BEST PLACE TO DRINK AND THEN DRIVE 2005 | GameWorks | Arts & Entertainment | Phoenix
Shhh! Don't tell. The other night we went for a little spin while seriously soused. With our bloodstream filled with more booze than John Q. Law permits, we hopped into a souped-up streetcar and set out broadsiding Caddies and crashing through cinderblocks on a private path of destruction. Don't fret; you're not going to be seeing our mugs on the local news anytime soon. Why? This bout of vehicular violence was contained within the aptly named Smashing Drive, one of numerous driving games available for playing after getting pissed at GameWorks' Arena Bar, located upstairs at the mega-arcade and nightspot. Gulp some of the watering hole's premium spirits, gourmet beers, or signature drinks -- like the delicious honeydew martini or the 40-ounce Megarita -- before getting behind the wheel of racers like Outrun 2 SP, Ferrari F355 Challenge, Motocross Go!, or Crazy Taxi to see how much inebriation affects gaming performance. We guarantee you'll be driving under the influence -- of fun, that is.
There are few breathtaking views in town to be had as easily as the one from Echo Canyon. Around here, getting high enough up a mountain to get a panoramic view tends to involve hiking for miles, purchasing a $12 cocktail, or even finding a sugar daddy. (How else are you going to buy that manse in Paradise Valley, real estate being what it is?) But this perfect little spot alongside Camelback Mountain does the trick for free. If you can walk a quarter-mile, you're at the summit. And what a vista! The only catch: You're not the only one who can't find a sugar daddy, and so parking is limited. On weekends, expect to find a line of cars waiting for a space.
The palm trees that stand dramatically at attention along the entrance to this posh resort should give you some clue: Nothing about this place is going to be subtle. Or even quietly luxurious (except perhaps in the meditation room of the spa). The Phoenician is shiny and rich, a paean to the joys of having money. Its premier restaurant, the elegant Mary Elaine's, even boasts murals hand-painted in 24K gold.

You can't deny that the place is striking, the food is good, and the service is excellent. And even if you just stop by for a $12 cocktail (we recommend the Phoenix -- Grey Goose L'Orange, grenadine and lime juice), we can guarantee that you'll find flaunting it is much more fun than saving it for a rainy day.

With an $8 million overhaul, the main tower of the Francisco Grande Resort has been returned to its swingin' modernist splendor, circa 1961. Once the haunt of the likes of John Wayne and Willie Mays, Francisco Grande, about 40 miles south of Phoenix, went through several decades of slow decay before its recent restoration.

It was a structure worth saving. There are few places in the West where you can so thoroughly dive into the architecture and decor and high-flying resort sensibilities of the swanky '60s. Heck, get a penthouse suite and drive down with a group of friends and a trunk full of martini fixings, cocktail wear and '60s hipster albums. It will be the party of a lifetime. One caveat: Make sure you get a room in the renovated tower. The courtyard rooms have not been updated. Rooms, even with a round of golf, can be had for less than $100.

We've learned the hard way that boutique hotel does not always equal luxury hotel. Don't be sucked in by a fancy lobby and a ritzy bar -- it doesn't mean your room will be up to par. When we're looking for luxury in an intimate setting, we head up the mountain to Sanctuary, which offers a great view of the Praying Monk and makes the most of its location with a hilly climb (or golf cart ride) up to a beautiful casita, where you'll find more gorgeous views and a setting hip enough for Paris Hilton. The restaurant, elements, is lovely, and the spa offers delights like an in-room Swedish or Thai massage.

Now this is boutique-ing at its best!

The Valley's own Four Seasons is perhaps best known for its location, snuggled up against Pinnacle Peak, with beautiful views of the landscape, the perfect home base for a serious hike. But if you're serious about relaxing, this is also the place for you. We recently checked in and checked out -- that is, passed out, in a king-size bed in our beautifully decorated (read: no pinks and blues, just subtle whites and browns) room, shutters closed against the beating sun. We held tight to the remote control and slid around the bed, finally understanding what everyone's talking about when they mention high-thread-count sheets. The honor bar was stocked with everything from Diet Coke to Dean & Deluca goodies, and the bathroom products were all by L'Occitane en Provence.

In the morning, we ate a continental breakfast truly fit for someone on any continent, and washed off the sticky pecan rolls in the enormous bathtub, then tried out the glass shower, just for fun.

We requested a late checkout (granted) and finally emerged, blinking, into the hot sun. At the same time, another couple reluctantly left their room. Before she got in the car, the woman gave a wistful little wave and said, "Bye, room!"

She must have liked it, too.

Every year, we try new spas in this town (it's hard to keep up with the craze), and every year, we rush back to the comforts of the spa at the Camelback Inn. From the thick white robes to the cushy pool chaises, we're relaxed and happy, sipping the spa's signature tea, swiping on its own special lotion. We've never had a better pedicure in this town, nor a better hot rock massage, and the recent remodel is holding up nicely, with a beautiful sauna and Jacuzzi area.

We ate by the pool on a recent visit, and particularly enjoyed the Two Twists Gazpacho, featuring a golden tomato blend next to a mix of Granny Smith apple/cucumber. Then we slipped into the pool and relaxed the afternoon away -- until our next appointment.


The male staffers -- excuse us, "experience coordinators" -- at the five-diamond Fairmont's elegant Willow Stream spa are pleased as prickly pear punch when another guy shows up to check out the 44,000-square-foot multilevel pampering place. Willow Stream was recently essayed in the New York Times as one of the West's foremost examples of the new male-friendly resort spa, and the proof is in the upscale handyman details: cool, polished stone borders running through the hallways; trendy Venetian finish on one wall; and dry-stacked Sedona sandstone bricks lining most of the others. Heck, there's even a small TV screen on each of the Lifecycles. Willow Stream is paradise for women, too, but it's the men who love touches like the waterfall-lined stairwell leading down from the negative-edge rooftop pool to the centerpiece hot tub that's warmed by triple cascades of falling water, each set at its own distinct water pressure. More spa power!
The best resort pools are the wet dreams you can still sneak into without springing for a room card key; where a casual flip of a wrought-iron fence latch and a confident "been here since Thursday" attitude is enough to keep security from tapping you on the shoulder, even if you have just wandered in from your sun-baked Honda. In that regard, the rambling, two-and-a-half-acre water playground at the Scottsdale Hyatt Regency is just old enough to allow access without passing through a Homeland Security-like system, dabbled with a dizzying array of pools, puddles, Jacuzzis and waterfall springs to keep you hopping without arousing attention. For 10 bucks apiece, a couple can even cap off the day with a romantic sunset gondola ride around the lagoon circling the pools, serenaded by a friendly guide versed in Italian opera who won't bother to ask you what room you're staying in.
Sipping chilled martinis poolside, draped across a whitewashed deck chair, the breezy air whispering over you as beads of sweat gather beneath the rim of a shady sun hat, you stir. Squint a little and, because you're at the San Carlos Hotel, you can almost imagine Mae West basking beside you. Given a time machine and a little luck, this scene might be possible, because this historic downtown landmark once attracted poolside visits from famous folks like West and Cary Grant. The pool, three stories in the air, is as past-era perfect as the hotel itself, which features celebrity suites named for the legends who once slept in them. A night's snooze starts at $115 and, while prices vary with the season, a dip in this historically glamorous swimming hole is always gratis.

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