If you're a chubby, pale-skinned teen eager to replace your threadbare Misfits tee with something more likely to shock your already concerned parents, you've come to the right place. The first thing that grabs your attention as you enter the shadowy confines of this hardcore metal CD store and specialty boutique isn't the severed limbs that hang from the ceiling, nor is it the not-so-dulcet thunder of grindcore assaulting your ears. Nope, it's the rows of tee shirts from local and national acts. Three double-sided racks of pitch-black printed tees await you, any one of which will announce your newfound affair with the dark lord and make you the foe of the holy rollers everywhere. Get the folks pounding the Paxil with Cannibal Corpse's "Eaten Back to Life" shirt, which depicts a rotting cadaver consuming its own entrails. Too subtle? Perhaps Cradle of Filth's "Desire Me Like Satan" tog -- with a buxom, topless woman with legs spread wide and bound to an upside-down crucifix -- might get you into group therapy double-quick. Of course, no potentially offensive outfit would be complete without a pair of spiked leather gauntlets, gargoyle incense holder and copy of Terrorizer magazine, also in stock. It's like a head shop, without all the, er, tobacco paraphernalia.
If you've driven from San Diego to Phoenix, you know there's not much to look at. On a recent summer vacay, we were almost at the end of the road -- Maricopa Road, that is, en route to I-10 -- when we noticed a sign out the window. It was one of those Adopt-A-Highway signs, you know, the kind usually sponsored by the Sierra Club or the Audubon Society. Up 'til that point, Hooters was the oddest Adopt-A-Highway sponsorship we'd ever seen. But this one really made us wonder if we were hallucinating after too many hours on the road. The Church of Body Modification, chipping in for roadside cleanup? Aren't those folks too busy suspending themselves by their nipples and ramming hooks through their back flesh? Turns out they are too busy, according to Doug Nintzel, from the Arizona Department of Transportation. He confirms the Bod Modders sponsored a mile on Maricopa Road, just south of I-10, but says that our call prompted some checking, and that after more than a year, no one had heard from the Church. So ADOT "did a modification of our own," as the witty Nintzel puts it, and stripped the Church of Body Modification of its Adopt-A-Highway status.

Ouch, that smarts.

Don't get us wrong. We love our city. But we know our limitations. And let's face it, friends, Phoenix is not the nation's music capital. It's not the music capital of the Southwest. It's not even the music capital of Arizona, for crying out loud. That title goes to Tucson.

But no one mentioned this to Esquire magazine, which recently published a music guide including an article titled "Cities That Rock: A Guide to the 10 Best Cities for Seeing and Hearing Music." Clearly, the writer was trying to be counterintuitive, since Pittsburgh and Fresno also made the list. But we really had to chortle -- and then wonder if maybe we were missing something in our backyard -- when we found our own fair city at Number 9, below New Orleans and before San Francisco.

"The Phoenix and Tempe scene is like a desert flower in bloom," Esquire reports, referencing the Format and Necronauts as the bands to watch, and Stinkweeds and Modified Arts the places to buy music and hear it, respectively.

We love Stinkweeds and Modified, but do they catapult us above S.F.?

Who knows? Maybe we should start believing our own press.

Sloane McFarland is Phoenix's own renaissance man -- an artist who dabbles in real estate. Usually it's the other way around, but this young man truly applies his aesthetic to everything he does, and, whether he means to or not, is creating community in his hometown. He's best known as the landlord at Lux Coffeebar on Central Avenue; his slump-block complex also houses the sandwich shop Pane Bianco, and Passage, a boutique featuring locally produced fashion. McFarland is one of the guys behind Welcome Diner on Roosevelt Street, and now, we hear, he's branching out to Buckeye, putting artists in a strip mall and developing other properties, spreading the wealth west.

Thanks, Sloane, for helping us to fill the pages of Best of Phoenix. We can't wait to see what you do next.

The 5,000-square-foot refuge sectioned off on the fourth floor of the Phoenix Public Library's main branch is revered by the community as a safe haven for teens, and loved by teens because someone has actually been able to create a safe setting that's not too dorky to attract the kids. Staffed by an average of five librarians specially trained to deal with teen issues, and stacked with resources to help teens cope with everything from peer pressure and pregnancy to that looming book report on The Odyssey, Teen Central has earned its reputation as a sanctuary for teens.

In fact, about the only place around TC where young people have to deal with the weirdness of the adult world is at the entrance, where older relatives sometimes hang out like the reverse version of underage kids outside the liquor store, bribing 14-year-olds to pick up that latest Sigur Rs CD from the section's 5,000-plus collection of new and recent releases -- the most current selection in town. It's no wonder the oldsters lurk jealously outside the door: Teen Central is like the dream library denied to all previous generations, outfitted with a cozy crash space surrounded by magazines and vending machines, nearly two dozen Internet-wired PCs blaring music videos and games, a wide-screen TV hosting twice-daily movie matinees, and even a small dance floor.

Best of all: In Teen Central, no one ever tells you to "shush."

One too many Happy Meals making you grumpy? Take the tots to Sabuddy's Israeli Restaurant in Tempe. You won't find toys or crayons here, although you're welcome to bring your own, but you will find a genuinely friendly, locally owned restaurant with a varied, reasonably priced menu. Kid favorites include labne (a rich, cream-cheesy spread), hummus, and thick homemade lentil soup. More adventurous kids can try the crunchy, fragrant falafel; for the truly picky, won't-eat-anything child, there's always a nice stack of warm pita bread. Best of all, the clientele, like the owner, leans to the mellow, international side -- you'll see students, academics and young families, and you'll hear a lot of foreign accents. If your child decides not to use her inside voice or stay glued to her seat, this is the kind of place where you're more likely to get a knowing smile than a dirty look. All of which helps stressed-out, hungry parents recollect the "rest" in "restaurant."

Readers' Choice: Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza

Enchanted Island Amusement Park
There's nothing Mickey Mouse about this little amusement park, but be warned that it's only open on weekends (with a few exceptions). The place looks smaller than we remember it from our youth, but to our kids, it's huge. Either way, Kiddieland has all the prerequisites for a morning of fun: carousel, train, face painting, rides. Bring a picnic lunch to eat in the park, or buy from the traditional concession stand.

We love this carnival in the middle of the city -- and we bet you and your kids will, too.

BEST WAY TO KILL TWO HOURS WITH THE KIDS IN THE SUMMER

Summer Movie Fun for Kids

Summer in Phoenix can be hard on kids -- and even harder on mom and dad. Here's a bargain you can't beat, that'll let you beat the heat, at least for a little while. Harkins Theatres sponsors a summer movie series of 10 "family films," one a week, for a total of $7 per person. We couldn't believe our luck when we stumbled on this, and one morning a week, all summer long, we kicked back in the dark while junior munched popcorn (Harkins sells a kid-friendly snack pack) and enjoyed the show -- particularly when it was Shrek. (Not Shrek 2; these are all older releases.) As you might guess, the passes go fast, so make sure you grab yours when summer rolls around again.
Terra Java Coffee House & Bake Shop
Timur Guseynov
There's a ridiculously catchy children's song that goes, "M-O-M-M-Y needs C-O-F-F-E-E, D-A-D-D-Y needs C-O-F-F-E-E," and once you've heard it, you will find yourself singing it -- especially on those mornings when you have stayed up too late the night before working (or drinking) and your kid decides to greet the day at dawn. On those mornings, or any other time you require refueling, you should take yourself -- and your offspring -- directly to Mama Java's Coffee House. Mama Java's is a coffee house in the traditional, down-to-earth mold: The baristas are welcoming but not in-your-face friendly, the couches are comfortable, and the walls are lined with shelves of books that aren't just there because somebody at corporate HQ decided books look "authentic." You can get a nice cup of coffee or a properly brewed mug of tea, and a little nosh to go with. Junior can sip on milk, chew a bagel and loll on the couch for a few peaceful moments. You might even get a chance to take one of those books off the shelves . . . And be sure to check out Mama's musical events, perfect for kids or, better yet, for a night you score a sitter.

Half wired coffee house and half gaming center, the eJoy Cafe, housed in what used to be a Bank of America branch just off Mill Avenue, is far from the most serious fragging spot in town. The twentysomething ASU students serving up espresso and scones in the front room are often clueless about fixing the poorly maintained PCs running the memory-intensive games in the back (recently, a bored hacker managed to install software at every station that allows anyone with the similar program at home to control the computers remotely). And heaven help the gamer who needs an extra copy of the Diablo II Expansion CD to load the game. But at only $10 a day -- five bucks for kids under what the staff guesses to be 18 -- it's the only place in town where you can play Warcraft, Counter-Strike, BattleField 1942 or The Sims Online 'til 2 a.m. on the weekends for less than a case of Red Bull. If you can take the heat in the Vault, an actual converted bank vault where headphones are optional (as long as you close the hefty steel door), up to eight of your closest enemies can wage their own private war. Fire in the hole!

Best Of Phoenix®

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