Hollywood Alley
We all want to be rock stars, even if we frighten children when we sing in the shower, can't play an instrument, and have the stage presence of a banana slug. At Hollywood Alley's Sunday night open mike, you get your best shot to feel like a real live rock star, if only for three songs. Facilitator "Optimist" puts together a great slate of folks of all levels of talent. From a talent-free "wanna-be" to the occasional, fabulous "could-be," the evening is entertaining regardless. If you don't like one performer, just order a beer, count to 10, and it's all over. If you want your shot at 15 minutes of microcosm fame, this is the best place to do it. There's even a prize for the best act -- though rumor has it the award has more to do with Optimist's eyes than ears.

Best Place To Keep It Real In Downtown Scottsdale

The Coach House

Coach House
Lauren Cusimano
Slinging sauce since 1959, the Coach House is purportedly the oldest tavern in Scottsdale. In a city obsessed with places new and fabulous, how refreshing it is to find oneself in a charming, friendly, old-fashioned shit . . . er, watering hole.

Its homespun character rises in part from the collages lining the wooden walls, displaying the drunken-to-varying-degree visages of thousands who have passed through -- or out. And because liquor and literature are natural complements, a shelf full of paperback books sits within reach of the bar.

Singing the House's praises, perennial patron Greg mentions its "tight-knit group" of regulars. Indeed, when ex-bartender Tim enters, his name rises in a Norm Peterson-style chorus. The place is, above all, accessible. It opens at 6 a.m. daily, except on Sundays, when the sobriety of the Sabbath is observed until 10 a.m.

Best Place To Go Goth While Getting Your Fix Of The Fixx

Anderson's Fifth Estate

Anderson's Fifth Estate
Though the calendar says the '80s are long dead, the decade of Sarah Jessica Parker, hair product buildup and economic recession lives on. (Hey, wait a sec . . .)

On Saturday "Retro Nights," Anderson's marks the spot for a handful of phenomena that left the building when Reagan did: $2.50 Long Islands, Duran Duran videos and Robert Smith-grade eyeliner. Yet somehow, this place revisits the '80s without getting cheesy, campy or Scottsdale-swanky. There's no attitude here -- just sweaty young people sporting everything from Nikes to neck spikes.

Yes, Anderson's attracts a faithful throng of somber goth kids, and it only makes things more interesting. As the lighthearted revival rises in the Main Room, the goth group mopes about the Elbow Room, weaving in and out of elevated cages and wondering how soon is now. The rooms' opposing moods make for a nice contrast -- Aerosmith vs. The Smiths, AC/DC vs. ABC -- but the overall vibe is so laid-back that any spot on either dance floor is fair play, whether you're doing the dance Safety, Neutron or Humpty; walking the dinosaur or walking on sunshine; dancing on the ceiling or dancing with yourself.

Oh, no, you're thinking. Not another theme night, like "Pimp-n-Ho" or "Ghettofabulous," where normally well-dressed crowds pull out the ol' do-rags and wife beaters, or the boas and stilettos. Well, you don't have to worry about that here. No, Devil's Martini, which gained recognition as the place with the hairdresser in the ladies' room, has "Carnival," when the champion "flair bartender" has often been seen flaunting his skills by juggling bottles Tom Cruise-style. Overall, Carnival's vibe is creative and flamboyant instead of trashy and stagnant. Finally, a theme night with class!

Best Lounge That Was Tiki When Tiki Wasn't Cool

The Bikini Lounge

Bikini Lounge
Benjamin Leatherman
Since 1946, the Bikini Lounge has been the Valley's most unabashed tiki bar, and well it should be. It has everything that those Swingers-style posers would give their martini shakers for: the fake thatched roof over the bar, the bamboo light fixtures, the black-lighted batiks on the walls, and in the place of honor behind the bar, a giant painting of a topless hula girl. Or is it the Girl from Ipanema?

Then there are the added benefits: $1 Kamikaze shooters, $2 mini-pitchers of Milwaukee's Best, Roy Orbison and Tony Bennett on the jukebox (four plays for a dollar), and the knowledge that if you show up, tip well, and buy your tee shirts untested, you can still do your part to keep the posers at bay.

Sun Devil Liquors
We love wine-tastings but are turned off by what often adds up to high prices. What's up with the $65 tab for a nice dinner paired with three-ounce pours? We'd rather skip the châteaubriand and go for another cork.

Sun Devil Liquors supports our penniless status, hosting tastings of approachable wines like Kendall Jackson for a low $5. But the best deal is every day in the basement, where a cozy brick-floored wine cellar awaits. Grab one of the few wooden tables, or take a seat at the bar and groove to piped-in jazz. Sample as much wine as you like, priced from just 50 cents to $3 each. Nibble on complimentary cheeses, or pack in your own snacks. Still too rich? There are free tastings every day from 3 to 5 p.m., from a more limited selection. Cheers!

Sanctuary has revamped its old, overcrowded VIP room, and not a moment too soon. VIPers, remember what a suffocating box it used to be? Now it's bigger and better. They've even expanded it to overlook the main bar and dance floor below, so that you can really feel above it all. Of course, if you're trying to sneak in, it's just a tad more intimidating, but if you make it in, it's worth your toil.
Ice Breakers should be a chain, but it's not. At least not yet. It's got a great concept -- brew your own beer, alongside an encompassing brewery menu (sliders, Cobb salad, Reubens, baby back ribs, fish and chips, and burgers). And that personal touch adds up to a better-than-chain experience.

Ice Breakers offers interactive brewing. This means you get to brew your own beer, but, not being professional hops masters, you get a coach to guide you through the process. The deal even includes custom label design with your name, image, logo or other clever idea on each bottle. And you use the same equipment and ingredients as served in professional restaurants. You'd better really like beer, though -- the smallest batch available is 15 gallons -- a full keg (the equivalent of 72 22-ounce bottles).

And you'd also better be patient. The initial brewing takes up to three hours. Fermentation time is two weeks. Bottling the finished beer takes about an hour. How long it takes to down the final keg, though, is completely up to you.

Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa Hotel Review
As its name implies, the ultra-luxe Sanctuary Resort pampers its guests with seclusion and serenity. Elegant and intimate, perched on 53 prime acres of Camelback Mountain, the gorgeous property certainly encourages us to abandon our cares. The most stressful aspect of any visit, in fact, is deciding just where to relax as we enjoy a fine cocktail and a spectacular, rose-gold-azure sunset.

The opportunities to be impressed are endless. Perhaps we'll settle back on the outdoor patio of Jade Bar, watching as the city lights sparkle up into nighttime. It's so private it's almost a personal retreat, where we sip martinis or specialty sakes. Maybe we'll treat ourselves to dinner at the adjacent Elements restaurant, indulging in farm-fresh American cuisine sparked with Asian accents amid a sleek setting of wood, stone and fire. Wrap-around floor-to-ceiling windows mean panoramic views of Paradise Valley. Or we might just kick back by the swimming pool, an outrageous infinity-edge pool overlooking Camelback's Praying Monk rock outcrop. After the sun sleeps, the pool glows with light and dances with flames flickering from surrounding fire bowls. Simply Zen-sational.

Durant's
For more than 50 years, the Durant family has been treating us to "good friends, great steaks, the best booze and bisquits [sic]." Is there something to be respected about tradition in a virtual baby town like Phoenix? Oh, yeah. Several years ago, Durant's management (old man Durant had died) tried to shake up the system and redecorate, renovate and rehabilitate the traditional menu for modern tastes. Well, why not just call a press conference to drown kittens in the canal?

Durant's is old-fashioned, and that's it. Nothing more needed. Which is why its martinis taste so much better than anywhere else. They're served by waitresses who have worked here for more than two decades. We can have a cigar alongside, should we want. Cell phones are ceremoniously tossed. We can drink martinis at lunch, and no one in the dark dining room will tattle to our bosses. We enter and leave through the kitchen, because it's nobody's business what we're up to once we enter Durant's. Life doesn't get any better in any generation.

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