Best Of :: People & Places
The easiest way to figure out the best galleries in town is to ask the artists. These days, plenty of people are name-dropping the Chocolate Factory, an impressive new offering from local artist Hector Ruiz, whose provocative exhibition of sculptures, carvings, and woodblock prints, "La Realidad," is on display at the Heard Museum until next spring. Also home to Ruiz's personal studio and two other artist workspaces, the Chocolate Factory showcases all kinds of media, including paintings, installations, and video art, from both local and out-of-town artists. While Ruiz has worked with curators and individual artists to put together the monthly shows, he doesn't represent a set roster of creative talent. "Really, this is for art's sake," he says. We're impressed.
Lord almighty, we feel our temperature rising, especially when Mesa resident and diehard Elvis Presley fan Duke Hicks takes to the stage and unleashes his realistic reproduction of the legendary superstar. Having offered up his Elvis imitation act for more than two decades, this delivery man and part-time country musician is arguably one of the longest-lasting King clones in the Valley. He's been seen at a plethora of private parties, countless corporate functions, a regular gig at Philly's (a bar-restaurant in south Scottsdale), as well as at the Frontier Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, where Hicks says he nabbed "a rousing standing ovation" following his performance. (He's even set to star in an upcoming documentary on Elvis impersonators titled Heart of the King.) Aping what he calls "classic Elvis" (a.k.a. the skinnier, non-drug-addled version), Hicks dons a sequin-studded white jumpsuit and the King's trademark shades and croons his way through an eerily accurate rendition of Elvis' repertoire, which encompasses more than 50 songs -- from chartbusters like "Burning Love" to more subdued numbers like "You'll Never Walk Alone." Hicks admits he may have to let out his costume in the near future, as -- just like his hero -- he's developing "a little bit of a paunch." Just stay away from the pills, Duke.
Even if you ain't got big chips, there are places -- especially in Scottsdale -- where it will behoove you to act as if you do, and the J Bar is one of them. This super-slinky waterin' hole packs in the booful people on peak nights Thursdays through Saturdays, and the high-class chicas therein can smell a scrub coming from a mile away. So let us school you on how to act like you're a playa, even if your ride is a Hyundai. First, the swagger. You gotta be cocky, and a little snooty. Turn up your nose at the finest-lookin' ho's in the room; after all, it's their job to get next to you. As far as garb goes, tinted glasses are mandatory, and shabby chic always works. Wear your best shiny shirt right out of the package with a pair of your most raggedy jeans. This tells the ladies that you're rockin' so much dolo that you can afford to be lazy. Don't wash your hair for a day, then mousse it all up into spikes. And stop by the men's counter at a department store to spray on a sample of its most expensive cologne. Finally, if you don't have a gold card to throw out at the bartender, prepare a thick cash roll of mostly ones with two C-notes on top. You'll only break the first one, but the bitches' eyes will pop when they see you break out that wad. Then nurse one, maybe two martinis with your wing man and wait for the honeys to beat a path to your studliness. Yeah, baby, there's nothing like the life of a $30,000-a-year millionaire at the J Bar.
Okay, so you're no Marilyn Monroe. Neither are we. But that doesn't mean you don't deserve a little wind up your skirt once in a while, honey. Casino Arizona -- and we're not talking about that big tent off Indian Bend Road, we mean the nice building farther south on the 101 -- has six lounges, three restaurants, keno, 50 blackjack tables and almost 1,000 slots (and we hear pai gow poker could be on the way). The thing we like best about Casino Arizona is the air-conditioning system that blows from the ground up, dispersing cigarette smoke and, as a side bonus, sending a breeze your way, if you know what we mean.
Settle down, big spender. Just because the bank account is down for the count (and the casino has already cut up your Visa), don't go home just yet. You need cash in a flash -- but wanna avoid turning tricks in the parking lot -- so head for one of ZLB's two locations. Presuming you're drug- and disease-free, have strong veins in each arm, lack any recent tattoos or piercings, and can keep quiet about all your illicit trysts, you'll be getting some blood money. In exchange for a few hours -- where you can watch movies or converse with other hard-up homies -- and 880 milliliters of plasma (the protein-rich liquid part of your blood), ZLB's phlebotomists will cough up $25 for your very first visit, and $40 for your second (you'll get $20 and $30 for following weeks thereafter, respectively). Forget about a repeat bloodletting feat, though, as every plasma bank in the Valley has a 24-hour recovery period, cross-donating is verboten, and you can only get pricked twice in a seven-day period. It's not a fistful of C-notes, but at least you can get a couple more go-rounds at the $5 blackjack tables.
Everyone worships the good Lord in his or her own way. On Fridays, Muslims hit the mosque, and on Saturdays, Jews go a-synagoguing. Christians of many denominations make Sunday their day of prayer, and we fall into this category, although our chapel, if you will, is Shepherd's Nite Club, where communion is in the form of a Jack 'n' Coke, and baptism is referred to as "Super Soak-Her," a wet-tee-shirt contest like no other in our Valley of the Sin, uh, we mean, Sun. Here hot amateur gals and some off-duty pros get nearly nekkid for Jehovah, allowing gallons of very cold H2O to be poured all over their skimpy tops and thongs. That's when the Holy Ghost takes control, inspiring these heavenly honeys to crawl all over the men in the congregation, and minister to them in a religious fervor known to perform miracles such as raising the dead and making the blind see! Indeed, we like to think if Jesus comes again, he'll mosey on over to Shepherd's for a cocktail and gander at all this piety on display. After all, there's no cover, and it beats Bible study, that's for damn sure.
After you've rolled the dice or pulled the slot machine handle one too many times -- and you're ready to quit while you're ahead -- ease those aching limbs over to Aji, part of the resort adjacent to Gila River Casino at Wild Horse Pass. The 17,500-square-foot spa oozes serenity, from the sleek details of the Native American decor to the sweet, warm fragrance radiating from melted wax diffusers. There's a salon, a fitness room that's as state-of-the-art as it gets (each treadmill and cycle has its own flat-screen TV and tiny DVD player), a pristine outdoor pool just beyond the glass doors, and 17 treatment rooms where you can indulge in all the pampering you can handle. Try the "Juhk" Aji Rain Facial, 50 minutes of slathering and massaging that'll relax you as well as a full night's sleep, or the "Thash" Native Sun Wrap, where you'll lie in a futuristic steam capsule (something new to the Arizona spa scene) to let exotic oils melt into your skin before a massage therapist works you into submission. Save a few quarters for video poker, then start all over again.
Hey, loser. Having bet your bottom dollar (plus whatever other cash you've "borrowed" lately from kith and kin) and busted yet again, maybe it's time for that intervention everyone keeps casually mentioning. Consider the shrinks at the Tempe-based WinWay Center, if for nothing else but its oh-so-clever name. While other gambling addiction outfits around town offer touchy-feely terms like "hope" and "wellness" in their monikers, WinWay scores the jackpot with its handle, telling you right off the bat its staff of licensed psychologists and social workers will do their damnedest to keep you away from casinos, dog tracks, and even the Texas Hold'em night at the neighborhood tavern. After completing the intensive 24-session outpatient treatment plan of cognitive behavior therapy, we're willing to bet you'll be back on the road to fiscal solvency and a more responsible lifestyle. Sure beats ignoring calls from friends wondering why their high-def TVs have suddenly disappeared.
For those of you who don't play blackjack often and who've never seen the buddy flick Swingers, wherein this gambling maneuver is much discussed, doubling down is essentially doubling your bet in mid-play because the odds are in your favor. And what's the best time and place to double down in Casino Phoenix? Tuesdays and Thursdays at any of the Valley's six Castle Megastores, where the management runs a rent-two-DVDs-for-the-price-of-one special, allowing you twice the XXX viewing pleasure with twice the adult film stars at the beck and call of your remote control. This is an important offer for pornophiles because the majority of adult films are not quite as, er, stimulating as you'd like 'em to be, if you catch our drift. But by doubling your "bet," and taking home, say, Italian stallion Rocco Siffredi's latest release along with a compilation of steamy seductress Tera Patrick's best work, you're more likely to precipitate a jackpot worthy of your wager. Plus, let's face it, what we're alluding to is a hell of a lot more fun than gambling, right?
Long before the Valley began blowing its collective wad out on the reservations, bingo was king. While some might call it a quaint throwback, a few local venues still offer up the old-school game of chance, with St. Daniel's being the best. This Scottsdale house of worship, which offers games at 7 p.m. on Wednesdays and 1 p.m. on Sundays, offers jackpots ranging from $48 to $1,000, with more than 100 players turning out. They're a memorable bunch to boot, like one elderly English expatriate who's been dubbed "Queen Elizabeth" by organizers (because of her resemblance to the matronly monarch). It's not all members of the septuagenarian set, though -- a few ASU hotties have come with their grandmothers, as have one youngish Hispanic couple dressed in some ghetto-fabulous gear. So if you're up for trying to beat the pants of the elderly, give it a shot. Just remember, the big J.C. is watching you.
In casino terms, a whale is a big fish with money to burn: a Shamu-size gambler who can afford the fickle fortunes of wagering, while staying in a posh money pit and enjoying all the amenities due someone of his or her stature. If we think of PHX as a Vegas-style casino, then the best "whale" watching is at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, where true players chill in old-school environs wrought by Frank Lloyd Wright disciple Albert Chase McArthur. McArthur eventually hired Wright on to the project, too, and the style echoes the principles of America's most illustrious architect. This "Jewel of the Desert," as it's been called, has more than 700 guest accommodations, nearly 80 of which are one- or two-bedroom villas. In addition, there are seven tennis courts, an 18-hole putting green, eight pools, and so on. The "whales" who've reportedly beached here have included such luminaries as Clark Gable, Harry Cohn, Irving Berlin, Marlon Brando, both Clintons, both Reagans, and U2. Now if they could only fit a real orca into one of the Biltmore's ce-ment ponds, then we'd really be impressed.
Willo rules as a trash-picking destination because it has become a neighborhood of upper-middle-class strivers who repeatedly replace their old stuff with new, more upscale stuff. Their grail: turning enough of a profit from the eventual sale of their remodeled Willo house to move across Seventh Avenue to tonier Encanto-Palmcroft. Luckily for the poorer among us, the path of Willo's upward mobility is littered with household goods cast aside for no other reason than they didn't come from Pottery Barn. Recent trips through Willo alleys yielded a solid wood front door and an oak table. For best pickings, go the week before Willo's quarterly bulk trash pickup, the last weeks of February, May, August and November. Oh yeah -- technically speaking, Dumpster diving is illegal. And nothing pisses off Willo residents like people trolling through their trash. Watch your back, and don't pull items out of bins and throw them in the alley. Courtesy counts, even for Dumpster divers.