Sometimes, karaoke is good -- if we've had enough to drink. But often it is very, very bad.

If only we had a gong. Wait, we do, at Hamburger Mary's. On Tuesday nights, friends and foes alike pack the popular gay and lesbian establishment, and pay a buck for the privilege of banging the silver saucer-shaped instrument. Whichever musically impaired maestro is cattily caterwauling at that moment then gets a 30-second countdown to double the donation or be cut off. Usually the victim will plop down the money, only to get even louder in defiance, because usually it's not about talent, but enthusiasm. The stakes get higher and higher as non-fans continue to drop in dollars, and this dance repeats itself long into the night. By the time last call is shouted, the till is overflowing and will be donated to charity.

Skin Cabaret
Remember that stunning, brunette bombshell you saw shopping in the produce section at Albertsons the other day? Remember how you thought to yourself, "I'll never get next to anything that fine"? Well, think again and pay a visit to Skin, where for a mere $10 lap dance, you can not only have that dime piece snuggle up next to you, she'll practically be wearing her birthday suit, as long as you don't count the G-string or the eight-inch heels. That's right, even an average Joe like you can feel like a playa for a day at Skin, which, hands down, has the best bods in the Valley on display in a dark, upscale environment where you can kick back, enjoy a Scotch and pretend you're in your own personal harem for the evening. The best part about Skin is that, unlike at other dollar ballerina parlors in town, you aren't pressured constantly to buy a lap dance. Maybe that's because Skin's management knows that with such an embarrassment of riches at its disposal, it's only a matter of time before you cave and empty your pockets. How else are you gonna get to rub up on Brooke Burke and Halle Berry look-alikes? Face it, bub, Skin is your only path to paradise.

Durant's
The classic martini -- not those pink, blue and yellow frou-frou concoctions that bottle blondes imbibe at chichi clubs -- has had many champions: everyone from FDR and Richard Nixon to W.C. Fields and James Bond. But we'd like to cop a quote from surrealist director Luis Bu--uel, who wrote in his memoir My Last Sigh that the making of a dry martini "should resemble the Immaculate Conception," especially when it comes to adding the vermouth. At Durant's, if you don't watch carefully, you'll miss the barkeep's addition of that "whisper" of vermouth to your martini. See, everything is done traditionally here. The glass is chilled, and the martini itself is stirred, not shaken, to prevent the "bruising" of the gin, which supposedly happens when too much water gets into the damn thing. Normally, you get two fat olives as a garnish, unless you're one of those oddballs partial to Gibsons, in which case you get two cocktail onions. (We won't even go into those heathens who prefer vodka over gin.) See, in the case of the martini, its beauty is that of a simple thing done well, and that's a lot harder to find these days than you might expect. Unless, of course, you go looking for it at Durant's. Readers' Choice: AZ 88

Clicks Billiards
In our opinion, the only sports worth playing are those that don't get in the way of creature comforts like watching TV, drinking brewskis, eating potato chips, and smoking ciggies. Sure, we'd love to compete in the decathlon, but you try doing the pole vault while puffing on a Camel and see how easy it is. That's why we'll stick to the sport of kings and rogues alike, pocket billiards, a game wherein "sinking balls" is actually a cause for celebration for most guys. When it comes to shooting a little stick in the PHX, we prefer a clean, unpretentious spot where you can enjoy some suds, inhale as much tar and nicotine as your lungs can handle, and avoid breaking a sweat in air-conditioned bliss. That's why we love Clicks. Not only does it have 22 pool tables, darts, air hockey and foosball, it's got a dozen beers on tap, all of which are invariably served to you in a frosty mug; and a full bar, including frozen margaritas -- a must for any serious pool shark. Clicks boasts a genuinely fun atmosphere, with attentive waitresses and barkeeps, as well as a general manager who's featured in a sci-fi/fantasy comic book series called The Villikon Chronicles. (Check the Web site if you don't believe us.) All we need now is for Clicks to install some La-Z-Boys so we can sleep off a drunk when need be, and the place'll be perfect. Readers' Choice: Clicks Billiards

Kazimierz Wine & Whiskey Bar
Kazimierz Wine & Whiskey Bar
The wine list here truly boggles the mind. Even the most jaded wine geeks would be tickled about the offerings, which include not only topnotch reds and whites, sparkling wines and dessert wines, but also a stellar selection of sake (hey, it's rice wine, after all). After you've found a choice bottle, sink into your cozy couch and take in some live jazz (if it's Monday night, when Margo Reed hosts an open jam, or Thursday, when different local groups make monthlong appearances), or just enjoy a dimly lighted setting for intimate conversation and gourmet menu picks, like the Barossa flatbread with pancetta, onion, apple, Gorgonzola and rosemary. It's all in good taste.

DWNTWN
Benjamin Leatherman
Where's the beefcake? Ladies 18 and up can make like Wendy's -- and get hot and juicy, indeed -- at Club Dwntwn, where the U.S. Male Revue lets 'er rip every Friday and Saturday from 8 to 10:30 p.m. And going postal never seemed like such fun. "The best of the West . . . undressed," these boys give new meaning to the term "lap" dance, licking ladies from leg to lobe. While the movie, uh, takeoffs range from hot (Dallas takes the stage -- and our breath away -- in a white Top Gun uniform) to not (the guy in the scarecrow getup? If he only had a clue . . . ), the Vin Diesel look-alike certainly knows how to fill a pair of tighty whities . . . and "Sexy Chocolate" left us more than a little curious about the contents of his wrapper. Think the best things come in small packages? Not with this male service.

Low Key Piano Bar
We have a theory about The Big Bang: Your mom will love it. Now, we have to offer a caveat. Not just any mother will appreciate this place. It's true that the first time we walked in with Mom, happy hour was in full swing and an America West Airlines employee in tight jeans happened to be gyrating across the surface of one of the two dueling pianos, singing along to Madonna's "Like a Virgin." Really, though, it's all good, clean fun, as the "dueling" piano players keep the tunes (mostly hits from the '60s, '70s and '80s, crowd favorites like "Red, Red Wine" and "American Pie") coming, and waitresses make the rounds with test tube Jell-O shots. Soon our mom was dancing in the aisles, guzzling beer and belting out "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" with the best of them.

Just don't tell Dad.

There are bars where you go to watch the games, and then there's the bar you go to be a sports fan. Not only does McDuffy's in Tempe stay true to the holy trinity of sports -- beer, big screens and betting -- it offers a little something for every sports fan.

Only a 10-minute walk from Sun Devil Stadium, which comes in handy for brewski-packing bargoers who need to sober up on the way back to the car, McDuffy's has been a favorite refuge for avid sports fans since it opened in 1988. It's got off-track betting on horse and greyhound races, and the bar boasts more than 30 beers and a reverse happy hour after 10 p.m. for those post-game munchies. With 12 giant screens and more than 70 additional televisions, it's no wonder McDuffy's is able to show every available NFL and NCAA tournament game, in addition to most match-ups in baseball, hockey, golf, boxing, water polo, wrestling, skiing, log rolling . . . need we go on?

See you there. Readers' Choice: Zipps Sports Grill

MercBar
MercBar
Slinky, suave, sophisticated, and about a dozen more s-words besides, the Merc Bar is the sort of place where you can expect to see drop-dead dime pieces in backless black dresses sipping French martinis with Ketel One and Chambord, while GQ-gorgeous guys enjoy their Belvedere vodkas straight up. The interior is dark with wood paneling plucked from some Eurotrashy '60s ski-resort flick starring Elke Sommer. And all about are low couches, chairs and ottomans that the beautiful people of PHX rearrange like some giant, earth-toned game of mah-jongg. Lush, loungey music emanates from the stereo, and for a moment you can pretend that Bill Clinton's still the prez, the stock market bubble never burst, and all's right with the world. The name refers to Mercer Street in Manhattan, on which Gotham's Merc Bar, the sister to the P-town establishment, sits. The waitresses look like supermodels, and the clientele on any given night comprises a meet market that only peddles filet mignon, if you catch our drift. The self-assured and the self-appointed make the scene, and to appear there tells the world you're a person of refinement and taste, a player who can afford the better things in life, even if you're not rich -- yet. Readers' Choice: J Bar in the James Hotel

Dick's Cabaret
Hungry for a slab of beefcake? No one could accuse Dick's Cabaret of false advertising -- the club's got plenty of its objectified namesake, bobbing in the bare air beneath rippled six-pack abs. Like their cultural kin the Village People, the dancers at Dick's Cabaret fit a flurry of fantasy roles, performing as sailors, construction workers, cowboys, and whatever else tickles their, uh, fancy. Dick's boys are hard workers, too, performing every day but Monday, when the club is closed. A warning to would-be lascivious lushes and tipsy tippers: Dick's Cabaret doesn't serve liquor -- hard or otherwise -- and no alcohol is permitted on the premises. It's a good thing the shows are so intoxicating.

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