Dark Impulses

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

And that's the way the regulars like it. It's quiet at Newman's, apart from the blaring country music on the jukebox. (Just now, Hank Williams Jr., is singing about how much he drinks and smokes and how it's not his fault, it's his daddy's.) And they leave you alone at Newman's.

Conversation is tolerated, as long as it's astute. "You know, that's pretty amazing," says a middle-aged guy watching the documentary and nursing a yellow drink. The four men stare transfixed at the lone TV screen, as a plane makes an emergency landing and technicians rush in to hose it down with . . . something. "What is that? Freon?" asks the man with the yellow drink.

The deduction pleases the others. They nod their heads, one of them never looking down from the TV. Yes, it indeed appears to be Freon.

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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Bat Hour in Gotham
12:20 a.m. -- Latins in the Sky with Gold Chains

As midnight passes and the still-wired partiers are ejected from the tamer clubs, a local Latino band fills downtown's Sports City Grill with conga-fueled rhythms. Just one couple dances, but the pair -- a Scottsdale dance instructor and her dashing man in black -- spins as though the earth's rotation depends on it. Despite the sparse crowd, the five members of Cascabel are determined to put on a show, the lead singer squeaking out frenetic violin solos.

It's Latin Night, and most of the action is upstairs at Sky Lounge, where the dance floor exceeded maximum capacity an hour ago. The room is booming as clubbers continue to pour in. The last of the button-down happy hour crowd has cleared out, making room for big hair and bustiers. Everybody's dolled up -- leather pants, halter-tops, gold chains -- and most of the predominantly Latino crowd walk in like they're on familiar terrain.

On Thursday nights, Sky Lounge plays drum & bass and house music, and the crowd is more diverse, with a scattering of gays among the hip-but-casual twentysomethings and a good mix of races -- Black, white, Asian, Mexican, Rastafarian.

Kate Roach, 25, lives in north Scottsdale and often comes for both the house and Latin nights. "One of the things we like about downtown in general is there's not as much pretense," she says. "It's not as plastic -- not all Kens and Barbies walking around. People are a lot more honest, a lot friendlier. It's easier to strike up a conversation with people. We don't really hang out in Tempe anymore because it's so college. There are more people down here in our age group."

There are also more people here with money. Everybody pays $8 to $10 to get in, and the drinks don't come cheap ($5 for a well margarita), but the prices allow the privilege of dancing 'til 2 or 3 a.m.

Upstairs, DJs Roberto and Leo spin a hip-hop number, and Latin moves give way to bump-and-grind. Dancers and fakers hit the floor in equal numbers: Some boast synchronized salsa steps; a few even know the bachata. For others, the music is just an excuse to reach out and hump someone. Psychedelic patterns swirl on overhead TV screens, and disco lights color the haze of cigarette smoke. The open patio lets in cool air, but even the spectators are breaking a sweat.

Sergio takes the mike and makes an announcement in Spanish, then repeats it in English. The body language on the dance floor, however, requires no translation.

2:15 a.m. -- Late, Late Fate

On the sidewalk a few yards before you get to Johnny Chu's bungalow-eatery-art gallery Fate, someone's scrawled a message to all and sundry in chalk: "YOU ARE NOT LOST." And indeed, after hours, all roads lead to Johnny's place, past the empty bottles of Jaegermeister and the spent packs of Camels, and into this funky, reverse speakeasy, where one can drink a bottle of raspberry iced tea and down a plate or three of pork pot stickers while sobering up.

Everyone inside is mellow and relaxed. DJ Stefan is rockin' Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" and then something by Sade. Up front is a room bathed in blue light, with a huge canvas of William S. Burroughs -- patron saint of hipsters -- watching over you. But this seems a little too out in the open, so you choose the more intimate back room, lit by a red light instead, with these squiggly, glow-in-the-dark alien paintings by some cat named Clay Elliott.

The tables are full of well-drink-refugees in vintage '70s shirts, jeans and sneakers. A Beck look-alike sporting a white trucker hat talks to another in a baseball cap and preppie windbreaker. Out of the corner of your eye, two prematurely balding pony-tailed blokes discuss films. And behind you, out of your line of vision, some guy crows, "I haven't had a job in four years!" To which someone else replies, "Congratulations."

Johnny Chu pokes his head in the back room to see how many are left, and your waiter tells you the kitchen is closed, but that you can keep sitting there if you want. "One more tea?" he asks, and you relent.

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