BEST LOW-END WORKOUT 2004 | Lincoln Family Phoenix Downtown YMCA | Megalopolitan Life | Phoenix
Who wants to dress to impress for a workout? Who wants to pay big bucks for the privilege of getting sweaty in public? And who really thinks that prestige matters when it comes to pumping iron? Nobody here, obviously. The Y is an ego-free oasis of self-improvement, and if its diverse membership wasn't so darn friendly and outgoing, you might never be able to tell the secretaries from the attorneys, or the techies from the art gallery owners. Camaraderie usually stems from butt-kickin' yet fun classes such as hatha yoga, Cycle Reebok or power step, but even if you're a loner who shows up to do some time on the treadmill or in the weight room, you'll be part of a community before long.

Like any worthy Paradise Valley woman, the Spa at the Camelback Inn had a lot of face work done recently. And, boy, does she look good. Even when her locker room was a little run-down, Camelback Inn still ran the best spa. We've always loved the tranquil pool area, the thick white terry robes, the impeccable nail, face and body services. But after a little lifting and tucking, the spa is better than ever. The hot rock massage is still the best in town, and so is the pedicure. Everything good has been preserved, just spruced up a bit.

And isn't that the sign of the best plastic surgery?

Readers' Choice: Camelback Inn Resort and Spa

Since Swell's merger with the more commercial Spin Records earlier this year, the shop's become the hands-down only place to go whether you're looking to drop the new Jay-Z joint into your next set, or you're in need of some underground breakbeats to juggle. Scope Swell's vintage section if you're looking to drop a Van Halen mash-up, or just browse the extensive selection of wax and check out the beats on one of the shop's eight headphone-equipped turntables. Then go blow up the spot with your new crate full of vinyl.

Readers' Choice for Best Place to Buy Hip-Hop Music: Zia Record Exchange

We were delighted to find this gem of a coffee house, nestled beside a frame shop across the street from Arizona State University. Three Roots has all the ingredients of the perfect college coffee house. There are plenty of comfortable places to sit, including tables for laptops and couches for lounging. The lighting is perfect, the walls painted deep shades and hung with interesting art (what we saw on a recent visit looked like human organs set in wax), with great music playing (that particular morning: the soundtrack from The Royal Tenenbaums). There's a bookshelf, a basket of toys and a place to register to vote. The drink selection is broad, featuring Revolution tea produced in Tempe, and the place even serves wraps from Cafe Lalibela around the corner. We overheard interesting snippets of conversation and noticed that on her break, one of the servers was weaving on a loom.

We have to go now. But you know where you can find us.

Any place where Jaime Pressly, Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton have dirtied the sheets, we're sold on. Since this precious, modernist boutique hotel opened in Old Town Scottsdale earlier this year, it's been a magnet for the elite, the famous, the rich and the beautiful. Other than the lovelies already mentioned, Ice-T and wife Coco have been spotted partying at the James' ultra-hip J Bar, Woody Harrelson spent the weekend in one of the James' posh suites watching movies on a 42-inch plasma television screen (one comes with each room), and Mikhail Baryshnikov and Jimmy Kimmel have dined together in the James' highly rated Fiamma Trattoria restaurant. So just think, when you have a drink at the J Bar, you're kicking it with Ice-T. When you enjoy a plate of pasta at Fiamma Trattoria, you're supping with Jimmy Kimmel. And when you sleep in one of the James' gorgeously appointed rooms, you're sleeping with, uh, Woody Harrelson. Or maybe you're having a slumber party with Jaime Pressly, Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton all at once. Hey, it's a free country. We won't judge.

They leave well-rested, well-nourished and well-traveled. But at Metcalf House, a hostel that's more like a home, guests sometimes leave almost as much behind.

The historic hostel is on Ninth Street between Portland and Roosevelt, and part of its charm resides not only within the wood and brick crevices of the almost century-old house, but also in the knickknacks, art and handwritten musings of travelers past. Once you make it through Metcalf's lush front entrance of bamboo, ferns, palms and cactuses, you'll find a handmade cuckoo clock left by a German tourist above the living room fireplace. Tacked to the ceiling above the dining room table are more than a dozen portraits drawn by a visitor who spent six months at Metcalf House. Others leave foreign currency on windowpanes, helpful hints for getting around Phoenix (in foreign languages), or flags of their home country draped across one of the 18 beds the hostel provides.

For $15 a night (or $30 for the hostel's only private room), guests get plenty in return. Manager Sue Gunn is known to mother weary travelers with tidy and cozy accommodations, and the backyard firepit -- with a great view of the downtown skyline -- provides ample ambiance for a night's worth of conversation.

All true arcade rats know an arcade is only as good as its service technician. Joysticks get jiggly, DDR dance pads crack, and occasionally a sore loser will even take a swing at a defenseless video screen. When games go bad, gamers go elsewhere -- unless the arcade has a tireless technician like Robbie Fenwick, the geeks' go-to guy at the Golfland-Sunsplash arcade in Mesa. Fenwick presides over the hundreds of driving and fighting games, pinball machines and especially the music-oriented games that are Golfland's specialty, ranging from three DDR machines to instrument-simulation games like Drum Mania, Guitar Freaks and Keyboard Mania, motion-sensitive dance games like Dance Freaks and Para Para Paradise, and even a Korean DDR competitor called Pump It Up. As a bonus, Golfland's proximity to the Sunsplash water park also makes it the only arcade in town where you can catch girls in bikinis dancing on the DDR machines -- which is not always a good thing for Fenwick. "A good portion of the problems we get here happen because we're right next to a water park," Fenwick says. "So people get all wet and then they're playing on the machines. Water and electricity -- not always a good mix."

Every amusement at Jillian's is ridiculously expensive. A single game of air hockey will cost you a whopping two dollars; premium games like Hyperbowl will set you back a five-spot. Heck, even Ms. PacMan can't be had for less than a dollar. So it's a mystery how the price-jacking demons managed to overlook the entertainment complex's 12-lane bowling alley, where you can bowl a game surrounded by cool art deco couches, six multimedia screens, a DJ booth and a fully stocked retro bar for about the same price that stodgy old AMF center down the street charges. At $3.25 per game ($4.25 after 5 p.m.) plus $4 for shoes, the compact, stylish strike zone is the best-kept secret of the kingpin crowd. "My boss says we're only a quarter higher than the regular bowling alleys," says the bubbly brunette behind the counter, eager to assign you to one of the usually empty lanes. Best bonus: no leagues!

The world of wrestling -- um, we mean sports entertainment -- is not unlike the realm of baseball, at least when it comes to tapping new blood. Each has its own version of the big time (World Wrestling Entertainment and Major League Baseball) and an underlying stratum of regional farm clubs serving as a training ground. But that's where the similarities end. The D-Backs draw from the diamond of the Tucson Sidewinders, and WWE wrangles rasslers from the rings of promotions like the Valley-based Impact Zone Wrestling. The biweekly show at The Sets in Tempe serves as an opportunity for "workers" to hone their skills and iron out gimmicks. Out of the countless combatants who've graced IZW's squared circle, a few have even made it to the majors. Ring announcer Justin Roberts has occasionally worked the mike on WWE TV shows for more than two years now, and Matt Wiese, formerly known as Horshu, is currently getting the back of Kurt Angle as Luther Reigns on Smackdown. IZW regulars Navajo Warrior and GQ Gallo also will routinely perform in "dark matches" (or untelevised bouts) at local broadcasts of WWE programs.

Besides, when's the last time you saw one of the boys of summer fling a chair around? Oh wait, never mind.

Like just about everything else once dismissed as silly kid stuff, go-karts have raced into the mainstream of grown-up extreme sports. The F1 Race Factory, bordering the Tempe gateway just south of 48th Street and Washington, requires a valid driver's license to race its modified European karts -- each outfitted with a speedy Honda GX 270cc motor and Yokohama racing slicks -- and serves beer and wine in its Trackside Grill (although tipsy karters are subject to Breathalyzer tests). Plugged in to the Valley's import racing subculture, F1 has hosted Saturday night "Show Your Sh*t!" car shows in its parking lot and has lately become a favorite training ground for the drifting crowd. Regulars consider driving the low-down karts as the purest form of racing -- as close as you can get to feeling every twist and turn on the track without having to peel yourself off it.

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