Best of Phoenix®

Best Of 2009


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Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment

Best Hardballer

We attended a game not long after the All-Star break that proved Dan Haren is human. He gave up more than three runs for only the second time all season. On an Arizona Diamondbacks pitching staff that has been mostly dismal this year, Haren's been simply the best pitcher in the National League.

Okay, there's the San Francisco Giants' Tim Lincecum, but we think Haren's better. He may not have a better won-lost record than Lincecum, but Lincecum's on a much better team. Haren's team, on the other hand, was terrible offensively for much of the season. For the All-Star Game, there was big debate about whether Lincecum or Haren should start. And, from where we sit, Dan "The Man" was robbed. Though his record suffered because (during more than a few ace pitching performances) his offense couldn't put runs on the scoreboard, he had the best ERA in the game.

He throws hard, he's got breaking stuff, changeups. He keeps hitters guessing. We also like him because our significant other always lets us watch the game when he's on the mound. At a muscular 6-foot-5, with long dark hair, she always says, "He's too dreamy to be a baseball player" — harkening to pitcher pug-uglies like Randy Johnson, Chad Qualls, and Brandon Webb.

Best Bike Gang

If you've never seen the PhoenixPhreaks in action before, just wait until the next First Friday rolls around. This roving gang of cycling psychos (who serve as the local chapter of the national Freakbike Militia) can typically be found cruising down Roosevelt Street or in the vicinity of Bikini Lounge or the Firehouse. They're as much a part of the monthly art walk as the paintings and free cheese and crackers. Speaking of masterpieces, the modified two-wheelers being piloted are works of art in their own right. Most are ordinary bikes that have been elongated and rebuilt to resemble Harley-Davidson choppers straight outta Easy Rider (if Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda were pedaling their way across the Southwest, that is). Others have been pimped up and polished in classic cherry lowrider style. Then there are the bizarre and beautiful customizations, like Allan Greenblazer's "Green Fuzzy Chopper," which (as the name implies) is covered in emerald-colored shag carpeting. We were feeling pretty green ourselves, albeit with envy, after seeing it roll past.

Best Place to See Lowriders

The annual Cruise on Central has been happening in the Valley since the 1960s, and it embraces a proud tradition of hot rods, custom cars, and pimped-out lowriders. Generally held the first Saturday in April, Cruise on Central features a variety of vintage rides, from '70s model Chevy Impalas to '67 Chevy trucks to '41 Pro Street rods. Participants meet at Park Central Mall, just south of Osborn, and proceed south on Central Avenue in a parade of classic and American muscle cars. The event is so hugely popular that it's created problems, with hundreds of people lining up across several blocks of Central Avenue and creating traffic and crowd control concerns. Luckily, the Cruise on Central is adaptable — it'll switch dates at the last minute (as it did this year, when the April 11 cruise was rained out and rescheduled for April 18), or even switch locations (this year's cruise actually happened on Jackson Street).

Best Day of the Dead Merchandise Year-Round
Purple Lizard

We've looked high and low, and Purple Lizard — a dear little boutique in west Phoenix packed with cute linen clothes, cuter bags, and spicy-sweet candles — is the only place in town we could find that is currently selling the supplies you need for Dia de los Muertos, a.k.a. Day of the Dead. Here we can stock up the supplies to make sugar skulls (molds, decorations, and the meringue power essential to getting the sugar to stick together), marigolds (the holiday's traditional flower, conveniently made here out of paper) and all manner of skeletons. Not real ones, of course, but the papier-mâché traditionally made to celebrate the dead. At Purple Lizard, you can find a larger-than-life-size lady or a classic diorama with tiny figures, as well as books, tissue paper cutouts, paintings and other items making up the most unique collection of Day of the Dead offerings we've seen anywhere.

2827 N. 15th Ave., Phoenix, 85007
Best Go-Kart Racing
Speed Street Indoor Racetrack

Nothing gets the adrenaline pumping like a good old-fashioned auto race. For those of us who don't own a muscle car or have the cash to try the big leagues at Bondurant, there's Speed Street Indoor Racetrack, where you can traverse a third-mile track in a bright yellow speedster with a nine-horsepower, four-stroke engine. Okay, their go-karts aren't exactly NASCAR-worthy, but if you crank one up to top speed — about 50 miles per hour — it's still pretty freaking awesome. Each kart has racing slicks for advanced traction and ROC timing to clock your speed as you make a lap, and the indoor arena is temperature-controlled to reduce those nervous sweats. We're a little wary of the happy-hour special, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Fridays, but Speed Street's waiver assures us there won't be any DUIs out on the track.

6542 W. Bell Rd., Glendale, 85308
Best Indoor Rock Climbing
The Phoenix Rock Gym

Want to reach new heights but you're afraid of coming face-to-face with a rattler, scorpion, or hive of Africanized bees? Get inside. The Phoenix Rock Gym offers routes for any level climber. The Beginner's Canyon has straight vertical walls, and those without gear can rent everything they need and climb all day for under $20. More experienced? Ape up the walls of the two more technical areas of the gym, Hueco Canyon or Exit Canyon, or boulder 'til your fingers bleed. The gym offers monthly and quarterly passes, which are both reasonably priced. (For a cool $1 million, The Phoenix Rock Gym also offers a lifetime pass.)

1353 E. University Dr., Tempe, 85281

Best Hardballer: Dan Haren, Arizona Diamondbacks


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