BEST PLACE TO FOX-TROT 2005 | Johnny's Uptown | People & Places | Phoenix
All these new ballroom-dance-related reality shows and feature films have us craving a smooth spot to glide across a dance floor. The place that comes to mind is a jazz club tucked quaintly into a corner of Uptown Plaza at Central Avenue and Camelback Road. Johnny's Uptown caters to those with aspiring twinkle toes. Its modest-size dance floor is set against a stage that's always bubbling with live music, one that allows just enough room to swivel and pivot yourself into a stupor. Dance soirees happen nightly and tend to run late, with such entertainment as Doc and Nayo or the Xcite Band playing until 2 a.m. Ella had it right when she sang, "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing," and Johnny's is the place to swing it 'til it won't swing no more.
There was nothing good on television the other night, so we started surfing through all 550 channels of dreck until the sight of some skinny teenagers smacking each other around with kendo sticks caught our eye. It looked like an episode of Viva La Bam, but it turns out we had just tuned to local public access (Cox channel 98 and Qwest channel 24), and, more specifically, SWWF Rampage, the weekly showcase of the Valley's quasi-backyard rasslin' group, which airs Tuesdays at 7 p.m. While it's way more raw than WWE RAW with below-bargain-basement production values, the violent exploits of all the wrestling wanna-bes on the roster are inherently viewable. Just like the I-fear-to-look-yet-I-cannot-look-away mentality of a car accident video, the over-the-top "superstars" like Cris Anarchy, Doc Fairday, Havok, and the Suburban Ninja keep our eyes locked on the screen. Call it a guilty pleasure that's gonna keep us tuning in next week, same mat time, same mat channel.
If you need a place to sit back with a bottle of beer while watching a game, a place where you can sing your troubles away to an off-pitch karaoke song, or a place to rock along with local bands, BJ's is where you'll best land. And before you try to score points with a giggle at this hopping spot's funny name, know that the owners have got you beat. The work uniform at this casual nightspot is a tee shirt splashed proudly with the phrase "I ♥ BJ's." (Of course, knockoffs of this shirt are for sale, and for just $15, too.) Unlike most sports bars, BJ's hosts live music and karaoke simultaneously every weekend, with bands like Monsoon Alley, and Big Mama and Whitebread. The crowd is a fun mix of neighborhood locals and ASU West students looking to unwind after class, all looking for cheap drinks, a quick game of shuffleboard, and maybe even a round of darts. With all this fun and more, who can help but ♥ BJ's?
Don't expect any alone time in either of the restrooms at Half Moon, an upscale sports bar that caters to corporate lackeys looking to unwind -- and to undress, apparently. Each restroom has what appears to us to be a strategically located video camera mounted in a corner, pointed right at you. It's not uncommon to find a gaggle of guys huddled around the sink, gawking at the 17-inch LCD screen on which a trio of girls in the restroom next door are tossing their unmentionables over the stall, gettin' freaky with each other. We once saw a flat-chested hottie stuff her bra with toilet paper before hunting for a CEO at the bar. And the ladies get to see plenty, as well, whether it's a goon digging for gold or an insecure middle-management type shoving a pair of socks down his pants. Is it all just a gag, you might ask? Hey, the camera never lies.


The Will

A few days before Penny Long made her reality TV show debut last January on CBS' The Will, the Arizona Republic ran a feature on the Cave Creek woman predicting that "You will read about her in Us Weekly, . . . spot her on Access Hollywood, and come into work on Monday morning and talk Penny, Penny, Penny . . ."

The Republic was dead wrong. The Will was to have followed Penny, fourth wife of local developer Bill Long, as she battled a gaggle of relatives over who would inherit a ranch owned by her ancient and very wealthy (but not yet dead) husband. Instead, the network canceled the series after just one episode, making The Will one of the biggest flops in TV history. See ya later, Penny.

Standing nine feet tall, weighing in at five hundred pounds, this enormous monstrosity can put any bar mascot to shame. Set at the entrance of Hurricane Bay in north Phoenix, a giant replica of a volcano inspired by Mount Wannahockaloogy from the Disney movie Finding Nemo transports patrons directly to the Islands. Complete with a waterfall and smoke billowing from the top, the nameless sculpture overlooks a dance floor lighted in turquoise, and a grass-skirted bar, and can be seen from every point in the equally oversize nightspot. Some believe that if you touch the behemoth for good luck, you are destined to find the beautiful virgin before she is sacrificed to the gods.
Owned by local real estate investor Michael A. Pollack, this funky modern theater boasts a lobby filled with video games, autographed photos, and life-size cardboard figures of celebrities, which patrons love to use for funny photo ops. But the truly edgy stuff happens on the big screens, where award-winning indie films make their Valley premières, and artsy repertory films get exposure, too. Every summer, the theater hosts the "One Night Cinema" series, which presents first-run, award-winning foreign films such as Moolaadé, Lost Embrace, and Vodka Lemon. In January and February, the cinema hosts the Sun Lakes Jewish Film Festival, where acclaimed yarns such as Left Luggage and Zahor get a chance to shine on the silver screen. Tempe Pollack Cinemas is also a great place for local film companies to share their works; the theater recently hosted the world première of Phoenix Film Project's Laws of Deception.

We're happy to see one brave soul go up against the Valley's movie monopoly.

Jackie Mercandetti
Sure, you can see and be seen all night long in the clubs, but in some circles, gelato has become the new nightcap -- and everyone who's anyone is slurping it up. It's a true Experience, hanging at The Gelato Spot, which shares a strip mall with Zen 32, Delux, and Hava Java. On a recent visit we spotted Arizona Republic columnist Bob Robb rubbing his tired, hard-worked brow over his little cup. Another time, Shelly Cohn and Mollie Trivers, Valley culture vulturettes, held court. The location is key, but it's the gelato and the accompanying service that make this place such a magnet. The fresh-fruit sorbets are lovely, as are the heavier selections -- the traditional Italian tiramisu (just like the dessert of the same name), bacio (chocolate-hazelnut) and torroncino (hazelnut, honey and almond). The worst-kept secret in town is that you don't actually have to buy any sorbet at The Gelato Spot: The friendly staff will give you so many tastes, you'll be full by the time someone asks for your order. But be a sport, buy something -- remember, people are watching.
Turns out Phoenicians prefer Ferris Bueller to The Birds. This completely unscientific observation took place this summer, during Phoenix City Councilman Tom Simplot's Moonlight Movies series. The movies, shown in the amphitheater at Steele Indian School Park, drew revelers of all ages, who picnicked before the movies, and munched on popcorn and ice cream for sale by vendors through the evening. Ferris Bueller's Day Off drew the largest crowd of the summer, with The Princess Bride a close second.

Simplot was there to canoodle at every showing this summer. He marvels at the diversity of the crowd -- single, married, gay, straight -- but yes, mostly families. (Who else really wants to see Shrek 2 again?) "Young families love these movies," Simplot says. "Date night with the kids, and nobody cares if the kids are rowdy."

We curse Dan Harkins every time some kid asks us to upsize our popcorn (didn't the movie magnate see Super Size Me?), but Dan, we're still glad your mother gave birth to you in the Valley Art Theatre, and that you held onto the space -- and the more than 200 theaters Harkins Theatres has subsequently opened since 1933.

Camelview in Scottsdale is consistently the best place to see that hard-to-find movie, and while we lament the bulldozing of the Ciné Capri, we have to admit that the new one's not so bad.

But the best part about Harkins is its ubiquity. We love knowing that just about wherever we are in the Valley, Harkins is there. (Try downtown Phoenix next, Dan -- hint, hint.)

This is a chain even Arizona Chain Reaction can love -- and it does. Harkins is a member.

Yes, sometimes more is more. Except when it comes to concessions. Tell your clerks to stop pushing Pepsi by the gallon, and we'll love you even more, Dan.

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