Earlier this year, New Times celebrated the cream of the crop with our 36th annual Best of Phoenix edition. Here are our top picks for places to hear music in metro Phoenix.
Best Venue for Local Acts: Crescent Ballroom Local bands aspire to perform at Crescent Ballroom, and when they get there, it makes drinking the Honey Badger (Crescent's signature cocktail) all the sweeter. After coming up through the bottom rungs of the Phoenix music scene, playing house parties and bar gigs with no PA, playing the Crescent is like playing Madison Square Garden, and only the crème de la crème of local bands headline the venue's stage. The Crescent opened in 2011 and in just three short years has become synonymous with the local music scene. With killer burritos and other culinary options created by chef Chris Bianco by day, and a salivating mix of local and national acts by night, the Crescent is the place you'll find yourself more often than not if you're a fan of live local music.
Best Venue for National Acts: Orpheum Theatre The Orpheum Theatre is, quite frankly, gorgeous. Originally opened in 1929, the theater boasts 85 years of Phoenix history, including time as a Vaudeville house and a Spanish-language cinema. In 1984, the theater joined the National Register of Historic Places, and when the city of Phoenix finished renovating the place in 1997, it was clear why. With gargantuan Spanish Colonial murals adorning the walls, it's easy to feel dwarfed by the larger-than-life décor, which is the perfect setting for a concert. Unfortunately, the Orpheum is criminally underused as a music venue, but when the rare opportunity to see a national act -- like St. Vincent in May -- arises, it is a treasure.
Best New Music Venue: The Pressroom Once home to a printing press in Phoenix's warehouse district, the Pressroom formerly was the site of Madison Event Center, which hosted raves and underground events. Relaunching in 2013 as the Pressroom, the 1,000-person venue came in with a bang, hosting occult rockers Ghost BC, the PHX AM afterparty with Death, the Allah-Las, and Dam-Funk, and Caliente Summer Jamz. With a massive sound system, the Pressroom features an indoor and outdoor bar and has the potential to become one of the premier venues in downtown Phoenix.
Best New Nightclub: Cake Nightclub Every new nightspot in Scottsdale gets long lines out the door -- for the first couple of months, at any rate. The real test is whether people are still willing to come out and line up long after most everyone's gotten a look at what's inside. In the case of Cake, which opened in January, its staff is still dealing with big crowds and no signs of slowing down, so we'd have to dub it a success. What's the draw? The staff of comely, lingerie-wearing CakeDolls might have something to do with it, as might the aerialists and burlesque performers who strut their stuff amid the club's stylish chateau-meets-bordello décor. When most of its neighbors surrounding Saddlebag Trail club zone are geared toward flat-out partying, Cake offers panache in addition to a staff of highly selective doormen who allow young and hot females to cut to the head of the line. Cake, in essence, takes the cake.
Best Nightclub: Maya Day and Nightclub Maya Day & Nightclub has existed for less than two years, but it has sailed to the top of the short list of places where you want to be seen when you go clubbing in Scottsdale. Boasting A-list DJs on any given weekend, with a smattering of great lesser-known talent filling in the gaps between headliners, Maya makes running a great nightclub look easy. Inside, the place is like a twisted circus, with a pounding electronic dance music soundtrack. We've seen fire-breathers, go-go dancers, and a metal-clad, spark-shooting electric saw dancer we had never seen before (and haven't since). And that's just on the inside. Atop the building is one of the Valley's best pools, where you can kick back, enjoy a Valley sunset, and revel in the closest thing to a Las Vegas nightclub experience that Scottsdale has to offer.
Best Rock Club: Joe's Grotto Don't let the location fool you -- tucked in the corner of an unassuming strip mall in North Phoenix lies Joe's Grotto, a bar and music venue that hosts some of the best rock and metal shows in the Valley. The place has a killer stage (lights included!) and a screaming sound system capable of doing justice to everyone from your friendly local alternative band to the distorted chaos of a touring death metal band. Two nights a week, you'll find open mics on the smaller of the venue's two stages, where amateurs get a chance to strut their stuff and perhaps be broadcast live on KWSS 93.9 FM. And the owner, Joe Grotto (yes, that's his real name), is always ready with a grin and easy conversation. What more could you want in a rock club?
Best Punk Venue: Nile Theater/The Underground Punk (and its many subgenres) is one of the few types of music in which top-tier acts get up close and personal with their fans. Barriers are pretty much the least punk rock thing ever. A punk show without at least three crowd-surfers is considered a dull affair. The Nile offers intimacy in the best ways possible -- from the cavernous yet cozy, 800-capacity main room, which hosts bands like Against Me! -- to The Underground, the Nile's 300-capacity basement, home to local shows and touring acts like Circle Takes the Square. Go to a show here and rub shoulders with punk scenesters of all ages, and if it's a particularly good performance, watch the kiddos rock out on stage and dive back into the crowd. The Nile's two-fisted approach to music easily takes the cake for best place to see punk rock shows in the Valley.
Best Jazz Joint: The Nash It didn't take long for The Nash to establish itself as the preeminent spot in Phoenix for jazz. The venue opened in April 2012, and before you could say "Louis Armstrong's cigar-sized joints," it was offering a full slate of top-notch jazz performances and educational classes. The venue feels like an old-timey New York City jazz club (minus the cigarette smoke), and the Nash's BYOB policy only serves to augment the speakeasy feel of the place. Take a seat anywhere within the cozy confines and you'll get crisp, near-perfect sound in a picturesque setting for a jazz show, and catch any genre, from Dixieland to traditional to free.
Best Blues Club: The Rhythm Room Bob Corritore's venue gets the nod for best blues club not just because it consistently hosts the best blues shows in town, which it does. It's the whole package that the owner brings to the table. Corritore is more than just a venue owner. He's a musician and a tireless promoter of jazz and blues. From his weekly five-hour radio show on KJZZ to his nonprofit Southwest Musical Arts Foundation to his weekly jam sessions with his cast of Phoenix blues regulars, Corritore and the Rhythm Room are synonymous with Phoenix blues. When longtime Rhythm Room general manager and barmaid Mona Lisa Watkins hung up her apron this past April, the Rhythm Room threw a huge blues party in her honor -- a testament to the community Corritore, with the Rhythm Room, has enabled.
Best Rockabilly Bar: Rips Ales & Cocktails Bust out the Bettie Page bangs and tack on the tattoo art, because you're going to want to blend in with the best of them at Rips Ales & Cocktails. Although this Central Phoenix dive bar doesn't do much to draw attention from the mainstream masses, the acutely concave roof and retro signage reels in a specific type of local with a particular sense of style. On a regular basis, Rips puts the "rock" in rockabilly with must-see musical acts, alternative dance parties, proms, and promotional giveaways. Since its mid-century beginnings, Rips has remained a hotbed for hipsters and hot rodders alike. Consider it the pin-up that doesn't give up.
Best Country and Western Nightspot: Dierks Bentley's Whiskey Row As much as we love our two-stepping and country tunes, we don't always want the full honky-tonk experience on a night out. Sometimes we want a place that splits the difference between being a regular nightclub and a spot where you can let our inner cowboy show. That's when we head to Dierks Bentley's Whiskey Row. Nestled in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale's nightlife district, this bar keeps you in the middle of the action but embraces boots, hats, and other Western apparel. The dance floor isn't the biggest, but it's always crowded with guys and gals who know how to bust a country move. Best of all, there's live music nearly every Thursday and Friday night.
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