BEST PLACE TO BUY VINYL HIP-HOP 2004 | Swell Records | Megalopolitan Life | Phoenix
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.

At the Bondurant School of High Performance Driving, there are several ways yours can become the baddest ass on the road. Bob Bondurant has been teaching Phoenicians how to drive fast and furious since 1990, and offers a variety of driving courses designed to improve skills. The "Executive Protection/Anti Kidnapping" course (four days, $3,995) includes training in "forward and reverse 180s, evading and ramming, and understanding and avoiding attacks." Sure, it's primarily designed for government and military agencies battling terrorists, but take it from John Ashcroft -- these days a terrorist is in the eye of the beholder. The asshole in the SUV who cut you off on purpose is threatening your way of life. Bondurant can give you the tools to keep the roads safe for democracy. Bondurant also offers a less aggressive (and less expensive) "Highway Survival Training" course (one day, $895). Use your own car or slip behind the wheel of one of the school's Cadillac CTSs or Mustang GTs and learn how to manage skids, how to corner safely, and the proper use of brakes.

This is one driving school experience you just might enjoy.

Firebird's Sports Compact Only events, usually held on the last Saturday of each month, are the soft-core version of the illegal street drags that have become harder and harder to find on the over-patrolled streets of Phoenix. Stunnas show off their tricked-out body kits and flaming decals, booming sound systems compete with the roar of NOS-supercharged engines on the track, and bootylicious babes bounce around on a parking lot stage competing for the title of Miss Dream Body. If it all feels too much like a pre-fab Fast and Furious package, just follow a few of the older muscle car guys out of the parking lot after midnight. There's always a 'Vette driver or two who can't resist putting the "ricers" to shame with their souped-up V-8s.

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