Dark Impulses

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

The affable Bianco mans his post at the blazing brick fire oven and nods hello to every customer in the place. Hardly anyone leaves without offering compliments to the chef.

"This is the world-famous owner," says a man in a suit introducing his lady friend to Bianco. Two preteen boys dining with dad, after receiving a polite explanation of what "basil" is from the Italian-speaking bartender, also leave with high regards for Bianco, who even pauses to say hello to them on their way back from the rest room.

"The pizza cook was really nice," one kid tells his dad. Bianco, overhearing the review, just smiles and gets back to pounding the dough.

Everyone looks like a shabby-chic rock star at Boom.
Everyone looks like a shabby-chic rock star at Boom.
Top: Curtains down at Cheuvront. Above left: Performance art at Paper Heart. Above right: Pizzeria Bianco lights up Heritage Square.
Top: Curtains down at Cheuvront. Above left: Performance art at Paper Heart. Above right: Pizzeria Bianco lights up Heritage Square.


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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The Old and the Restless
8:30 p.m. -- Acting up at the Theater

Downtown, the cultures of different generations clash nightly like a battling Bart and Grandpa Simpson.

Over at Phoenix Theatre, the curtain has gone up on yet another warhorse. This is where the blue hairs come to watch plays they've seen before and, if this evening is any indication, where they come to hack up a lung. There's more coughing in the audience tonight than in a TB ward.

Besides the sickly septuagenarians, this production of Noel Coward's Private Lives has drawn the PT's usual crowd of first-night theater hags, friends of the cast and drama critics, several of whom can be seen exchanging troubled glances and glowering at the record number of late-comers who've arrived well after curtain. Then there's the jerk in Row M who's talking on his cell phone, an inexcusable faux pas that's right up there with wearing jeans and tee shirts to the theater -- which, because this is a typical night out in Phoenix, several etiquette-impaired audience members happen to be doing.

Intermission provides an excuse to sneak out and head over to the Herberger, where theater patrons are better dressed but no better behaved. During Act Two of Actors Theatre's Frame 312, two patrons are snoozing and a third is enjoying a noisy conversation with his seatmate about where he was when JFK was shot -- that is, until a fourth patron throws her playbill at them.

9:20 p.m. -- Hot Pink at Boom

Entering Boom, just a few blocks away, is like stepping into an alternate universe where no one ages past 25. The boys, with their shaggy, dyed black hair and vintage tee shirts, look like long-lost members of the Strokes. The girls favor an early-'80s look -- nostalgic, for them -- with off-the-shoulder striped tops, polka dotted dresses and plenty of thick black eyeliner and punky platinum hair.

On Hot Pink Fridays, the music is heavy on the '80s sound as well. Nellson Noriega, a 24-year-old graffiti artist and kids' dance instructor, comes here every week for what he calls the "good mix of decade music. Nostalgia music." Over a pounding beat remix of "Tainted Love," first-time visitor Tim Elliott, a former Goth who tonight brightens his wardrobe with a yellow blazer, remarks it was nice to hear Adam Ant played earlier.

While the scene may be a kicky blast from the past to the twentysomethings who frequent Boom, it's a blast that would nonetheless flatten the old folks lost on their way to the Herberger. On the club's large dance floor, in a second room adjacent to the bar, a thick fog swirls while lasers and strobes flicker in fuchsia and green and a throbbing remix of a Hot Hot Heat song plays at extreme volume. A skinny go-go boy writhes alone on a platform near the entrance to the room, and two girls dance with several shirtless guys around a pole on another platform in the middle of the floor. Two fierce, towering drag queens dominate the back end of the room. Nearby, three rockabilly girls stand watching, while dozens of people crowd around a second bar along the wall, and attempt to talk over the deafening din.

9:45 p.m. -- Squaring Off at Circles

There's a place downtown where the two cultures come together -- and even then, a glass wall separates them.

Hanging in the front room of the Circles record store on Central, surrounded by bins bursting with vinyl disco singles, are homies and freaks and a couple of drag queens, all waiting to spin platters on the store's turntable. Sheek Louch is rapping on the sound system now, and some party-primmed girls are busy checking their reflections in the wall of gold records.

Around the corner, the chick at the curvy wall of listening stations is crooning so loudly to the Elf soundtrack (right now, she's doing a dead-on impersonation of Eartha Kitt singing "Santa Baby"), she's drowning out the rowdy remix of Elton John's "Are You Ready for Love." One of the queens hollers, "Girl, you sell that sour note!" and the baby gangsta at the turntable snickers and says, "Tha's my lady."

All this action is lost on the tonier crowd next door in soundproof Circles Classical, a separate store where the strains of Murray Perahia performing Bach English Suites blends with a polite discussion about which recording of Sibelius' Violin Concerto in D Minor, Opus 47 is better: Salvatore Accardo's on PolyGram, or Anne-Sophie Mutter's on Mercury. Beyond Classical's revolving glass door, a lobby squabble has broken out between one of the drag queens and a young discophile who's snagged the last copy of Chicken 'n' Beer by Ludacris.

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