While it seems that Muzak has gone the way of the dodo with the advent of custom-tailored satellite radio, most eateries trying to provide a soundtrack to your visit are still guilty of offering up warmed-over MOR leftovers. In a land normally populated by Dan Fogelbergs, Anne Murrays and Billy Joels, we've found an oasis in the form of BD's Mongolian BBQ. While the do-it-yourself Asian eatery has already earned a culinary cachet, it's the house music that we've most come to enjoy.

One recent visit included eclectic mealtime platters from David Bowie ("Panic in Detroit"), the Count Five ("Psychotic Reaction") and Bob Dylan ("Stuck in Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again"). Granted, the sonic bill of fare isn't always flawless, as we were also forced to endure a predictably tepid Eagles track ("One of These Nights"). At least that blue-eyed soul stab is better than having to suffer through "Witchy Woman" or the flamenco-ized version of "Hotel California," songs that are sure to disrupt anyone's digestion. Yet despite the occasional bad bite, the bulk of the musical meals here are first rate.

Via DeLosantos Mexican Food and Lounge
Courtesy of Via DeLosantos
Tequila's not just for killing brain cells and sorrows anymore -- premium tequilas today are good enough for respectable sipping and have many of the nuances and personalities of fine wine. There are three grades -- fresh-from-the-still blanco, reposado aged in oak two months to a year, and aejo aged more than a year -- and Via DeLosantos offers them all. It has almost 200 labels, including several rated best by Bon Appétit. A sign attached to the massive tequila bottle display -- housed behind chicken-wire fencing, presumably for the sipper's safety -- boasts that the restaurant has 193 types, including Baja rose strawberry, tarantula citrus and twisted Sheila. Tequila shots are served in clever, fluted glasses that make slamming seem almost sophisticated. At $3 to $25 a shot, getting buzzed can be a bargain, or a bust.
Cowboy Ciao Wine Bar & Grill
Heather Hoch
There are other restaurants in town with longer wine lists. But they don't have what makes Cowboy Ciao so special to us -- wine flights.

What a wonderful concept -- giving us three different wines, at three-ounce pours each, for one fixed price. It allows us to sample and savor fine new wines we might never have tried otherwise.

The presentation is clever -- a heavy wooden board carved with three nooks for the wineglasses, and three nooks for the mini carafes. A long strip of paper attached to the board with a clip identifies our drinks, describing what we're drinking.

Six choices on white wine trios are offered, and seven choices on red trios. These aren't your everyday wines, either, but cutting-edge tempters like a '98 Ken Wright Chardonnay Dijon 76 clone from Oregon and a '98 Penfolds shiraz/cabernet blend from Koonunga Vineyard in Australia.

We love to lift a glass -- or three -- at Cowboy Ciao.

Ernie's
When Ernie's Inn opened three decades ago, the place was a darkly lighted, smoky rumpus room for serious drinkers looking to tie one on. A lot has changed since then. Today, Ernie's is a darkly lighted, smoky rumpus room for serious drinkers looking to tie one on and belt out a karaoke tune.

It's pure fun. The stage opens every night at 8:30, playing to senior citizens weekdays, then giving way to yuppies on the weekends. Anything goes here, except pretension. Look too serious, and you're likely to be volunteered as the opening act by one of the matronly waitresses who've called Ernie's home for longer than they'll admit.

Go ahead. Choose your poison, step up to the stage and wail with the rest of us. You're among friends -- or at least you are until you segue into "Feelings."

What's that, you say -- aren't all open mikes equally hellish? Sure, buddy, and all aspirin are alike. The difference is that this one knows it's from hell and has two hosts, Matt Strangewayes (formerly of Windigo) and Page the Village Idiot, on hand to gladly fan the flames.

With his bizarre stage introductions, Strangewayes will try to convince you the young hopeful onstage has some fleeting connection with Starcastle and Foghat. In truth, most of the musicians who perform free of charge are members of heavy bands going light for a few songs, musicians passing through town or rock-rap hybrids of the slim or shady variety.

Sure, there's an occasional "earnest" folkie who makes it through the blockade, but to counteract them there's Page the Village Idiot with his self-penned paeans about Joe Arpaio, crystal meth freaks and people with bad hygiene.

One Tuesday night when things were winding down, we caught members of Big Blue Couch backing up a guy named Russel Walton on a free-form William Shatner tone poem called "Fire the Lasers." Beam us down, Scotty -- way, way down!

Amsterdam
Once one of Phoenix's better kept secrets (there's still no exterior signage), Amsterdam is not only the city's swankiest gay boîte, but one of its most elegant, to boot.

Filled with marble, gilt statuary and a massive carved wooden bar over which pass some truly serious martinis, its charms now play host to such an ever-widening spectrum of scenesters that on some nights, the uninitiated may well wonder who's gay and who's not. Which, as it turns out, just adds to the fun.

If your clubwear passes inspection, you will feel positively famous walking into Scottsdale's premier nightspot.

Here, where the women look like reporters from Entertainment Tonight and the men look like they're drinking creatine cocktails, you will find 14,000 square feet of self-conscious decadence -- and, if you're lucky, an occasional bona fide celebrity.

Excuse us -- we're sorry, do we know you?

Readers' Choice: Axis/Radius

Pool tables, beer bottles and mullets.

Individually, not much. But toss them together in a storefront cocktail lounge and you've got sapphic synergy that just won't quit.

Taking its name from a Billie Holiday lyric, Ain't Nobody's Bizness has been the Valley's premier women's bar since long before anyone heard of lesbian-come-lately Anne Heche. And if history is any indication, Biz will be popular long after that dizzy fence-straddler has publicly exploited yet another alternative lifestyle.

Readers' Choice: Ain't Nobody's Bizness

Say, isn't that Enrique Iglesias? No, but if you manage to squeeze through the crowded, man-packed dance floor for a closer look, he'll probably be flattered to know that you thought so. Looking for the gay Mexican cowboy of your dreams? No? Well, Paco Paco dance club is probably the best place to start looking, anyway.

The cramped, strobe-lighted dance floor is always well-stocked with buff, sweaty bodies pulsating to Latin techno music. A full-length mirror runs the length of one wall for those narcissistic dancers who like to watch. It's a cozy, dark venue, mostly Latino, with a smattering of white boys for you closet Anglo lovers.

The music is popular dance remix, plenty of Jennifer Lopez and Ricky Martin, with some salsa and merengue thrown in for tradition. Paco Paco is the best the Valley has to offer in gay Latino culture, and also a great place for women who like to dance and be left alone.

What makes a superlative bartender? Good conversation? Nah, anything that delays putting a drink in your gullet is about as welcome as a speed bump. But in dealing with teeming masses of demanding patrons and egotistical musicians, it does help to have a seasoned grasp of the English language and a penchant for caustic rejoinders. One person blessed with both is Nita's Hideaway barman Ridgely Fitzsimmons, or Ridgely, as he's known to all who love and fear his acerbic tongue.

Ridgely's garnered something close to legend status among East Valley barflies for serving searing barbs in equal proportion to booze. One infamous tale even has him shooting down the free-drink requests of a couple local "rock star" girlfriends with the admonition that performing oral favors on the talent didn't entitle them to complimentary libations.

Ah, yes, Oscar Wilde couldn't have said it any better himself!

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of