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Best Of 2008

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Best Of :: Bars & Clubs

Best Music Venue for Local Acts
The Sets

Sure, The Sets hosts its share of mid-level national shows (everything from punk legends The Dwarves to underground hip-hop act Bear The Astronaut), but this massive venue hosts more local shows than national ones and, indeed, more local shows than any other venue of its size. The bulk of The Sets' calendar is filled with Valley artists' gigs, from local indie rockers Kinch and rising Phoenix death-metal stars Abigail Williams to hip-hopper Intrinzik and folk-rock heartthrob POEM. With Kim LaRowe (former booking agent for the now-defunct Mason Jar) handling business at The Sets, the venue's become known for providing a great atmosphere for local artists to hold their CD-release parties. That's pretty sweet for locals, as The Sets has one of the largest club stages in Tempe and a state-of-the-art sound system. Bands won't get bored between sets, either, as The Sets has a large game room, an outdoor patio, and three full-service bars (so singing snockered is easier than ever).

93 E. Southern Ave., Tempe, 85282
MAP
480-829-1822
Best Place to Shoot Darts
Clicks Billiards

We've got a passion for anything old school. Vinyl's way better than MP3, Grandmaster Flash will always trump Jay-Z, and the original Nintendo is far more fun than the Xbox 360. And when it comes to the game of darts, we prefer old-fashioned boards made from sisal fibers to them new-fangled electronic Galaxy machines. Call us crazy, but we prefer it when our darts actually stay sunken into the target after we throw them, instead of falling to the ground (which usually happens with plastic-tipped darts and worn-out machines). It's just one of the reasons why we've dug aiming our steel-tipped darts at bull's-eyes available at Clicks. While most Valley bars and clubs feature an array of the aforementioned electronic dart units, this east Phoenix pool hall follows the less-is-more philosophy, with three bristle boards available. Another plus is the place's pub-like atmosphere, which is somewhat fitting, as the sport originated in Britain. There's also a gigantic big-screen sitting close by, just in case you wanna catch a D-Backs or Suns game while beating your buddies at a game of "cricket" or "round the clock." Don't get too distracted, however, as the owners would prefer it if you didn't miss and accidentally put someone's eye out.

3935 E. Thomas Rd., Phoenix, 85018
MAP
602-220-0859
Best Arcade
Golfland SunSplash

Video games are an absolute religion for some people. Magazines like GamePro and Electronic Gaming Monthly, their bibles; digital heroes like Master Chief and Mario, their gods. And arcades like King Ben's Castle at Golfland SunSplash are virtual temples, where vidiots genuflect (so as to better insert tokens, natch) and become joystick Jesuits among the 200 different games available here. Even though home systems like the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 dominate the gaming world, the arcade is still packed with teens and 20-somethings eager to show their stuff on such old-school units as Centipede or Street Fighter II, as well as rack up high scores on newer games like Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune and Aliens: Extermination. This palace of play also boasts numerous racing simulators, fighting titles, and beat-matching dance pad games (such as Dance Dance Revolution and its ilk). Plus, the snack bar offers pizza and other snacks for between-game cravings — but make sure to wipe your hands before heading back to the action.

155 W. Hampton Ave., Mesa, 85210
MAP
480-834-8319
Best Countercultural Carnival
Sadisco*

You won't find any death-defying rides, outrageous animals, or complicated midway games at a monthly Sadisco* affair. Just freaks . . . and plenty of them (like, enough to fill an insane asylum or a sideshow). Be they leather-clad rivetheads, mayhem-craving punks, or gloomy Goth types, the monthly dance parties put on by the debaucherous dance collective draws out nightcrawlers of every stripe interested in some countercultural fun. Each edition of Sadisco* (shorthand for "Sadistic Disco") goes down at one of several rotating Valley clubs and features a fantastically freaky theme, with décor, costumed revelers, and activities to match. J-Heads hosted a raucous edition of "Fight Club Sadisco" (where patrons engaged in fisticuffs, à la the Chuck Palahniuk novel); the now-defunct Shayna's in Scottsdale was once the site of "Sadisco in the Land of Mistreated Sex Toys" with dildo and blow-up doll decorations; and Homme Lounge gave up space for "Sadisco* Goes to Leary's * Town: The S*uicide Cool-A©id Test!" All of the bizarrely bacchanal action is backed by a hardcore soundtrack of industrial and EBM music courtesy of resident DJs Squalor, ///she///, 5arah, Blonde NOize, and $&M, as well as various bands. If you dare to sample the strangeness, bring some earplugs in addition to your pleather pants.

Best Musical Carousel
Celebrity Theatre

The musicians, singers, and comedians that hit the stage at Celebrity Theatre not only get to perform in the round but get to experience the rotating stage, which may be as unique an experience for them as it is for us. How do we know? Well, Celebrity stage newbies tend to remark on their rotation virginity, while returning artists often express their fondness for the ride. The circular motion is slow enough not to be jarring for performers and playfully pumps up the intimacy that Celebrity is known for. If all the world's a stage, it's nice to see a stage that mimics the world right back.

440 N. 32nd St., Phoenix, 85008-6205
MAP
602-267-0186
Best Place to Catch a House Show

Mill Avenue may be known as Tempe's main drag, but you'll find us off the beaten path, most weekends: There's a sleeping sonic giant just steps away from Mill known as Mitchell Park, an old-timey 'hood built between the '30s and '60s. Some of our town's best musical talent, such as Foot Ox, Bri White, James Fella, and the members of My Feral Kin, reside in the area loosely bounded by University Drive to the north, 13th Street to the south, Roosevelt Street to the east, and Hardy Drive to the west.

When the neighborhood's guitar-wielding and drum-whacking residents aren't playing at more traditional Tempe spots like Cartel Coffee Lab and Three Roots, some will open up their living rooms for open-to-the-public shows at places called The Manor and Bike Saviours Co-op. Thing is, these gigs aren't very well promoted, so be sure to troll MySpace for e-announcements or Eastside Records for paper fliers.

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Best Music Venue for Local Acts: The Sets

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