Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
On Friday nights, the Sky Lounge in downtown Phoenix turns into a virtual Buena Vista Social Club, where young and hip Latinos throughout the Valley lounge downstairs and gyrate upstairs.
Afro-Cuban salsa jammers Cascabel (that's "rattle" to you) liven the atmosphere for the drinkers -- and themselves -- with their unique blend (for Phoenix, anyway) of Latin jazz, samba and Gypsy swing. Their stage sits literally outside of the club, acting as a sort of musical barker to Washington Street cruisers.
Upstairs, the place is pure salsa nirvana. The balcony is great for breathers and the back bar is jammed with cool alter-Latinos. The room routinely rocks, but not until 1 a.m., when DJs spin nonstop Latin techno-pop and rock en espaol for a packed and sweaty dance floor. If there's no room, and that's usually a given, people just make their own dance floors wherever they are. People walk, stop to dance, then keep on cruising.
Until that after-hours scene explodes, the night belongs to salsa and chicks -- lots of them. They're the prize that longhaired Mexican rockeros and Pan American salseros compete over for the honor of an electrifying dance.
Readers' Choice for Best Club for Latin: Pepin
Get your motor runnin'? Head out on the highway? Lookin' for adventure? Looking for your dentures, more likely. If you haven't already noticed, the median age for the heavy-metal thunder-riding Harleys these days is about 56, and it's the guys who stayed in med school in the '60s instead of pursuing personal freedom and white-line fever across America. So it's to be expected that this motorcycle clique making up for lost time makes its hedonistic home a chic, relatively new bar in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale, wearing more leather apparel than most wanna-be punks half their age.
Despite the metal and marble bar's proximity to the Easyriders Tattoo Parlor, most of the marked men who come in for a drink are under the age of 29 and are too smarting from being under the needle to spike the "Born to Be Mild" set. But don't you make the mistake of writing off these geezers as two tires short of a wheelchair -- they're old enough to remember how to have a good time; they punch up mostly agreeable dinosaur rock selections on the corner "Jukebox-zilla," as it is affectionately known; they drink responsibly; and on Thursday ladies' nights, they usually have a fortysomething hottie in tow.
Can your old man pull off any of this without getting clocked in the head with a fryer by your Mom? Nah, didn't think so.
(and 10825 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, 480-348-1666) The devil's in the details, and this ritzy bar knows exactly what it takes to mix the perfect mart. These toss-backs can get expensive ($7.50 for a basic recipe), but wow, they're worth it, with generous three-ounce pours of alcohol. Of course, these martinis are based on vodka (nobody uses gin anymore, it's so passé) with fruit (no olives, no onions; today's young drinkers want high-octane, cotton-candy punch). What shall it be tonight? Top picks: "Sex & the City," with Absolut Mandarin, Amaretto Disarrono, peach schnapps, orange juice and cranberry; and the "Soprano," with Campari, triple sec, Absolut Mandarin and a shake of OJ. Appetizers are needed to soak up the sting of lethally poured Stoli Razberi, served as the "Turner" with triple sec and lemon juice, or the Kaiser Soze, shaken with Stoli vanilla, Kahlúa, Bailey's, milk and Goldschlager. This is one devil we really want to dance with.
Readers' Choice: Martini Ranch
This is your cue to make a break to Kolbys Corner Pocket. Forget about those rinky-dink matchbox tables you have to pop quarters into. The 22 regulation-size tables here are works of art from the likes of Gandy, Gold Crown III and Brunswick. At Kolbys, you rent by the hour, which makes it a great destination for a group outing of wholesome fun. This place is serious about its pool and so are its patrons. There won't be some wayward drinker disrupting that crucial shot at the eight ball. Find the angle, line it up and sink into Kolbys Corner Pocket.
Readers' Choice: Clicks Billiards
There's only one place in the Valley to find and enjoy a truly great smoke -- Goodfella's. The recently opened lounge has two buildings in which to relax. The front houses the humidor that is stocked with premium cigars such as Romeo y Julieta, Don Thomas, Arturo Fuente and Montecristo. There is also a flat-screen TV and parlor sofas. If you smoke up an appetite, grab a sandwich from the deli.
A separate building in back is home to the members-only cigar club (membership is $175 a year). There's a salon fully equipped with a pool table, dart room, plush leather couches, a conference room and more. Members receive discounts on cigars and special events like televised fights. The real flavor to this place is here, in an atmosphere that allows you to enjoy your tobacco with other like-minded individuals.
Readers' Choice: Ritz-Carlton
Is there a place that meets these requirements: a) a huge selection of top-shelf liquors; b) a spacious floor plan with lots of comfortable seating; c) an outdoor area to take in some fresh air; and d) rows upon rows of beautiful men?
Yes sir! Only one place in the Valley can serve up these requirements and keep them coming -- Amsterdam. Enjoy martinis and a manicure (on Mondays) or just come every day of the week for an abundance of eye candy. Is it a coincidence that this ultra-hip bar is named after the unofficial gay capital of the world? We don't think so.
Readers' Choice: Amsterdam
No gyrating belly dancers, no velvet couches. This is just a hookah bar, plain and simple. King Tut, a Middle Eastern restaurant, lounge and de facto cultural center, was around way before the Tempe smoking ban and Gulf War II made smoking hookahs dangerously cool, so, thankfully, it hasn't resorted to becoming a glitzy novelty. The joint is relatively quiet during the day, so gaggles of ASU students stop by to relax and study between classes on the well-worn Persian couches. At night, the action turns up a notch, but only a slight notch. The seemingly endless soundtrack of Bob Marley and anonymous Arabic jams seems just a little louder and the crowd thickens mildly. Perhaps because there are no shimmying distractions, the cross-legged, barefooted patrons always seem to be engaged in lively conversation between each puff of their smoke.
Interested in shakin' that booty to good vibrations? Then shuffle your feet over to Axis/Radius. It's not one nightclub, but two under one roof. Start off at Axis, and when we dip, you dip, we dip in front of the 10-foot video screen. Bust a move to your favorite songs or enjoy live music once a week from sexy Shalom and Pazport. It's getting hot in here; take off . . . across the glass catwalk to Radius.
At Radius you will find the top DJs spinning the hottest dance music under an extraordinary light show. If you're having problems finding your groove thang, look to one of the sultry go-go dancers for it. Whichever side you are on, there will be plenty of bodies to grind; the dance floors are always packed. So get up on the dance floor (or both) and move that body to the pounding beats.
Readers' Choice for Best Dance Club: Axis/Radius
Relationships require time, money and too much maintenance in the fast-paced 21st century. Sanctuary offers a perfect atmosphere for those looking to have a little fun without any strings attached. There are seven fully stocked bars at which to lose your inhibitions, which also allows more time to make the rounds to locate that party partner for the evening. Sanctuary is always mobbed so it's nearly impossible to strike out. And with the VIP room upstairs, there are always beautiful babes flaunting their stuff on the catwalk. Head to this hot spot that has been dubbed "Skanktuary" because of the abundance of skimpy outfits and slippery morals.
Readers' Choice for Best Place to Drown Your Sorrows: Clicks Billiards
Screaming drag queens and young gays and lesbians hover like schoolchildren at recess as the mere mortal 1 a.m. threshold approaches at Boom on Saturday nights. Between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m., those players loosen up, as the men line the bar flirting with the muscled bartenders, young boys do the "diva catwalk" on the dance floor's poles and the transvestites strut in full cheap regalia. The gender signs left the rest rooms long ago, so leave the modesty behind. With local DJs spinning high-energy techno, house and the occasional Top 40 hit remix, there's enough audio energy to sustain the hot and heavy grinding on the sardine-can-tight dance floor.
Ticker Tape Parade is bashing away on the main stage inside the cavernous Nita's, and you're by the big bar, hanging with Valley scenesters, buying each other beers. Five songs into the set, you get that itch in your back, and the spigots prepare to open. It's pissing time. Buzzing as you are from all the Red Stripe, you stumble into the john and start your routine. Looking down, the message hits you in white lettering: "Say No to Drugs." Good Lord. God is speaking to you through a red urinal cake. The Big Man is making his pitch for clean living, even in one of the most energetic live spots in town. You have your little moment of clarity, zip up your pants and stumble back out onto the floor.
This is the Valley's most oddly inspirational rest-room break.
It never fails. You're at Club Freedom, and your girlfriend has exceeded her drink limit and excuses herself to throw up. You get worried about her and stand by the ladies' room. Inevitably, you'll find a girl crying in her cell phone trying to secure a ride home after a dance floor argument with a brutish boyfriend -- Victor, Tommy and Bennie seem to be names the caddish set prefer these days. Or you'll find two girls in spangly dresses with matching boobs, one consoling the other that the guy she just broke up with the month before is dancing with someone else. It's like a Dr. Phil audition. From our eavesdropping, we found one Eve complaining about her soon-to-be ex for staring at the DJ's crate of vinyl instead of marveling how wonderful she looked. Admittedly, the view from the ladies' room is terribly one-sided, but so are most breakups, and, let's face it, no one's venting anything but bravado at the men's room.
But why break up at Freedom? Maybe because its very name suggests to people it's a great place for declaring independence, whether it's from Tempe's predictable music scene or from the predictable mate they came to hear it with. Maybe it's the club's proximity to ASU and the Holiday Inn that makes for a volatile mix of patrons. The indoor fireworks seem especially incendiary on the club's hottest night, Kind Fridays, which winds from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m., leaving plenty of time for those who haven't quite found the time to call it quits in public.