ARTS & CULTURE (Editors)

Written by Matt Cole Category: Best of the Valley Issue: July 2013
Group Free
Best Arts Festival
Art Detour
Every March, Downtown Phoenix explodes with eye candy like a giant piñata – nearly every art studio is open to the public (including those typically closed on First Fridays), and maps and free shuttles guide visitors to the more than 100 participating sites. A kids’ activities area, biking and walking tours, food trucks and live music round out this cultural rodeo.

Best New Museum
Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West
Fans of the Old West can take a step back in time here, with collections of saddles, spurs and badges; displays of paintings depicting encounters between settlers and Native Americans by classic and contemporary Western artists; a trove of historical images featuring icons like Wyatt Earp and Cesar Chavez; life-size bronze sculptures; and more. 3830 N. Marshall Way, Scottsdale, 480-686-9539,


Best Showcase of Local Music
Los Dias De La Crescent
Launched last November, this annual bonanza of bands at Civic Space Park (424 N. Central Ave., Phoenix) is free and filled with Phoenix’s finest music acts (the inaugural event included bluesy funksters Black Carl, alt. rockers Gospel Claws, the “gypsy rock” of Dry River Yacht Club, punky jazz band Playboy Manbaby, and several others). Food trucks and a full bar complete this party in the park. Tickets available through Crescent Ballroom, 308 N. Second Ave., Phoenix, 602-716-2222,


Best Music Event That’s Probably Kaput
Viva PHX
We had a mahhhvelous time at Charlie Levy’s Downtown, multi-venue music festival last sping. Featuring several dozen local and national acts – many squirreled away in remote alleys and blink-and-miss-them dive bars – it was the kind of immersive urban event we need in Phoenix. Unfortunately, Viva PHX may not happen in 2016. According to Levy, scheduling conflicts with McDowell Mountain Music Festival down the street (which we also love) may consign VP to the sonic dustbin of history.


Best Place to Play with Fire
Dragon Training Class at House of Cirque
Torch House Studio’s sideshow school offers classes from stilt-walking to burlesque, the most intriguing of which is a monthly fire-breathing class that would make Daenerys Targaryen proud. With the aid of experienced “danger artists,” beginners 18 and older learn to safely take a mouthful of fuel and spit a plume of flame – no scales or tail required. 2026 N. 11th St., Phoenix, 602- 380-5455,


Best Local Band
This band of brothers – literally, they’re siblings – had a multi-platinum single in the enduring and energetic “Come with Me Now,” which also found its way onto TV (WWE pay-per-view events) and film (Expendables 3). Though originally from South Africa, the Kongos – Daniel, Dylan, Jesse and Johnny – have lived in Phoenix since 1996. In 2014, Epic Records released the band’s major label debut album, Lunatic, which cracked the top 10 on multiple Billboard charts.


Best Music Venue
Celebrity Theatre
With just 2,650 seats and no seat more than 70 feet away from the stage, this “in-the-round” venue gives audiences an intimate entertainment experience, whether they’re coming to see classic rockers Heart, filmmaker Michael Moore on a speaking tour, the Brian Setzer Orchestra’s big band show, lucha libre wrestling or any of the many acts that take to the revolving stage. Constructed in 1963, the cake-shaped building is the Valley’s more enduring concert venue. 440 N. 32nd St., Phoenix, 602-267-1600,


Best New Music Venue
Valley Bar
Little sister to event promoter Charlie Levy’s iconic Crescent Ballroom, Valley Bar is as close to an old-school speakeasy as Downtown Phoenix gets. The intimate stage, neon-lit bar and primo bar food – conceived and cooked by the Short Leash Hot Dogs folks – make for a chill, hip hangout where dance nights, free literary readings and the occasional comedy show fill out a lineup of musical up-and-comers like Fairy Bones and De Lux. Bonus: It’s in a basement. We love basements. 130 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-368-3121,


Best Comedy Club
Stand Up Live
You can certainly catch a rising star at Stand Up Live, but the Downtown Phoenix club’s calendar this fall reads like an all-star casting call for a riotously funny sketch comedy show: Tom Green, Bob Saget, Adam Carolla, Jon Lovitz, Charlie Murphy and Rob Schneider, to name a few. Before getting earfuls of belly-buster jokes at the comedy club, patrons can grab some “belly washers” at any of CityScape’s myriad bars. 50 W. Jefferson St., Phoenix, 602-719-6100,


Best Original Christmas Décor
Christmas Tree at AZ88
The décor at AZ88 has always been artistic and edgy, and the Christmas “tree” is no exception. Valley artist and creator of those unusual Christmas decorations, Janis Leonard, died in 2014, but her AZ88 legacy will long be remembered. From 1992 until her death, Leonard created unique trees made from unusual materials including Barbie dolls jarred in colored water, chipped martini glasses, ‘70s era platform shoes, paper clips and safety pins. 7353 Scottsdale Mall, Scottsdale, 480-994-5576,


Best Air-Conditioned Free Workout
Scottsdale Fashion Square
When summer slams the Valley, sometimes our outdoor workouts can hit the skids. For a free, air-conditioned alternative, put on your walking shoes and drive to Scottsdale Fashion Square. Depending on where you park, you can clock about two miles by walking both levels, but you have to hit all the alcoves and hoof it up the escalators. Window-shopping is optional. 7014 E. Camelback Rd., Scottsdale, 480-941-2140,


Best Barcade
Mill Avenue’s 7,000-square-foot eatery and video gaming mecca is stocked with 60 flat-screens and more than 600 games on a virtual Old Testament of consoles from NES and Genesis to PlayStation 4. The best part? The under-21 crowds are kicked out at 10 p.m., making late-night hours perfect for swilling draft brews while cursing out your buddy for busting more Mario bricks or beating your Xbox Gamerscore. 699 S. Mill Ave., Ste. 201, Tempe,


Best New Pop Culture Event
Phoenix Comicon Fan Fest
At just $30-$35 for a weekend pass, the newly added Fan Fest is a more wallet-friendly and intimate alternative to the 75,000-attendee madness of Phoenix Comicon. Its inaugural lineup included 400 merchandise vendors plus appearances by The Exorcist’s Linda Blair, Avengers illustrator Mike Mayhew and cosplay cutie Autumn Ivy – with the added bonus of 62-degree weather that made walking around in head-to-toe spandex a breeze. University of Phoenix Stadium, 1 Cardinals Dr., Glendale,


Best Book Club
First Draft Book Club at Changing Hands
Far from the typical literary snoozefest that defines most book groups, Changing Hands’ newly added club merges two of our favorite pastimes: booze and bestsellers. Participants score 20 percent off the required reading (past entries have included Tim Johnston’s thriller Descent, and the late Kent Haruf’s Our Souls at Night) plus one complimentary wine or beer from the onsite bar. 300 W. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-274-0067,


Best Place to Play Ms. Pac-Man for Free
Joe’s Italian Ice
Among the peculiar vintage artifacts decorating this frozen-treat emporium – including gas station pumps and a deep-sea diving helmet – is a “cocktail table” unit of the erstwhile arcade favorite. The Ms. Pac-Man machine is set for “Free Play,” so you can enjoy a game after your cup of tasty ice – or during, if you can eat one-handed. Try the watermelon, by the way – it’s delicious. And we’re not talking about the one on the screen. 2019 S. McClintock Dr., Tempe, 480-907-7077,


Best Low-Rent Amusement Park Decor
Castles ~n~ Coasters
Granted, the muralist who embellished this Metro Center kiddie-play mecca wouldn’t have made Michelangelo or Diego Rivera lose sleep. But the imagery shows surreal wit – elephants battling Viking longships while a short-order cook flips burgers on the beach; airborne characters like Tarzan, Peter Pan and Humpty Dumpty adorning the Sky Diver; and Frankenstein and the Wolfman riding the the park’s Patriot rollercoaster together. The oddity helps take parents’ minds off their emptied wallets. 9445 N. Metro Pkwy., Phoenix, 602-997-7575,



Best Non-Yoga Studios to Take a Yoga Class
Unroll your mat in new places and say namaste to warrior pose among art, hair and beer.

{9} the Gallery
The scenery is as stimulating as the body contortion at this gallery and mixed-use space, which also sells tea and gluten-free pastries. The space hosts yoga classes monthly; prices vary. 1229 Grand Ave., Phoenix, 602-258-0959,

Abloom Salon
As part of its “Inner and Outer Beauty” campaign, this clean-air salon and art gallery hosts a community yoga class on Sundays at 10 a.m for $5. 1301 Grand Ave., Phoenix, 602-258-1141,

Huss Brewing Co.
Is prost pose a thing? The microbrewey offers “Downward Drafts” – aka yoga on the brew deck – on Sundays at 11 a.m. for donations. Afterward, you’re invited to “retox” over a beer ($1 off). 1520 W. Mineral Rd., Tempe, 480-264-7611,



Best Kid Stuff
Best Hot-Day Diversion
Phoenix Children’s Museum
You’ll have 99 problems, but a bored kid won’t be one. From coloring labs to the magnificent, three-story Schuff-Perini climbing maze, PCM is a guaranteed energy-burner for those little nuclear reactors of yours. 215 N. Seventh St., Phoenix, 602-253-0501,

Best Place to Outsource a Birthday Party
Jambo! Park
As an indoor amusement park with laser tag, miniature golf, a mini roller coaster and more, this North Phoenix playspace is ideally suited for grubby groups of tyro revelers. Heck, why get your carpet dirty? 12046 N. 32nd St., Phoenix, 602-274-4653,

Best Nanny Service
Busy Bees Babysitting
Have an 11th hour itch to catch a movie with a Bink’s Midtown chaser? This online nanny service and its stable of responsible, background-checked, college-enrolled contractors will be there in a pinch.

Best Family-Friendly Halloween Party
Let It Roll Bowl
Instead of blood-spattered haunted houses, how about some Halloween bowling? They’re planning a costume contest and other spooky but not-too-terrifying fun for the holiday. 8925 N. 12th St., Phoenix, 602-944-4401,



Best Date Night Roundup
A demo-by-demo guide to the Valley’s best nighttime outings.

Girls’ Night Out: Painting Class at Brush Bar
Whether you fancy yourself a budding Picasso or can’t draw a stick figure to save your life, gal pals are sure to bond – and giggle – while trying to recreate featured paintings. Each artist gets a free glass of wine. Tip: If you want your respective masterpieces to look amazing, buy an extra bottle or two. 4165 N. Craftsman Ct., Scottsdale, 480-947-8700,  

True Bromance: C2 Tactical
A day at the gun range is a bro-bonding experience for most dudes, but C2 goes above and beyond with all-inclusive shooting and simulator packages starting around $60 per person. Face the undead in a head-to-head zombie rifle shootout or slay the competition sniper-style with an AR-15 Rifleman Suppressor package. 8475 S. Emerald Dr., Tempe, 480-588-8802,

Couples: Havana Nights at Dave & Buster’s Tempe Marketplace
Energetic instructor Brenda Smith paves the way for love connections by teaching sensual salsa, bachata and cumbia moves on a neon-lit rooftop every Sunday and Wednesday. The enchanted evening includes a one-and-a-half-hour lesson and hours of open dancing to Latin beats, with a full bar for proper social lubrication. 2000 E. Rio Salado Pkwy., Tempe, 480-281-8456,
Seniors: Arizona Broadway Theatre
One of the Valley’s last remaining dinner theaters, ABT caters to Boomers and beyond with a year-round lineup of classics such as Fiddler on the Roof and West Side Story. Spring for a yearly subscription to enjoy reserved seating and perks like free coffee and special event invites. 7701 W. Paradise Ln., Peoria, 623-776-8400,  

Kids: The Cages
Phoenix isn’t the best place for tossing the old ball around with the kiddos, especially come summertime. With state-of-the-art digital batting machines and prices starting at just $15 for 30 minutes of soft-toss time in an air conditioned alley, The Cages makes old-fashioned family time – sans cell phones and iPads – worth a revisit. 2511 E. Bell Rd., Phoenix, 602-923-0607,