The Cool Index

Phoenix has always been hot. But can it ever be cool?

A few years back, Sloane McFarland did something a lot of creative young people from Phoenix do. He left.

And then he did something unusual. He came back.

McFarland is an artist. You can see his video work on display at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, in a one-man show called "Child of God." McFarland is also a businessman, and you can see that work in a couple of slump-block buildings on Central Avenue, just north of Indian School Road.

These days, the city is divided into two groups of people, it seems -- those who drive back and forth on Central, craning to spot the barely visible sign for Lux Coffeebar, and those who drive right to it.

For anyone in the know, Lux is the place to be at the moment, the gathering spot for artists, architects, academics. It is not unusual to see Phoenix City Councilman Tom Simplot or Phil Gordon, the new mayor, having coffee among the white vinyl couches and patrons in black leather.

What is unusual is that Lux is here at all. Inside, it's hard to believe you're not in Seattle. And, in a way, you are. Three years ago, Daniel Wayne and his wife, Felicia Ruiz Wayne, approached McFarland, who had recently purchased the building with some family money, and told him their idea, to replicate a coffee bar they'd owned in Seattle.

McFarland said yes, and the Waynes ripped the place apart, exposing the ceiling, building an espresso bar and making it their own. Daniel's mother, Judy, started a pastry shop in a corner and named it after her granddaughter, Paloma. McFarland took the back of the building for his studio and business office, which he named "Martha + Mary" after two of Christ's disciples.

Another small office became "Country Fair," a music recording project McFarland designed in the spirit of the days when you could go to the fair and make your own 45 in a booth.

Even the building's rest room is an art installation, designed by local ceramist Curt Stickler.

For a while, the spaces adjacent to Lux sat empty. McFarland invited local artist Jon Haddock to paint on a blank wall in one of the spaces. Haddock created new work each day, which McFarland painted over at night. McFarland also composed music to go along with the artwork.

Sloane McFarland met Chris Bianco one night, at Bianco's pizzeria downtown, and the two started talking about putting a sandwich shop next to Lux, where Haddock had been painting. Late this summer, Pane Bianco opened.

So did Passage, a boutique featuring the work of local designers. Sarah Walker runs it. McFarland met Sarah and her husband, Charles, at Lux. Passage carries a line of aprons made from vintage fabric, called "Edna." McFarland's grandmother, Edna, makes them. Charles Walker and Sloane McFarland also have a side business, collecting junk.

McFarland owns another building south of Lux, where the Waynes intend to open a dance studio devoted mainly to flamenco. To the north, another building will likely be a bar someday.

He doesn't like to talk about upcoming projects, but McFarland will say that he's about to open a restaurant in a small, refurbished diner on 10th Street and Roosevelt with Peter Deyo, who used to own The Table, an organic restaurant downtown.

Like everything about Sloane McFarland, who looks like an oversize Davy Jones with luminescent blue-green eyes, and favors the sock-and-sandal approach to fashion, the artist/businessman's office is a little unorthodox. There's a lot of recording equipment in the corner. The concrete floor is covered with neat rows of papers -- APS bills, title documents, the 2003 Farmers Almanac -- and there are sticky notes all over the place, printed with the slogan: "What if the hokey pokey really is what it's all about?"

One of McFarland's favorite topics is "what it's all about." The 30-year-old father of two leans back in an incredibly uncomfortable-looking orange, white and yellow latticed lawn chair, and talks for hours about the meaning of life and how it relates to slump-block buildings.

It sounds odd to say it, but Sloane McFarland is the Jerry Colangelo of his own little world. It sounds even odder when you hear McFarland talk about what he does and why he does it.

McFarland doesn't want to own sports teams. (And that's good, since the family money he's using for his current business pursuits would likely not sustain such a lofty goal.) And for McFarland, it's not about making money, or even about making coffee or sandwiches. He's going through a personal evolution, he says, involving his relationship with God, his family and the place where he grew up -- Phoenix. He came home from San Francisco to pursue that through both art and real estate.

"It doesn't matter if you're working with video, music, businesses, food, ideas," McFarland says. "It's really about where is it all coming from and what are you processing and what are you hoping to give?

"I'm really searching to heal as a human being, and that includes where I came from and where I'm going and where I am now."

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