ARTS & CULTURE (Editors)

Written by Matt Cole Category: Best of the Valley Issue: July 2013
Group Free

Lifestyle & Entertainment



Best Unorthodox Workout
Circus School of Arizona

If you think yoga is a yawn and Pilates is passé, you might want to try going to the circus. At Circus School of Arizona, you can take beginner, intermediate and advanced classes on everything from trapeze and tightrope to aerial hoop and contortion. Private classes and party packages are also available, so you can bring your own clown car of pals to monkey around with. 7432 E. Tierra Buena Ln., Scottsdale, 480-292-7360,


Best CrossFit Gym
CrossFit Forbidden

Let’s be blunt: CrossFitters can be swarming-mosquito-obnoxious, with their selfies and Facebook updates. But we never doubt for a second that CrossFit Forbidden devotees get a great workout, with the gym’s cavernous state-of-the-art facility and Desert Warrior competitive training program. Daily classes, showers, sports supplements, nutrition advice and even a sports physician are available on-site for the CrossFit faithful. 16099 N. 82nd St., Scottsdale, 480-440-4469,


Best Women-Only Gym
True Revolution Fitness

Scottsdale’s True Revolution fitness offers a whole host of daily classes, nutrition advice, workshops and even an online program tailored for women looking to improve their physical fitness. A premium on body positivity puts this gym above the competition. 13610 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 520-261-3610,


Best Exercise for the Hot Housewives of Maricopa County
Beginner Burlesque Classes at Studio VaVaVoom

Led by local performer Lucy Morals and her sultry sidekicks, VaVaVoom’s beginner burlesque classes are as much about building self-esteem as they are increasing sex appeal. By the third or fourth class, the gloves come off. Literally. At the end of an eight-week session, you’ll be fluttering your feather fan à la Dita Von Teese (or twerking it like Miley Cyrus, depending on what you’re going for). 825 E. McKellips Rd., Tempe,


Best Non-Crowded Hike
Tom’s Thumb

You’ve seen Tom’s Thumb poking up on the northeast corner of the 101, but chances are you haven’t hiked up to the trail’s wall-like namesake. The trailhead is on the north side of the McDowell Mountains, which feels like leaving the Valley for desert wilderness. It’s about a 4-mile trail and is classified as “moderate,” so you can get a workout without needing base camp. The view is unbeatable, and you’ll almost never get trampled by a shirtless bro blaring his tunes (see: Camelback on a Saturday morning). 23015 N. 128th St., Scottsdale,


Best Space Age Weight Loss Scheme

Ready to tackle that stubborn fat building up on your hips, thighs and stomach? Using vacuum and compression technology, the Hypoxi method activates your body to burn specific areas of fat and cellulite while you perform low-impact exercise. You simply put on the compression gear, hook up to the treadmill or bicycle and let the technology work its magic. Beam me up, Scotty. Studios in Phoenix and Scottsdale,


The Arts

Best Art Collective
Phoenix Fridas

Nine creative entrepreneurs embody the spirit of Chicana artist Frida Kahlo in this collective, founded by Kathy Cano-Murillo (see: Best Craft Blog) in 2004. What began as a crafting gathering for Latina artists blossomed like the vibrant flores in Kahlo’s work to become a powerful force in the local art community, with the group hosting art demos, collaborations and special mercados.


Best New Art Gallery
Unexpected Art Gallery

The giant sign by the pool table that reads “MEATS” really isn’t out of place among the large-scale art at this 7,200-square-foot gallery; in fact, MEATS was here first. It’s a holdover from the gallery’s former life as Miller’s Store Fixtures. Since opening Unexpected Art Gallery in November 2015, owner Ben Smith has seen the two-story warehouse roar to life with art exhibitions (including psychedelic collages by L.A.-based Ellierex and the works of self-described “subversive Chicano figurative painter” Eric Almanza), workshops and laser light-filled secret parties by Epic FX. And don’t forget the spirited skee ball and pool games… over by the MEATS. 734 W. Polk St., Phoenix, 602-638-1313,


Best Place to See Street Art
PHX Alley of the Arts

PHX Alley of the Arts puts a sprawling street art gallery right in the guts of the city: César Chávez overlooks the Virgin Mary while sombrero-wearing sugar skull characters dance in fire across from a phoenix bird rising above the city skyline. A collage called “THROW UP YOUR MIND” mixes everything from grimace-face flowers and ghostly butterflies to teddy bears and R2-D2 in an eye-candy soup. Abstract black and white shapes dot the back of another building, in a pattern reminiscent of a dress model Twiggy might have worn in the ‘60s. Arizona artists Carlos Rivas, Thomas “Breeze” Marcus and Lalo Cota contributed significantly to the collaborative visual cornucopia, which has turned this dismal, dumpster-dotted drag into a smoke-break and bag-lunch destination. Alley behind Monarch Theatre, from First to Second Street between Adams and Washington streets, Downtown Phoenix.


Best Hidden Art Gallery
Tieken Studio and Gallery AZ

In 2015, local artist Fred Tieken opened a gallery hidden behind his Paradise Valley home to showcase his whimsical art and the work of others. During a show, the gallery opens up to Tieken’s eclectic sculpture garden that features a giant glowing bug in neon shades of turquoise and purple. Tieken offers the space to nonprofit groups for fundraisers or special events. The gallery is open by appointment only or during an event. 5202 E. Gold Dust Ave., Paradise Valley,


Best Local Theater Company
Arizona Theatre Company

Having narrowly escaped its own drama of a funding crisis this year, Arizona Theatre Company will see the curtain rise on its 50th season – a season which includes The River Bride by Marisela Treviño Orta (winner of the National Latino Playwriting Award), modern provocative political drama King Charles III, the classic musical Fiddler on the Roof and the world premiere of an original Sherlock Holmes mystery called Holmes & Watson. Such eclectic stage fare pleases both season ticket holders and the theater-curious, and the quality of ATC’s productions, from the settings and props to the actors and artistic direction, elevates its programming above that of the many other fine theater groups in the Valley. 455 N. Third St., Phoenix, 602-256-6995,


Most Underrated Arts Venue
Mesa Arts Center

The Valley’s arts scene tends to coalesce around a few choice spots: Downtown Phoenix, the Phoenix Art Museum, Old Town Scottsdale (though not as much as 10 years ago). However, Mesa Arts Center should not be overlooked – it offers live performances, gallery openings and a yearly festival. With the forthcoming presence of ASU in downtown Mesa, it will only have a greater role in the future. 1 E. Main St., Mesa, 480-644-6500,


Best Theater Food
Arizona Broadway Theatre

Dinner and a show doesn’t have to mean pizza and Netflix. Now in its 12th year, this West Valley venue offers a one-of-a-kind experience, combining a passion for food with live entertainment. Under the capable hands of Executive Chef Jon Mortimer, the menu rises well above the “dinner theater” stigma, riddled with such guilty pleasures as lobster bisque pasta, filet mignon and stuffed salmon, plus cocktail specials that complement the current performance. (Future idea: The Field with a whiskey sour.) The food is rivaled only by the stars on stage, with many hailing directly from New York. 7701 W. Paradise Ln., Peoria, 623-776-8400,


Best Place to See (and Do) Photography
Art Intersection

This focal point for photography in Gilbert’s Heritage District celebrates three centuries of techniques, from photogravure to black-and-white to digital. Their quartet of galleries showcases pics from international photographers, plus exhibits on thought-provoking topics such as immigration and the Holocaust. In the photo lab, shutterbugs of all levels can polish their digital and darkroom skills, or dip into wet plate collodion tintype. That’s pillow talk for photo nerds. 207 N. Gilbert Rd., 480-361-1118,


Best Art Studio for Kids
Rachel’s Young at Art

Creativity starts at a young age, and Rachel Ober decided she wanted to start a studio where kids could spend time learning about their own creativity and their own minds. In her classes and camps, young students get to do everything from conventional painting to “simply sensory” classes, where they paint with their hands, toes, toy cars — pretty much whatever they can find. 6990 E. Shea Blvd., Scottsdale, 480-621-6155,


Things to Do

Best Way to Feed Your Mind
Spirit of the Senses

Harkening to the salons of 18th-century Paris, this coterie of curious minds hosts around 120 intimate discussions a year in Valley homes, plus bicoastal pilgrimages to cultural and academic meccas. Speakers have ranged from cosmologist Lawrence Krauss to Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, and topics are an intellectual pot-au-feu, including “Europe After Brexit,” “How Physics Makes Us Free” and “An Evening of Classical Guitar.”


Best Free Event
Meet Me Downtown

As Petula Clark so perceptively sang, “Things will be great when you’re downtown.” That’s what several Phoenix-focused organizations had in mind when they launched this lively 3- to 5-mile lap from the CBD’s skyscrapers to RoRo’s galleries. Every Monday, around 200 fitness-philes socialize while walking, running or beating the heat with a kickboxing class. Restaurant deals, raffle prizes and free parking boost the bonhomie.


Most Impressive Organ
The Mighty Wurlitzer at Organ Stop Pizza

Yikes! Put that thing away! Purported to be the largest Wurlitzer pipe organ in the world, this behemoth boasts nearly 6,000 pipes, 244 keys and a console that rotates on an 8,000-pound hydraulic elevator. That’s impressive, but it’s the organ’s thundering sound that will blow you away. Be sure to ask veteran organist Charlie Balogh to play the theme from Star Wars. You’re welcome. 1149 E. Southern Ave., Mesa, 480-813-5700,


Best Movie Theater Snack Bar
Harkins Camelview at Fashion Square

Now that Harkins Camelview has moved to Fashion Square, the local cinema chain has upped its snack bar game. In addition to the usual popcorn and soda, moviegoers can now order cheese and charcuterie plates, hummus, kettle nachos, coffee drinks by Cartel Coffee Lab and cookies from LGO Bakeshop. Pair that with a full bar in the lobby and you might be hitting the movies more often. 7014 E. Camelback Rd., Scottsdale, 480-947-8778,


Best Free Class Taught by a Celebrity Scientist
Human Origins,

Feel like a Neanderthal when it comes to human evolution? Paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson, discoverer of the 3-million-year-old hominid named Lucy, will help you sort your homo erectus from your australopithecus. The ASU scientist leads a fascinating eight-week online journey from Ethiopian escarpments to South African caves, tracing the story of us. The course is offered in real time twice a year but can be accessed anytime.


Best Coffee School
International Barista & Coffee Academy at Infusion Coffee & Tea

Becoming an alright barista takes no time at all — becoming a top-notch barista is another matter altogether. If that’s your goal, you may want to look into the Coffee Academy at Infusion Coffee & Tea. They’ll teach you from the bottom up: how to taste coffee, how to pull a mean shot, and even how to pour fun designs with latte foam. 1300 E. Eighth St., Tempe, 480-968-2533,


Best Cheap Date
Drink & Draw at First Draft Book Bar 

Nothing impresses a date more than talent. But what if she’s a world-class artist and you can barely sketch a stick figure? That’s why we adore Changing Hands’ monthly drawing night, which levels the field with the addition of alcohol. For only $8 a person, plus around $4-$5 for a pint, you can draw a live model for up to three hours. That leaves plenty of time to either show her the budding Rembrandt you are or trick your sweetie with beer goggles. 300 W. Camelback Rd., 602-274-0067,


Best Culinary Adventure
Cloth & Flame’s Desert Dinners

From the folks who brought you Float Balloon Tours comes this transportive series of bespoke alfresco conviviality. Matthew Cooley, Olivia Laux and Brendan McCaskey create simple yet stunning multi-course meals, complete with cocktail and wine pairings, set against the befuddlingly beautiful backdrop of the Sonoran Desert. The trio will also create custom experiences for special occasions upon request, so you can make a little magic of your own.


Best Combined Music Festival/Workout

Zumba class isn’t the only musical workout in town. The 2016 edition of this one-night-only festival – conceived and promoted by Charlie Levy of Crescent Ballroom fame – stretched 70 bands over 17 venues in downtown Phoenix. You have until March 11, 2017, to find a fresh pair of fashionable walking shoes for VIVA PHX’s next outing.


Best Way to Invest in Arizona
Arizona Gives Day

Organized by the Alliance of Nonprofits and Arizona Grantmakers Forum, Arizona Gives Day offers local nonprofits a chance to showcase their organizations and inspire donors to invest in their efforts. During “Power Hour,” nonprofits can also win prizes for the most money raised. This year, 759 Arizona nonprofits raised $2.84 million. Next year, Arizona Gives Day is scheduled for April 4. All you have to do is click.


Best Place to Salsa
Havana Nights at Dave & Buster’s

When local dance instructor Brenda Smith founded a Latin dance night on the rooftop of a gamer’s paradise, little did she know that her free (or cheap, in the case of Wednesday night’s $5 cover fee) twice-weekly classes would draw hundreds. Salsa, bachata, merengue and cha-cha steps are taught in a style jokingly referred to as “polydancerous,” with couples rotating partners after every few moves. Bonus: In the summer heat, D&B employs misters to cool things down. As for the “pelvic sorcery” that goes on with some of the regular couples… well, there’s no putting out that fire. Tempe Marketplace, 2000 E. Rio Salado Pkwy., Tempe, 480-281-8456,


Best Splash Pad
Scottsdale Quarter

Let’s get a couple expectations straight about splash pads, those public arenas of wet childhood frolicking and white wine-aided mommy downtime. First, they better be bigger than 10 feet by 10 feet, and they better be well-chlorinated, lest little Madison come home with stitches on her scalp and a case of pink eye. The Quarter’s luxe splash pad satisfies both these prerequisites as well as any fountain-themed horizontal play space in the Valley. It’s also conveniently located near lululemon, Apple and top-shelf retail brands – perfect for a little retail therapy after the kids have conked out.