Instead of building skyscrapers, Cindy Dach and Greg Esser are busy constructing culture. Dach is director of events for Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe. Esser runs the public art program for the City of Phoenix. Thank Dach for bringing Amy Tan, David Sedaris, T.C. Boyle and Dr. Andrew Weil to town for readings. Expect Garrison Keillor this fall. Esser gets credit for that cool mountain-like bridge over the 51 and the public art coin project along Central Avenue.
On the side, Dach writes fiction and Esser paints. In their spare time this year, they created two of the city's most vibrant art spaces.
Dismayed by the lack of artist-run galleries in the Valley, earlier this year Dach and Esser opened eye lounge, in a building they bought and refurbished. The space -- at 419 East Roosevelt, next to Modified Arts and across from the Paisley Violin -- quickly became a favorite stop on First Fridays, and, in September, Esser opened 515, a spin-off gallery just a few doors down from eye lounge.
We can't wait to see what Dach and Esser do next. We're exhausted just thinking about it.
But it also offers a kind of cathedral-like quiet that many downtowners seem to crave; the gallery's guest book is salted with thanks from midday visitors for providing an oasis where they can sit, look and ponder. Now the secret's out.
And another tip: The brickwork labyrinth in the courtyard -- modeled after one at the medieval Chartres Cathedral -- makes for another neat diversion, especially for the kids.
It was also so fake. The artists -- impersonators, of course -- are part of the Showstoppers Live performance at Casino Arizona. They play Sundays and Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m., and Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.
Okay, so we didn't exactly collect autographs. But with just 250 seats in the cabaret, we felt almost like family.
Yet the most touching thing is the room dedicated to officers killed in action. And now, there's another monument -- a wall of fame for service dogs killed in action. After the events of last year, it makes for an especially poignant moment.
A year-round schedule of old-time events keeps the ranch a-rockin'. Next up: Sahuaro Ranch Days, November 9-10, followed by Christmas at the Ranch and the "Great Quilts of the West" exhibition opening in January. In February, the Antique Tractor and Engine Show rolls in, and spring brings May's Grand Canyon Sweet Onion Festival. Whether you come to admire the doilies or the antique tractors, fun doesn't get more down-home than this.
Granted, it's still got that inescapable strip mall setup, although the best one in town -- with sloped, tiled roofs, a moon-reflecting pond and giant lion-dog statues out front. At the center of it all is 99 Ranch Market, a sprawling supermarket where exotic Asian vegetables, boxes of salted duck eggs and bags of dried squid share shelf space with grocery basics like tea and cereal.
We like to grab a boba tea -- cold, sweet tea served Taiwanese style, with a generous helping of tapioca balls at the bottom -- at the in-store lunch counter, then stroll the aisles to load up on goodies. Neighboring businesses include a couple of great Chinese restaurants, an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet, and a gift store offering glorious kitsch, from kung fu shoes and tiny resin Buddha statues to calligraphy sets and paper lanterns.
A month later, over another lunch, we sat again, and this time noticed a new message: BE UNIQUE. That may be a bit tougher, Postino, but we'll give it a shot. And we can't wait to see what the next message will be.