It's easy to remain the city's best classical station when you're the only game in town. But KBAQ takes an active role as the Valley's sole classical connection, operating one of the most active production studios and mobile recording units in NPR land, and offering live performance broadcasts by visiting international artists as well as showcasing members of the ASU School of Music and the Arizona Opera. For a station playing the ultimate in old-school, KBAQ also makes great use of current technology. Every station offers an online playlist today, but KBAQ's minute-by-minute database, storing years of information on what was played, is unbeatable when you make a mental note to find out who was conducting that Tchaikovsky serenade you heard at 3:19 a.m.
Stray Cat Bar & Grill
When your mixed drink of choice is the melonball, and it seems to be made differently (and usually poorly) at every bar in the Valley, you start to feel like maybe you should just order a friggin' screwdriver. Most of the time, when you do ask for a melonball, you get a drink made of mostly orange juice, a smidge of vodka, and a tiny, microscopic drop of Midori melon liqueur, anyway. Or you just get a glass of tequila with a thimbleful of sweet-and-sour mix tossed into it. Nobody seems to know what's really in a melonball, or how to mix one. So when the bartenders at Stray Cat Bar and Grill say, "You want a melonball? I'll make you a kick-ass melonball," and then they bring the tastiest blend of Sauza tequila, Midori, sweet-and-sour mix, and (secret ingredient) Captain Morgan coconut rum topped with a fresh maraschino cherry, you just want to kiss the bartenders and yell, "Ding, ding, ding, ding!" We have a winner.
Power 92.3 dominates hip-hop in the Valley of the Sun, dropping the livest mix of what's popular now, from the Ying Yang Twins and David Banner to Mike Jones and Pretty Ricky, while staying true to the old-school, like Dr. Dre, Snoop, N.W.A and others. They keep it poppin' with radio personalities that could easily make it in a bigger radio market than the PHX, whether it's those clowns on MG's Morning Madhouse, Da Nutz in the afternoon with the always hilarious 3:30 Dirty Dirty, JX3 on the mic from 7 to 10 p.m. weekdays, or Melissa the Midnight Mamacita playing the "slow jams that make you say damn" in the late evenings. They also employ killer DJs like Fashen, Robby Rob, and M2. True, they probably go a little too heavy on the NB Ridaz and the Lil Rob for our tastes. They're okay, but we've got some of those tracks playing in our sleep, y'all. Ease up, please! But, hey, no radio station is perfect.

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD BAR, CENTRAL PHOENIX

Shady's

Shady's
Lauren Cusimano
This newcomer has just the right features to keep us coming back. First of all, Shady's is no townie hangout. Its cool, understated coziness -- a compact bar, black upholstered banquettes and booths, a single pool table -- attracts a crowd that's young, good-looking, and interested in more than simply getting hammered. There's also a killer jukebox stocked with classic alt-rock, punk and ska (no surprise, considering that Shady's older sister is Scottsdale's TT Roadhouse, whose own jukebox has long been a New Times favorite). Don't expect a fashion show; Shady's is stylish but casual, attitude-free, and (dare we say) timeless.
The Edge takes its "Independent Radio" tag line seriously, giving its DJs leeway to spin little-played alt-rock oddities and aggressively seeking input from listeners. The "Insider Lounge" feature on the station's Web site, promising listeners a say in what gets played on the station, too often ends up functioning like a telemarketing survey, but the Edge Insiders Download offers exclusive tracks from local artists that are worth the free registration. As further evidence of the station's support of emerging local bands, its 11 p.m. "Local Frequency" show gives exposure to bands like Army of Robots, Peachcake, and Greenhaven; promotes live showcases featuring the artists; and maintains a comprehensive list of Web links to roughly 150 of the city's hardest-working bands.
Joe's Grotto
One might assume that Joe Grotto is a bit pompous, given that he named his north Valley speakeasy after himself. But after you encounter the friendly and down-to-earth owner (if you can manage to flag him down as he eagerly interacts with customers, that is), you'll discover how appearances can often be deceiving. The same goes for Joe's drinking establishment. Tucked into a nondescript corner of a quiet strip mall, Joe's is actually a rockin' bar and hot music spot. Grotto enthusiastically welcomes you to his place, gushing about how his joint is a gathering spot for all kinds, be they teased-haired aging cock-rockers, polo-shirt-clad office drones, or belly-shirt-wearing ladies of the night. He's equally amped about booking local acts like the classic rockers of Sluggo, the female-fronted rock foursome Downward Dog, or the extreme thrashers of (sic)monic. Joe's is fast filling the Valley's need for a serious hard-rock venue, a void left by the closure of the Mason Jar earlier this year. You go, Joe.
Shortly before his passing in February of 2002, Arizona outlaw country legend Waylon Jennings memorably schooled KNIX morning personalities Tim and Willy on the air. In answer to the duo's mock "We're not worthy!", Jennings replied, "Then why don't you play my music?" Jennings still doesn't get much play on KNIX, which continues to favor the mainstream country-western fare of Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, and Rascal Flatts. But Tim and Willy have grown a little sharper, able to poke sly fun at some of the dreck on the country playlists while keeping up the easy banter that nabbed the duo a 2005 ACM Personalities of the Year award. They carry Waylon's sting well, even if the only Jennings song likely to make their playlist this year will be a movie tie-in revival of his "Theme From The Dukes of Hazzard."
Amber Inn Cocktail Lounge
Nowhere is the west side's rough-and-tumble reputation more apparent than at the adult playground of sorts available at this tavern. Barflies from miles around amble into the Amber Inn for grown-up thrills, whether it's the arcade claw machine stocked with triple-X DVDs and other porno novelties; the virtual poker games over the bar's interactive NTN trivia system; raucous karaoke nights Thursday through Saturday; or the saucy pics of Marilyn Monroe adorning the walls. On any given evening, you're likely to find surly regulars downing dirt-cheap drinks like 50-cent Cherry Bombs (a gut-busting dose of Everclear 151, amaretto and Tabasco sauce), 75-cent Jägermeister or Pucker shots, and $1 domestic pints -- offered every night except for those featuring live entertainment -- or engaging in flirtatious conversations with a foxy female bartender (occasionally clad in a "Fuck You, You Fucking Fuck!" tee). But if your desire for dirty deeds isn't sated yet, there's a head shop just next door. Remember, sin is in!
For many Valley urbanites, the portions of Phoenix located south of Interstate 17 might as well be south of the border. Ask 'em for the hookup on any hip hangouts or cool clubs among the blighted badlands of junkyards, dollar stores, or industrial parks, and you'll usually get blank stares or suggestions of "Um . . . Applebee's?" instead. If you can brush aside these pathetic profferings and search around a bit, some gems can be found -- like the flavorful fiestas at Federico's. Whatever this grimy hole-in-the-wall nightspot lacks in style, it makes up for in character, with rancheros and duded-up Mexican cowboys working the cue ball on five different pool tables, congregating at secondhand tables covered with red cloths, or dancing with exotic-looking diva Latinas to styles like norteño and sweet cumbia spun by DJs on the weekends. It's standing room only come 11 p.m., so arrive early and prepare for a pat-down from one of the tough-looking security guards frisking for weapons at the door. If illegal intentions are your thingo, gringo, look for potential marks elsewhere.
The station may have long ago lost its Morning Mayor, Dave Pratt, but John Holmberg has proven a worthy successor to this FM-dial throne. His "Morning Sickness" reality program has helped build a loyal listener base rivaling Pratt's in just under four years. The music is still pure Ozzfest fare, with bands like Nine Inch Nails, Sevendust, Velvet Revolver, and Audioslave scoring heavy rotation. But with features like the "Mother's Day MILF Contest" and near-nightly airings of the syndicated "Loveline," the Big Red Radio continues to speak as loudly as ever to its party-hardy crowd.

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