Dark Impulses

At night, downtown Phoenix is a ghost town except for a few bright spots

We wined her and dined her, and danced with her under the stars -- all the while searching for that heart of gold. We even stuck around long enough to buy her breakfast.

It's a Soused World
5 p.m. -- The Happy Hour cruise

Cruising the downtown Phoenix happy hour scene at 5 p.m. is a little like rafting through "It's a Small World" at Disneyland -- appropriate, given Jerry Colangelo's theme-park-like plans for the district. The only difference is, all the smiling wooden animatronic hula dancers and Arabian princesses are replaced by bushed office workers, eager night-outers and hard-core daylight drinkers.

Top: Tagging the Brickhouse. Above: Tiki talk at Bikini Lounge.
Top: Tagging the Brickhouse. Above: Tiki talk at Bikini Lounge.
Top: Big laughs at Amsterdam. Center: The men all pause at Newman's. Bottom: Big Al's -- karaoke worth dancing to.
Top: Big laughs at Amsterdam. Center: The men all pause at Newman's. Bottom: Big Al's -- karaoke worth dancing to.

Details

Contributers:
Elaine Bell, Quetta Carpenter, Joy Hepp, Brendan Joel Kelley, Paul Kix, Jill Koch, Michele Laudig, Steve Lemons, Christopher O'Connor, Robrt L. Pela
Photography by Emily Piraino



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Around each turn downtown is an entirely different group of natives enjoying an entirely different environment. But, just as the strains of Irish rock blaring from the front door of Seamus McCaffrey's blend into the slow blues wafting up the stairs from Monroe's across the street -- which in turn gives way to the loud Mexican pop blaring from the cranked jukebox at Newman's Cocktails -- everyone at happy hour is singing a different version of the same song: Work's done, nighttime s coming, and boy, could we use a drink.

This, of course, is the theme song of happy hour hotspots everywhere. The unique thing about initiating an evening out downtown, though, is that these wildly different variations on the same theme all blend together. Particularly after you've had a few.

A quick stroll down Central, beginning at the newly quaint, brick-lined Portland Parkway and extending to the bus depot on Van Buren, takes you past at least three distinct pockets of humanity. Beginning with the round table of tie-loosening off-duty executives enjoying a Hennessey at pricey Portland's, beyond queer-eyed young men taking refuge in the plush furnishings and pulsing Euro dance beats at Amsterdam, just north of the ruins of boarded-up bar fronts, and ending up down among the surly early drinkers determinedly extinguishing the fires of workday aggravation at the unapologetically divey King's Cocktails, you can discover more variations on a single personality type than in an entire Jungian psychology class.

Mind you, there are some scary stops along the ride. One ex-patron of King's describes the two-room watering hole as "a filthy place full of hardcore drunks," where "fights break out regularly." This is true, some say, of virtually any downtown establishment boasting on its outdoor signs, "Cocktails/Package Liquors" (of which there are plenty). At Pete's Newsroom, on First Street south of Fillmore, a fallen soldier already lies passed out in the nearby parking lot at 5:15 -- a sure sign of killer happy hour specials.

Fortunately, there are pleasant turns along the downtown happy hour cruise, as well. The pretty young waitresses at Majerle's will welcome you sweetly at the door and then entice you to find a spot around the crowded square-shaped bar, where you can quietly nurse your fantasies about ever actually talking to them again. And, on the outskirts of downtown (but worth moving the car for), it's always a pleasure to stumble in through the kitchen of the 50-year-old Durant's and be warmly welcomed by distinguished, dapper men and women in black, whose genteel smiles assure you that your money is good here.

The View From Top to . . . Topless
6 p.m. -- Appetizers at Rain

Downtown is sophisticated or seedy, depending on your point of view. And depending on what you come downtown for, that view can be changed with a walk or an elevator ride.

While the sexy young women passing out glossy strip club invites to all the single men leaving the sports arena may make downtown visitors feel they've landed on the Sin City Strip, Rain on Central, the newly renovated topless club previously known as the Jungle (and made famous by all that glossy post-game litter), is actually the sole oasis of adult entertainment in the downtown Phoenix area.

It's also, surprisingly, one of the district's most whimsically decorated clubs. About $150,000 reportedly went into the renovation, and it looks like most of the money was spent on props salvaged from the old Kon Tiki on Van Buren. Stretched along the periphery of the north wall is a bamboo thatched roof sprinkled with ornamental lights. Behind the stage is an immense Temple of Doom-style skull, lit with colored lights and a waterfall running behind its gaping mouth.

It would make a great place for a kid's birthday party, if it wasn't for all the topless women walking around -- and tonight, the selection is diverse: petite, Amazonian, Asian, blonde, brunette, pierced. Sultry electronica, bump & grind hip-hop, and strip club classics by the likes of Guns N Roses pound over the loudspeakers as a faint aroma of perfume, mixed with scents of the steaks and fried appetizers being devoured by the after-work crowd, permeates the air.

Of course, most of Rain's regulars don't pay much attention to the ambiance. The tables situated around the stage fill up quickly during happy hour with laborers in matching work shirts angling for an intimate view of the gleaming silver poles and their handlers. In the far corner, lounging on two couches facing a big-screen TV (which is currently showing a blank screen), big spenders shell out $20 for a couch dance -- twice the cost of the table dances.

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