Best Of :: Fiesta
How One Mexican Gay Woman Found Home in a Phoenix Nightclub | Como Una Mujer Mexicana Gay Encontró Su Segunda Casa en un Club Nocturno de Phoenix
by Dulce Paloma Baltazar Pedraza
AS TOLD TO ROBRT PELA
Salvador Ojeda Wants To Keep Mariachi from Disappearing in Phoenix
What separates a good DJ from a great DJ? Possessing some actual talent helps, as does a tireless work ethic, single-minded focus, and the wherewithal to diligently pursue your goals; in short, the same personality traits that have helped Benjamin Cutswell succeed. Over the last 18 years, DJing has pretty much been his sole purpose in life. As a matter of fact, it's akin to an obsession. "My whole life is about DJing, everything I do," he says. "I'm completely consumed." Since getting his hands on some secondhand turntables at age 14, it's been a nonstop grind of constant practicing, finding music, creating mixes, networking, and, of course, performing. And there aren't many joints in the Valley where Cutswell, who spins an open format during his sets, hasn't gigged. All this dedication has paid off considerably, as he's in demand at hotspots like Cake in Scottsdale, as well as both locations of El Hefe. Red Bull also taps him to DJ their sporting events, while the jocks at Adidas fly him out to the NBA All-Star Game's host city each year to work after-parties. In the words of Drake, he started from the bottom, now he's here.
It's inevitable. When you roll up to Cake on a weekend night, there's going to be a line, and probably a long one at that. It's understandable, given the club's 350-person capacity and hotspot status. But before you start plotting a Plan B, cool your Prada heels for a bit and wait patiently. Gaining a golden ticket inside is worth the hassle, considering all the high-style digs and lowbrow thrills that await you. Gleaming with style and panache, Cake embraces Scottsdale's penchant for hedonism and excess with gusto. Boasting the vibe of a French chateau circa 1700 with its leatherette booths, gilded fixtures, and crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, the club is filled with a libertine atmosphere where drinking and decadence is the order of the day. There's also dancing, which is aided by the beats coming from the top-shelf Funktion-One sound system, widely considered one of the best in the world. The high-definition screens that adorn the walls and play videos of scantily clad ladies grinding on each other help drive home Cake's sultry verve even further, and make one want to return for another night out.
It's simple. If you want to see and be seen after dark in Scottsdale, you typically head to Maya Day & Nightclub, one of the entertainment district's more prominent and well-trafficked spots. And when you want to be seen inside Maya, you head for its expansive dance floor. After all, it's the centerpiece of the entire club, and all eyes are on you. Surrounded by tiers of VIP seating and situated in front of the DJ booth, everyone's gaze, including the evening's guest DJ, tends to drift toward the activity unfolding on the dance floor, one of the largest in Scottsdale. Glowing LED rings and banks of colored spotlights flash overhead, dancing light across all the bodies in motion as Maya's largely female clientele (and the dudes who admire 'em) get down, get their mojo working, or engage in other nighttime social rites.
The Crescent Ballroom proved to all that Charlie Levy knew what he was doing when it comes to the whole "running a kick-ass venue" thing, but his follow-up joint, the subterranean Valley Bar, might be an even better example of his vibe. It's not just cool because it's literally underground; Valley Bar books artists like Thundercat and Foy Vance — not household names, but hot acts among those in the know. And the speakeasy-vibe has inspired some of Phoenix's finest cultural explorations, hosting comedian Anwar Newton's Literally the Worst Show Ever showcase, New Wave dance night The Factory, and our favorite, New Times' Bar Flies (you know it). Valley Bar's a stalwart example that Phoenicians are an experimental and excitable bunch. If you build it, they will come.
Clad in Union Jack flags and welcoming bikers, punks, and various other counterculture-leaning drinkers, TT Roadhouse on 68th Street is about as unpretentious as it gets. Boasting cheap beers, craft brews, and signature Blue Ribbon medchiladas (with a jalapeño floating atop the beer and tomato juice) the joint wears its British pub roots proudly, and embraces the U.K. side of punk with a jukebox stocked with punk and ska. Wood-paneled and dark, TT Roadhouse certainly isn't the most high-energy place in Scottsdale, but who would prefer that to a cool, chill punk bar where the bartenders seem to be having as much fun as you and one of the tables reads "Reserved — go fuck yourself"?
Covered in stickers and a thin layer of grime, the Palo Verde Lounge isn't a nice bar pretending to be a dive; it's a legitimate, bona fide dingy watering hole. And if you've got no qualms with that, you're in for a good time. Local thrash and metal types like to frequent the place, but so do old-school Tempe lifers, the kind of guys who could tell you a story or two about the way the dusty town used to be. Sometimes bands host shows there, though there's no stage and they end taking up most of the real estate that isn't occupied by pool tables, but that's all part of the fun. You get in, belly up, and go for whatever ride the "Dirty Verde" is going to offer.
The Bikini Lounge on Grand Avenue isn't just the oldest tiki bar in Phoenix — having first opened its doors in 1947, it's one of the oldest bars in town, period. The key to its longevity is its strict adherence to core values: cheap beer, good tunes, and low lighting. There's nothing too fancy at work there (and there's weird, obscene stuff available in the bathrooms) but that's precisely the appeal of a bar like the Bikini. DJ nights are the closest concession to hip culture, but even then, DJs like DJentrification, with his long-running 602sday nights, defy trends and offer up an entirely unique experience via unclassifiable genre-hopping selections. With all the changes going on along Grand Avenue, we hope the Bikini remains the anchor of unpretentiousness we love.
Get your ducktail game on point; we're heading for Last Exit Live. Found in the historic warehouse district just south of downtown Phoenix, Last Exit Live has been around since 2013 (though it originated in 2003 as the Last Exit Bar & Grill in Tempe). This 21-and-over venue features a full-service bar and a large outdoor patio area —with the whole operation available for rent to accommodate private events. Last Exit Live also features a sizable stage in its 200-plus capacity venue for the local and national musicians on the bill, and has welcomed touring acts like the Koffin Kats, and Phoenix-based pompadour and pinup-style bands like The Limit Club, Whiskey Kiss, and Manual Sex Drive. Last Exit Live welcomes patrons to the bar as early as 7 p.m. before the show, and keeps serving drinks till 1 a.m. on weeknights and 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Queen Creek saloon/steakhouse San Tan Flat promises "all the fun of camping ... without having to sleep on the ground" on its website, but we'd argue it's actually got more going for it than that. When was the last time you dragged a real-life country band like Band Wagon out camping or packed up a deep fryer to make fried pickles in the back country? This year, management opened a Tempe location, San Tan Flat at Minder Binder, and while we like it a bunch, too, it doesn't quite have the frontier vibe of the original location out on Hunt Highway, with its open fire pits and unobstructed views of Arizona sunsets. Come to think of it, we guess it is a lot like camping, only with draft beer.
Look, getting a sports bar right isn't exactly rocket science. So can you please explain to us why so many places seem to mess it up? For clarity and ease of execution, look to local chain Zipps Sport Grill, which does it right at all 12 locations. There's nothing fussy about Zipps, no complicated menu system, concepts, or experimental "takes" on classics, just the basics done well: cold beer, burgers, wings, fried snacks, and games on HD flat screens positioned all throughout their dining rooms on exposed brick walls, at the bar, and outside on patios. The extra touches, like shuffleboard, pool tables, and darts, are nice accents, but the core of the place is as unpretentious and uncluttered as every sports bar ought to be.
In 2016, the Rhythm Room celebrates its 25th anniversary, a milestone few Valley venues enjoy. Founded in 1991 by harmonica man and blues DJ Bob Corritore, host of KJZZ's long-running blues showcase Those Lowdown Blues, the Rhythm Room has welcomed blues legends like Robert Lockwood Jr., R.L. Burnside, and Jimmy Smith, remaining Phoenix's No. 1 spot for blues, Americana, and jazz. This year, the club's roped in talent like jazz fusion guitarist Matt Schofield and Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Steve Forbert, and continues to serve as home base for local roots groups like the Sugar Thieves, Dave Riley, and Bob Corritore's own Rhythm Room All Stars.
Neighboring the Coronado Historic District, Karamba Nightclub is a boisterous Latin nightclub and gay bar — though they welcome all kinds. Featuring two large indoor areas and an expansive patio area, you can easily spread out on the dance floor or find a place to post up and drink. High-energy DJs like Jesus Vega and Stixx are there to entertain while you work it out, or you can come for karaoke, drag shows with your favorite local queens, and more risqué performances always on the calendar. There's something going on every night of the week at this festive danceteria, including Cumbia Tuesdays and Tejano Thursdays. Karamba Nightclub liquors up the public daily (and most holidays) from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. — and you're encouraged to stay and dance after the taps are turned off for the dry hours till 4 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.