Portland's Restaurant
We know, we know, Sex and the City is so 2004. Everyone who's anyone is now watching Entourage. But can we help it if we developed a strong attachment to Carrie Bradshaw's favorite drink, the cosmopolitan? We know vodka sales skyrocketed along with Sex's ratings, and we intend to keep sales high. And ourselves a little high, too, on the cosmos at Portland's. The bartenders there know just the right amount of cranberry juice (a scant splash) to mix in with the ice-cold vodka. We're not even sure what else they put in there, and it doesn't really matter -- vodka's the key ingredient. Now if we could just remember what time those Sex and the City reruns are on, and persuade the bartenders at Portland's to turn the channel . . .
We'll admit that KXXT, the local Air America affiliate, has a bit of a bias. Okay, it's a self-proclaimed liberal station. But the bleeding hearts still deliver the news in this town with more fervor, passion and personality than the stiffs at the other two big AM news stations or even the brilliant geeks on the local NPR affiliate. (And at least KXXT doesn't pretend to be objective!) Whether it's local news, in conjunction with local TV station Channel 3, or national news from CNN or the BBC, KXXT dishes the most relevant news when we count on it most.
We didn't tune in to David Leibowitz as much as we knew we should. The ads on KTAR are just too obnoxious. But recently, we forced ourselves to sit through demands that we refinance our home or eat at P.F. Chang's, just to hear Leibowitz bat it back and forth with callers who wanted to complain about the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Man, we know Katrina was a bitch, but some of those callers were real assholes! And we loved hearing Leibowitz put them in their place. The other day, Leibowitz dressed down a listener who e-mailed to say that he felt strongly that those people were mooching in New Orleans and now they're mooching in Arizona -- and they should get the hell out of our state and quit "stealing" from us. Leibowitz happily informed the guy that he plans to call the Social Security Administration and tell them to cut off the listener's "handouts" from the government. "Grandpa, Wal-Mart's hiring!" he said, with obvious glee. There's nothing more satisfying than getting in the last word, and Leibowitz always did. And while we loved hearing him tell racist callers to go blow, we were even more impressed this past spring, when Leibowitz deftly handled callers who wanted to lament Terri Schiavo's death. He made sure his opinion was known (he favored pulling life support) but was empathetic to all, and kept the conversation on a lively, productive level. We've watched Leibowitz grow from a kid writing columns at the Tribune to a smart, funny man we're glad to have around. "Real Life With David Leibowitz" vacated the airwaves suddenly, days before BOP went to press. We hope you stick around town, Dave.
Havana Cafe
Jamie Peachey
We never tire of visiting the various Havana Cafes owned and operated by B.J. and Gilbert Hernandez. This year, we recognize them for their sangria, that fruity, blood-red Spanish libation that elsewhere can seem so drab and bland, but at Havana Cafe is terribly refreshing and bursting with flavor. Three-quarters of the chilled drink is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet, and the other quarter is a mixture of freshly squeezed fruit -- lemons, limes and oranges -- spices such as cinnamon and whole cloves introduced via a spice bag, and a splash of 7UP. Served over ice with fresh apples, there's nothing like it on a warm evening, trickling down your throat like a cool stream. My, but we suddenly feel parched. Perhaps we should run right over there for a pitcher or two. Adios!
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.

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