BEST MARTINI 2005 | Camus at the Clarendon Hotel | People & Places | Phoenix
We have no earthly idea what you're going to do once you finish reading all these Best Ofs. Change your underwear finally, we hope. But we do know what we're doing once we're finished writing all these puppies: heading over to the Clarendon's Camus restaurant and bar, where we plan to grab a stool and ease into one of Carson Quinn's many mah-velous martinis. See, Quinn is a real artist when it comes to crafting variations on this classic cocktail. Once the top dog over at the Merc Bar, Quinn came on over to the Clarendon when it gave him carte blanche to follow his muse and create a bar/restaurant to match the newly boutiqued Clarendon. The Mighty Quinn named his new place after his favorite novelist Albert Camus, and, needless to say, the specialty martinis there kick much kahuna, like the Carson City Martini, a citrusy mix of Amaretto and Absolut Citron, garnished with a maraschino cherry; or the Camus Blood Orange Martini, a luscious, icy concoction of Hanger One Mandarin, Triple Sec, lime, and a blood orange purée garnished with an orange peel. There are others, sure, but this is what we'll be imbibing once the last BOP is done, which we pray will be soon.
If local TV is a numbers game, Kent Dana wins hands down. Take, for instance, the five-year deal he signed with Channel 5 last October, rumored to be for an astonishing $650,000 a year. In May's Nielsen ratings, a month after Dana officially defected from NBC affiliate KPNX Channel 12 to take over the anchor chair at CBS-5, KPHO was up 35 percent in its ratings from a year earlier. In July, the Nielsens showed an additional 21 percent increase. And KPHO's 10 p.m. newscast, which four years ago was fifth in the local rankings (that's out of five stations, by the way), is just one point away from the top spot with Dana on board. "We've been on a growth pattern for a few years," says CBS-5 general manager Steve Hammel, who refuses to confirm Dana's allegedly astronomical salary. "But Kent has certainly accelerated that pattern. What people like about him most is that he could be your next-door neighbor. He just has this aura about him that is very down-to-earth." What do we like most about Kent? It's pretty simple: As opposed to the competition, he seems to enjoy reporting the news more than just listening to the sound of his own voice.
Here's how to mix a good mojito: Take a lime and put it into the microwave for about 20 seconds. This makes it easier to extract the juice from the bugger. Squeeze into a tall mortar (a bowl will do, if you are as ill-equipped as we are). Add a tablespoon of sugar, plus four or five washed mint leaves. Muddle the holy hell out of the mess (that means mush it up real good), and pour the contents into a tall glass of ice cubes. Fill the glass to about three-quarters of an inch from the top with good white rum. Top the concoction with club soda, shake well and drink. We're sure there's a way to make a larger portion of mojitos, say, a pitcher full, but our math skills aren't good enough to provide the measurements. Obviously, lots of white rum is the most important part of an excellent mojito. There are many places in the PHX that attempt the mojito, but few understand this basic premise. One that does is the Southwestern restaurant Sierra Bonita Grill, whose mojitos will drop you on your ass, pard. You will be happily drinking mojito after mojito at the place, thinking all is well -- because Sierra Bonita's version of the libation tastes like minty lemonade -- and then: POW! On a night when the temperature's below a dry 95, try savoring this refreshing cocktail on SB's bar-adjacent veranda. There's something about the night air that makes a mojito or three kick in roadrunner-fast.
Before Howard Stern and the emergence of shock jocks, morning DJs actually relied on shtick to keep listeners tuned in. The Morning Ritual crew at The Edge must be some old-schoolers, because from 6 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday, ringleader Chuck Powell and sidekicks Vince Marotta, Drew Hutchinson, and obligatory hot chick Heather Lewis (who does not, in fact, have a face for radio) turn listeners on their ears with a hit parade of hilarious gags, skits and general goofiness. From the MR's staple "Last Character Standing" to "Freak du Week," Powell and the gang have a knack for turning the crazy shit we're thinking on our way to work into the best damn material on local radio.
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.
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.
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.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of