One of the early architects of Tucson’s DIY craft cocktail movement is off to Phoenix to shake up the notion of hotel bars.
Aaron DeFeo, who made a name for himself over the last 6ƒ years as chief mixologist at Casino Del Sol, is teaming up with celebrated Phoenix cocktail innovator Ross Simon to open Little Rituals cocktail lounge in the downtown Phoenix Residence Inn/Courtyard by Marriott. DeFeo said a third partner in the venture is the hotel’s developer, Rajan Hansji.
The bar will be on the fourth floor of the 20-story hotel at 132 S. Central Ave., in the heart of Phoenix’s dynamic and increasingly popular entertainment district and around the corner from Simon’s popular Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour.
“I’m super excited about this,” said DeFeo, who relocated to Phoenix last weekend after his final day at Casino del Sol on Saturday. “The cocktails are really going to focus on the flavors and we’re going to workshop the heck out of them. They are going to be really thought-provoking. ”
“Just as Bitter & Twisted helped redefine the downtown drinking experience, Little Rituals will help redefine the hotel bar here in Phoenix,” Simon said in a written release, “bringing the same innovative, ever-changing menu in a stylish setting that you’d expect in Miami, Los Angeles or London.”
DeFeo said Little Rituals will pull from his and Simon’s wide repertoires, but will not rehash their menus. Instead they will work with interesting ingredients and a vast selection of spirits to create an “elevated” menu of 16 to 24 cocktails.
“We want people to have this amazing, memorable experience,” said the 35-year-old Tucson native and University of Arizona journalism graduate. “Ross has his own style, I have my own style. We’re going to merge these styles the best that we can, take the best from his experience and the best from mine and meld them together.
“We want people to walk in and be transported to a much more elevated experience than any old bar, but we don’t want them to walk in and feel not at home,” he added. “We want them to be comfortable.”
Little Rituals is a dream come true for DeFeo, a Tucson High alum who once imagined himself becoming a sportswriter for his hometown newspaper. But when he was passed over for a position, he took a weekend job bartending and bouncing.
“I told myself that I would work in the bar on weekends and that would give me more time during the week to write as a novelist or freelance journalist,” he said.
By the mid-2000s, the bar business had become his primary career path, which has led to multiple state and regional honors including Arizona’s best mixologist nod in 2013’s Foodist Awards.
“Tucson will always be my home and I would love to one day do something in Tucson, but there wasn’t an opportunity like this for me in Tucson,” said DeFeo. “This is a very unique opportunity that I’m doing.”