Dick's Hideaway
Patricia Escarcega
We love hanging out in nice places with our friends. The trouble is, nice places usually don't want us.

Dick's Hideaway has become our personal haunt when we've got a group of up to 25 party pals. There's a $500 minimum to use the room, but divided among our cohorts, that comes to only $20 each, and the money is applied to food and drink (the contract lets us know the fee can be used to cover damage to the room, too, but we've never tested it).

The place is just too cool, hidden behind a door set invisibly into the paneled wood wall of the tiny bar called Dick's Hideaway. Signs? Doorknobs? Not here. Inside, it's startlingly opulent, centered by a copper-topped table and comfy booth tables lining the wine-rack-lined walls. There's a loft above one of the booths, too, in case we feel like taking a nap.

Dishes are the best of next door's Richardson's, lauded for its creative New Mexican fare like surf and turf (tenderloin with jumbo chipotle pecan grilled shrimp, enchiladas, green chile potato and fried egg), or blue corn smoked turkey enchiladas with grilled portobello mushroom.

At Dick's, we can get as raucous as we want, and no one will shush us. That alone is worth the price of admission.

You go to an aquarium to see sharks swim around and eat little guppies, not to jump in the tank with them. So when you want to see the game of billiards executed as nature intended, go to where the real sharks swallow up the competition. It is said that the Hustler himself, Paul Newman, has frequented the Pool & Brew, and it's known to attract the most intimidating cadre of shooters you're likely to see in Phoenix. They don't care about what's on the jukebox or even what's on tap -- they're here for the dark, smoky ambiance, the eight bar boxes and the two nine-foot tournament-size tables. It's a good idea not to challenge any of these ice-veined top dogs to a game if you don't know what the extra foot is for, because otherwise you'll be wearing it out of your ass.
Casino Arizona at Salt River
When we go to Las Vegas, it's to eat at the world-class restaurants that suddenly have populated the once buffet-for-a-buck town. When we go to Casino Arizona, it's to eat at Cholla, an amazing upscale restaurant that's completely isolated from the clinging clanging sounds of machines sucking money.

Cholla is a sure bet, though, for exemplary dinners showcasing regional and Native American cuisine. This is one game we're guaranteed to win, feasting on roasted pheasant with Cabernet cassis, peppery elk tenderloin, pan-roasted Muscovy duck and "campfire" salmon with tomatillo-lime coulis.

Figuring that there's no tax charged on this Indian reservation, Cholla is in the only casino where we've ever come out ahead of the game.

Turf Soaring School
We've fallen for more "you can fly" gimmicks and contraptions than Wile E. Coyote, but with Turf, we think we're finally onto something. The school offers sightseeing rides, flight instruction, and soaring and aerobatic sailplane lessons -- and falling anvils are almost never involved.

Want to fly the friendly skies without the deafening engine noise? Take a spin in a sailplane. After you climb to the clouds behind a powered towplane, your instructor explains a few bells and whistles, then lets you take the reins. You'll even get an official pilot's logbook to commemorate your adventure.

On October 19, Turf celebrates its 35th anniversary by combining the usual rides and lessons with aerobatic demonstrations, fly-bys, a barbecue, live music and dancing. (Remember to show your Mile-High Club membership card to enjoy special promotions and discounts.)

Best Song To Request From A Mariachi That's Not "Guantanamera"

You're feeling no pain from all of the margaritas you just drank. The mariachi is blaring song after song in a language you don't understand. But you enjoy the music and even recognize some of the songs. ("Wow, I like that one," you think as you hum along.) And the more you drink, the more you want to participate. Finally, you gather enough courage to request a song from the guy with the big hat and oversize guitar -- "Guantanamera" or "La Bamba," you say in your best Spanish. But there's so much more to mariachi than that.

Since Arizona has a large Mexican community, an abundance of Mexican restaurants and many occasions where you might be around a mariachi, we thought it would be only right for us to provide our readers with the following list -- to fit every mood:

If You Want to Break Up With Your Ex -- "Volver, Volver"

Sample lyric: "Return, return, return to arms again. I will arrive where you are; I know how to return. Return, return, return."

If You're Looking for a Mexican Version of "My Way" -- "El Rey"

Sample lyric: "With money or without money -- I always do what I want. My word is the law."

If Your Lover Is Out Loving Someone Else -- "Paloma Negra"

Sample lyric: "I am tired of waiting for you, and the morning is not here. I don't know whether to call down evil or cry for you -- black dove, where are you?"

If You're Broke but in Love -- "No Tengo Dinero"

Sample lyric: "I don't have money, and nothing to give. All I have is love."

Or If You Just Want to Hear the Best Feel-Good Mexican Song -- "La Negra"

Sample lyric: The words make no sense. But every mariachi plays it, and the crowds love it!

Ben Avery Shooting Facility
Seldom does the thought of camping conjure up images of submachine guns, unless you're camping at Ben Avery Shooting Facility, where nothing says "outdoor fun" like the sound of full metal jacket shells clinking on the pavement. Covering 1,650 acres, Ben Avery is touted as "the country's largest public shooting facility," with 16 competitive rifle and pistol ranges, as well as clay target, archery and airgun ranges -- and, of course, the campground. Yeah, you have to place your targets by hand, and it's hotter than hell in summer, but it's worth it just to have an open range with nothing but a mountain (and a paper cutout of a guy's head) in front of you. Ben Avery is a great place to sight in your rifle, network with other shooters, or just drop a few hundred rounds after a hard day. But the real reason we love it: Thursday nights at 7 p.m., women shoot free.

Excited about collecting all 50 state quarters? Screw that. Nedra Soloman has a state-centric collection with some bite. Inside her Katydid Insect Museum -- reputedly the only such establishment west of the Mississippi -- is a display case with space allotted for an insect from each state. (Should you find yourself in North Dakota anytime soon, perhaps you could pick her up a little something?)

In the pest-control biz since the 1960s, Nedra and husband Al decided two years ago to share their global assortment of insects, arachnids and reptiles -- all pinned, caged and encased in exhibits named for Nedra's granddaughters.

Not drawn to a building full of black widows, snakes, termites, tarantulas and Happy the downhearted iguana? Say a quick prayer to Gratus of Aosta (patron saint for the fear of insects, duh) and face your phobias. Thanks to Nedra's knowledge and charm, the whole ordeal somehow avoids The Silence of the Lambs creepiness and becomes a pleasant educational experience. After all, this is the home of a turtle that nods hello and a scorpion about to birth 25 babies. How could it not be a place of joy?

As its name implies, it's a hamburger joint. But what other burger-n-bun shack offers Saturday afternoon tea (Long Island, though), a champagne Sunday brunch, prickly pear margarita parties, Sex and the City viewing parties, service-industry happy hours, karaoke, dollar disco daze, gay lifestyle festivals and fashion shows? Only the same place that, alongside its certified Angus beef burgers, proudly serves Dom Perignon. What better to complement a bleu cheese and bacon burger than a bottle of the $150 sparkly? It adds a certain joie de vivre to a chile size smothered in onions, or a meaty mushroom burger loaded with Cheddar and jack. Mary, you make us proud.
Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park
The 1.5-mile hike through the Boyce Thompson Arboretum is gorgeous and deeply informative any time of the year. But only in fall, as you walk down through the steep-walled Queen Creek Canyon, do you pass through hundreds of different tree species from ecosystems around the world changing colors together. It's a palette seen in few places on Earth. And surprisingly, most visitors come to the Arboretum in the spring, leaving the paths fairly quiet during this spectacular show.

One caveat this fall, though. As with much of Arizona, the drought has taken its toll on the plant life, so this autumn likely will be a replay of last year, when severe heat and dry conditions muted the colors.

As for the details: Admission is $6 for adults and $3 for children 5 to 12. Children under 5 are free. The Arboretum is open every day of the year except Christmas from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and is just about a half-hour east of Apache Junction on Highway 60.

Apache Stronghold Golf Club is becoming the hot summer golf spot for Phoenix golfers looking for something very different -- and a little bit cooler.

Part of the Apache Gold Casino/Resort complex east of Globe on the San Carlos Apache Reservation, Apache Stronghold is probably best enjoyed by the under-10-handicap crowd. Not only is it long -- more than 7,500 yards from the back tees -- but just about every shot awaits a disaster of some sort. Lightning-fast greens drop away into trouble, and undulating fairways and hidden doglegs pull even the straightest ill-conceived shots into the high Sonoran Desert.

Expect at least five shots added to your score. But also expect the hurt-so-good pleasure of being beaten by a great Tom Doak-designed course. And if that's unacceptable, just enjoy panoramic desert views unhindered by Valley development, or the 5- to 15-degree temperature reprieve you get coming up above 3,200 feet.

The San Carlos Tribe offers stay-and-play deals throughout the year. Your best bet: Load up the car with three buddies, drive up, play 18, hit the casino and spend the night -- all for $79 per person.

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