Dark Impulses

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

A Scottsdale cabaret owner is currently working on turning the property around the corner from Majerle's into a "bikini bar" (translation: topless, but with pasties) -- a development the sports hero himself is fighting. For the time being, however, Rain is the only place you can actually find the brand of adult entertainment many still think is rampant downtown.

7:10 p.m. -- Cab with Cheuvront

Just up Central, the view changes dramatically. It's like a Cheers full of all Frasier and Niles Cranes at the Cheuvront Wine and Cheese Bar after nightfall -- and just a little too well behaved. Democratic State Senator Ken Cheuvront, a freshly scrubbed Boy Scout if there ever was one, watches over this, his four-month-old baby, like a 21st-century Donna Reed in pants. But he needn't worry. The crowd's mostly white, polite and happy to quietly sip their Cabs by the glass in the sleek, slightly mod environs, chatting sociably and chortling at the James Bond films with French subtitles playing on the big-screen TV.

Left: Latin love at Sky Lounge. Right: Fate owner Johnny Chu (left) hangs with the night owls.
Left: Latin love at Sky Lounge. Right: Fate owner Johnny Chu (left) hangs with the night owls.
The all-night downtown diner is alive and well at IHOP.
The all-night downtown diner is alive and well at IHOP.


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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Hand-crafted cheeses flown in fresh from New York are served on square white plates, and people stuff their mugs with the sort of smugness usually reserved for purchasing one's first Beamer.

"Unisex bathrooms?" gripes one fortysomething as he stands before the unlabelled, steel-gray doors in the back. "Hey, we're not all metrosexuals here." Actually, this distinctly European touch befuddles quite a few, but it's the only place in the bar where the clientele isn't clearly divided.

A pack of rowdy Republicans spills into the room, commandeers a few tables and starts sucking up vino like they just conquered France. They're members of the Senate Republican staff, here to celebrate a compatriot's birthday. Suddenly the Repubs are trading barbs with the Dems, and the place gets rockin'.

7:30 p.m. -- Snubbing at the Compass

Twenty-seven floors above the downtown streets, a different kind of crowd takes in a different view at the slowly revolving Compass Room atop the Hyatt. Here, men in expensive suits and women in designer shoes sink into the contemporary black leather chairs and slide into the candlelit swank of downtown's toniest (and, depending on your perspective, cheesiest) top floor.

The smoothness of the Compass Room is almost slippery, as canned Billie Holiday and muted trumpets croon over the clinking of silverware. People stream in at the rate of about two every 10 minutes. By eight o'clock, it's just full enough to be lively, without being crowded. The staff is like invisible clockwork, sneaking in just as you need another glass of Shiraz and slinking back through doors that slip away as the restaurant revolves around the kitchen and host station, making one complete revolution per hour, give or take. At a compass point of 125 degrees southeast, according to the plaque on the window, the closed-roofed Bank One Ballpark looks like a bloated bar of soap. The softness of the oil-lamp candles makes it impossible to do anything but chat like dippy characters in a Hugh Grant romance, sip your drink, and admire the view, which makes the Phoenix skyline look surprisingly metropolitan.

This is the kind of place where a love affair should be conducted, or a secret compact forged. It is languid, soft, comfortable and elegant -- in an obvious, prom-date sort of way. Far below, the city's homeless huddle outside the Central Arizona Shelter, and a few new inmates check into the Maricopa County Jail. But up at the Compass Room, turning a roving birds-eye view to the streets below, even the horndogs hustling through Rain's back parking lot appear like tiny creatures of the forest, looking up with admiration at the twitterpated Bambi and Faline.

At 154 degrees southeast, a table of businessmen seated opposite a table of single women overhears the girls bemoaning the lack of good men in Phoenix. Wine is ordered between the tables and the air becomes flirtatious.

It's going to be a good night for the women from the building next door and the men from Toldeo.

8 p.m. -- A Barstool at Bianco

People wait a long time to eat at Pizzeria Bianco, a tiny Italian pizza oven housed in one of the doll-worthy early 20th-century buildings in downtown's Heritage Square. Owner/chef Chris Bianco is the reason: a James Beard Award-winning chef who chooses to specialize in pizza -- kind of a Chic-E-Cheese for the masses.

On the porch outside Bar Bianco, the second building Bianco opened mainly as a waiting room for all the people willing to wait hours for a slice of his house-smoked mozzarella and fennel sausage delight, young people sitting around tables crowded with empty beer bottles and well-dressed couples nursing fine wines from Naples wait patiently to be called next door to dinner. "It's short for a Tuesday -- only an hour," says one patient regular. Yet even a party of one has to wait for a barstool, where he sits to wait again.

A middle-aged man in a grey baseball cap and a woman in a sparkling red evening gown chat with the bartender in animated Italian while a young man with spiky blonde hair and a Code Pimp tee shirt makes time with an artsy-looking bobbed brunette in clunky dark green boots.

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