Best Of :: People & Places
Some ideas need a long time to gestate, and maybe the idea of spending your lunch hour watching live drama was just one of them. But this year did mark the return of Lunch Time Theater, an elegant little plan to coax office-workers into a theater with the promise of short, entertaining plays and cheap, crunchy lunches. Actors Theatre of Phoenix first trundled out the concept in the late '80s -- known then as Brown Bag Theater -- and it worked for a few years before going on a decadelong, er, hiatus. But in its new incarnation in the Herberger Theater Center, it seems to have found its niche -- presenting one-act plays by up-and-coming companies, while audience members chew on turkey sandwiches, diced fruit and little bags of chips. It's win-win-win. Actors get to hone their chops, troupes get to test out new scripts, and stultified office drones get some really cheap entertainment: $5 for admission and $5 for lunch, catered by Teeter House. And its year-round schedule has helped put the lie to the notion that, during the summer, the Valley's theater scene is pitch black.
BEST PROFESSIONAL ATHLETE
BEST TOURIST TRAP
Rawhide Wild West Town
23023 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
BEST USE OF TAXPAYER MONEY
BEST TV NEWSCASTER
BEST NEWS STATION
KPNX Channel 12
BEST ART GALLERY
Phoenix Art Museum
1625 North Central
BEST THEATER TROUPE
Phoenix Theatre's Little Theatre
BEST PLACE TO ACT LIKE A NATIVE PHOENICIAN
Bank One Ballpark
401 East Jefferson
BEST LOCAL HERO
How could one guy hurt so many people and maintain the highest approval rating of any elected official in the county? We've gotta hand it to you, Sheriff Joe: You are one fine politician. We'd like to bottle the sheriff's elixir and sell it for those interested in doing good, rather than evil, but for now we'll applaud Arpaio for making the decision not to run for governor this fall. The mark of a good politician is not just knowing when to run, it's knowing when not to run -- and somewhere beneath all that hair grease, Arpaio must have had some self-awareness (or some political consultant) telling him his record in office just wouldn't have held up in the shadow of the governor's race.
Joe Arpaio's not going to win any awards for promoting human rights, and like others we've elected, he's dangerous. But as a politician, he's got all the rest of you losers beat.
Really, we're not making this one up. Court Rich is a first-year associate at Nearhood Law Offices in Scottsdale, and a recent graduate of Arizona State University's law school. Since he'll be specializing in business litigation, he may even see the inside of a courtroom -- a rarity for a lawyer these days. But will he be rich? Remains to be seen, although he does have a head start in the public relations department. Turns out Court Rich is the brother of Jordan, who's married to Jason Rose, who runs a PR firm in Scottsdale. And Rose can already see the ad on the back of the phone book: "Need to go to court? Want to get rich? Call Court Rich. 1-800-COURT-RICH."
So often, people in our (un)fair city use their power for evil. We're happy to celebrate a couple of powerful Phoenicians who, as far as we can tell, do nothing but good.
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.
A few blocks north of Phoenix's business district sits Trinity Cathedral, the 82-year-old Episcopalian church that houses the perfect getaway for those looking for some artistic time off. Between the cathedral itself (surprisingly modern and warm inside) and Bishop Atwood Hall you'll find the Cathedral Center for the Arts show space, a light, narrow gallery that makes for the perfect aesthetic refuge. CCA hangs art there regularly, oftentimes the work of lesser-known artists, and the quality of the shows is consistent.
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.
The Sunnyslope Rock Garden is actually the yard of a private home in a modest neighborhood in north Phoenix. But what a yard. Grover Cleveland Thompson began constructing the odd assortment of windmills, concrete figures and fountains in 1952. Current owner Marion Blake purchased the property in 1979, and vowed to keep the odd sculptures intact, which she has, for curious onlookers to enjoy. The concrete monuments, such as a 12-foot-tall replica of Seattle's Space Needle, are embedded with shards of colorful ceramics, and pieces of animal and human figurines (Blake says Thompson favored Fiestaware for its low price and radioactive qualities). You can enjoy the spectacle for yourself the first Sunday of every month, when the garden is open to the public.
You'll never guess who we ran into the other night. Donna Summer! Yes! But that's not all! We also met Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, Gloria Estefan, the Four Tops and Elvis. It was so cool.
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.
One day we wandered into the Phoenix Police Museum, and we were charmed by the experience. It's like a little Disneyland for cops, complete with faux streetscapes. Artifacts date from the late 1800s, when officers patrolled the 3.1-square-mile city on foot, and the patrol wagon was pulled by a horse named Old Nelly. We can climb in and around a patrol car and a police motorcycle. We can try on uniforms, including a flak jacket and gun belt. We can stick our heads through a cutout full-size police officer for a photo.
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.
Until NASA perfects time travel, we'll travel to this 17-acre park to get a glimpse of the good ol' days. This home, home on the range, where the peacocks and bunnies do play, ranks among the West Valley's prettiest places. The ranch's original buildings, open for tours, are oldies but goodies -- the Main House Museum dates back to 1895, the fruit-packing shed to 1891. Outside, visitors can wander the rose garden, historic orchard, vineyard and barnyard.
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.
We long for our days spent wandering deep into New York's and San Francisco's Chinatowns, always surprised by the constant discovery of new sights, smells and sounds. But let's face it -- Phoenix can't compete. Instead, we'll just be happy that we have COFCO, the only place in town where we can gorge ourselves with Chinese culture.
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.
Every year, volunteers at the Desert Botanical Garden add to the glow of this favorite holiday event with more luminarias (brown paper bags filled with sand and a lighted candle) and more musical acts. The foliage is barely visible as you wander the brick paths through the garden, guided by the light of hundreds of luminarias, but there's more to look at than just cactus. Along the pathway you'll happen upon bell ringers, opera singers and people playing all manner of stringed instruments. Top it off with a cool, starry night and a cup of warm apple cider and a cookie, and this is our favorite way to begin the holiday season in the desert. This year, it'll be held December 6 and 7; tickets are on sale now. Be forewarned: Others like it, too. Tickets sell out early.