SuperHot and you could smell that vinegary tang coming off both dozens. We were excited to taste them, but there was one problem.
They were Asian-dick-in-a-cold-pool small.
Oh man, maybe I never noticed before. Maybe I noticed and didn’t mind. Maybe I just didn’t have the proper frame of reference before, because back then I used to think that Buffalo Wild Wings were good-sized wings, but my memory had no recollection of The Vine wings ever being this tiny.
Oh well. We still had a job to do, right?
We each started with a Hot babydick…errr…wing, and dug in. Ok, so moving past the fact that these were the smallest wings we’ve had since starting this site, we needed to judge it on all the other factors. The wings were cooked well. They may have erred SLIGHTLY on the side of too crispy, but I actually like crispy wings and I’d much rather have them overcooked than undercooked. Still, well cooked. If they were larger, it’d be a great wing.
[Editor's Note: We've both been back here separately and the wings were larger, actually to the point of being decent-sized wings. Someone told Tyler that they usually have good-sized wings but if they run out, they have to get backup wings from a supplier that apparently raises midget chickens or something.]
The Hot sauce was absolutely incredible. It was so good I could drink it. It wasn’t the spiciest but it certainly wasn’t weak, it wasn’t overly-vinegary but it was definitely made with love and vinegar, and it was. Just. Perfect. I would go so far as to call it the best wing sauce I’ve had in the valley thus far as far as traditional wing sauces are concerned. I’d stab a litter of kittens to taste this stuff on an NY Boyz wing.
So the hot sauce was incredible. The SuperHot though? Not as much. We had a server confide in us that the SuperHot is just the Hot sauce with extra spices thrown in to try and ramp up the heat. Here’s the problem, The Vine: Your Hot is perfect. The balance is amazing. But when you go and add MORE spices to a perfect sauce, you’re un-perfecting something perfect. You’re RUINING it. The SuperHot wasn’t bad, and I’ve had worse “above-hot” sauces, but this one just tried too hard. It was like an Australian rugby fan trying to talk American Football; the elements were all there, the idea was right, but it missed all sorts of nuance and just fell flat on its face, and it also managed to let its homeland kill Steve Irwin and we’ll never forgive it for that. Ever.
My wife would kill me if I didn’t mention that The Vine’s ranch is also quality stuff. I don’t like the thick, goopy ranch that looks like peppered sour cream, I like my ranch to look like spiced buttermilk of some sort. Not watery, but runny, and the taste cant be sweet like some ranch comes off as. The Vine’s ranch is pretty much awesome, I’d pour it in my belly button and try to drink it out of there with a straw.
We had several steins at The Vine before foolishly moving on to see what the night had to offer us. I honestly can’t tell you every place we went to because we got too drunk to remember. We did go right down the street to Bogey’s Bar and Grill, a golf-themed dive sports bar that had some random trivia teams doing treasure hunts and playing Wii or some shit. I honestly don’t know what they were doing because we were both way too confused as to why every TV in the place was tuned to an uncensored Girls Gone Wild ad. This wasn’t like the ones you see on FX at 1:30AM. These chicks were fully naked and doing their thing, it was more like the 2 minute previews you used to look at online before places like PornHub and Tube8 existed to help you waste your white pee into a napkin. It’s not like we’ve never seen tits before, we’re both married to attractive women, but it was pretty uncomfortable to be in a bar full of people while 30 TVs showed college co-eds “…as you’ve never seen before!!”
The funny thing is, drinking as much as we did and spending as little money as we did to do it, and going from place to random place while forgetting half the night in a drunken daze, it took me back. For that night, I was an ignorant 20-something who had no idea how deep the rabbit hole of hot wings could go, and I was just looking for something that tasted good and soaked up the booze I was about to partake in. Going to the Vine, drinking those steins, eating those tiny but delicious wings…I was transported back home to a simpler place in my life. I had really missed it.
And then it was time to go home, and renew the hunt for more wings and be grown-ups. It was nice to go back to the ol’ yellow brick road one more time though. It was also nice seeing free tits on the TV at Bogey’s. Bars just dont’ show enough naked boobage anymore.
Deal with it again, bitches.
Vine Tavern & Eatery
975 E Elliot Rd
Tempe, AZ 85284