Nerd Culture

Best of Phoenix 2017: 15 Essential Entertainment Experiences

Courtesy of Anwar Newton
Phoenix New Times' Best of Phoenix 2017 is out now. Here's our list of the best entertainment the Valley has to offer.

Best Comedian: Anwar Newton
Ever since turning a bad psychedelic mushroom trip into online comedy gold at San Diego Comic-Con in 2014, Anwar Newton has proved time and again that he's not just good for a laugh, he's good for the Phoenix stand-up scene as a whole. On top of building a following for his own observational anecdotes, the 30-something humorist has helped shape a community of other local comics who hone their craft at Newton's shows.

Best Comedy Show: Literally the Worst Show Ever
Leave it to Anwar Newton and Dan Thomson to turn something called Literally the Worst Show Ever into literally one of the most talked-about events in downtown. The local comedians teamed up back in 2015 to launch the underground variety show, and they've been more or less selling out tickets ever since.

Best Storyteller: Stina Sieg
Whether she's describing the scene at a heartbreaking funeral for an entire family that perished in a flash flood, or recalling her hilarious journey (spoiler alert) across the finish line at her first marathon, Stina Sieg can tell the hell out of a story in all the best ways. She's a reporter for KJZZ, our local National Public Radio affiliate, where she works tirelessly to find, report, and recount other people's stories. We've also been lucky enough to hear her onstage at various storytelling events around town (including New Times' own Bar Flies), telling her own tales.

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Stacey Gordon at her Puppet Pie studio during First Friday.
Lynn Trimble
Best Puppeteer: Stacey Gordon
Phoenix puppeteer Stacey Gordon doesn't need directions to get to Sesame Street. The woman behind Grand Avenue's Puppet Pie studio has been there and back, playing the long-running PBS show's newest character Julia, a red-haired, green-eyed girl with autism. First appearing on the show's digital platform, Julia made her debut on the children's TV show in April 2017.

Best Trivia Night: Seinfeld Trivia at Valley Bar
What is Elaine's fake phone number? Which Seinfeld episode title is the only one to not start with "The?" If you could possibly know the answer to these questions, your place is Seinfeld Trivia at Valley Bar. This free, basement-based competition is known as The Trivia Night About Absolutely Nothing, and they are right. Seinfeld Trivia is hosted by Emily The Lewis, and music is often provided by DJ Shane Kennedy. Craft cans are often a dollar off, and there is but one major rule: no phones.

Best High School Musical: Spring Awakening
Spring Awakening is a 2006 rock musical based on an 1891 German play, a coming-of-age story that hits hard on themes like sex education, homosexuality, suicide, teen pregnancy, and abuse. Not your typical high school production. It was amazing to consider the timelessness of the themes, and, frankly, a little unnerving to see them brought to life by kids. Bravo to ASA for taking a risk and nailing the results.

Transformers: The Last Knight:
Paramount Pictures
Best Summer Blockbuster Filmed in Arizona: Transformers: The Last Knight
As far as escapist entertainment goes, there's nothing like a mindless action movie. And they don't get much more mindless than Transformers: The Last Knight, the fifth installment of director Michael Bay's steel-crunching, ear-splitting franchise. Viewers in Arizona, however, will have more to watch for than just the blizzard of special effects. Parts of the movie were filmed in Arizona, including scenes at Luke Air Force Base, a junkyard, and stretches of Loop 303 and State Route 88.

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Sit back, relax, and watch this modern love story unfold.
Courtesy of Street Food Cinema
Best Movies Al Fresco: Street Food Cinema
In the blazing hot Arizona summer, it's probably best to restrict one's moviegoing to traditional indoor theaters. But when the temperature drops and we can bear to be outside again, Street Food Cinema is our movie experience of choice. The concept, which began in California and headed east to Phoenix in 2016, brings together classic films, local music, and food trucks for a thoroughly satisfying night of entertainment.

Best Budget Movie Theater: Pollack Tempe Cinemas
There's an inherent joy in seeing relatively recent film releases on the cheap, but visiting East Valley real estate mogul Michael Pollack's Pollack Tempe Cinemas is an experience in itself. Bathed in strange, purple light, the theater serves as a home for a huge chunk of Pollack's collection of pop culture ephemera. It's a one-of-a-kind place, the kind of place worth scoping out even if you don't catch a matinee of that superhero flick you missed when it was in regular theaters a few months ago.

It's a wonderful film.
Melissa Fossum
Best Indie Movie Theater: FilmBar
Whether you're looking for a new indie release, insightful documentary, classic film programming, or a Big Gay Sing-Along Night, the FilmBar downtown is the place for those who want an alternative to the multiplex experience. Since opening in 2011, FilmBar has served passionate Phoenix film fans, working with an eye toward the local community.

Best Luxury Movie Theater: Harkins Camelview at Fashion Square 14
Look, call us old-fashioned, but the food service during a film screening just doesn't work for us. We like to get our snacks and drinks before the flick starts, so for our money, you can't beat Harkins Camelview at Fashion Square. The food and drink is pretty damn stellar — including coffee drinks from Cartel, craft beers, wine, and upgraded takes on standard theater munchies — and the reclining, plush seats are comfy as hell.

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Inside Cobra.
Benjamin Leatherman
Best Arcade: Cobra Arcade Bar
If you're of a certain age (say it with us: "old millennial"), you spent part of your youth hunkered down at an arcade machine, mashing buttons and jostling joysticks. Chances are less likely you did so with a frosty mug of Kiltlifter in hand. Well, young-ish person, you're in luck. Your adult and kid sensibilities now can peacefully coexist at Cobra Arcade Bar, which features incredible machines like NBA Jam, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the X-Men side-scroller, and more, along with an impressive roster of craft beers and cans.

Best Casino: Talking Stick Resort and Casino
The Talking Stick Resort and Casino in Scottsdale has it all. Roulette, slots, and keno are all on the casino floor, as well as a couple of bars and eateries. Pros can make their way to The Arena poker room, the home of the Arizona State Poker Championship. If the chips aren't your thing, Talking Stick has slots games galore.

Best Bowling: Bowlero Christown
You've no doubt noticed Christown Lanes. With its jutting angles and midcentury style, the bowling alley has long been one of the coolest-looking buildings in Phoenix, a reminder of our Atomic Age past. But recently, the folks at AMF have given the place a striking makeover and new name: Bowlero. While everything you dug about the place remains intact — from league nights to a bustling bar and arcade — the new attention is certainly an upgrade.

Best Rock Gym: Phoenix Rock Gym
People drive from all over metro Phoenix to visit the Phoenix Rock Gym, which is actually in Tempe. Sure, there are other rock gyms in the area, and some of them are pretty good. But none match the state's first rock gym for style and camaraderie. PRG boasts a terrific staff — friendly folks who take time to get to know the regulars, and who are as patient as kindergarten teachers in instructing newcomers with no climbing experience. May PRG's doors always stay open and its swamp coolers never fail.
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Elizabeth Maria Naranjo