Cruisin' 7th
Lauren Cusimano
Our desert metropolis has everything, including a place where one can pick up a lady with a little something extra, if you know what we mean. These unique gals congregate for libations and laughter at Cruisin' Seventh, a queer neighborhood dive that's become popular with transgender and transsexual types. Entertainment by such drag performers as Ineda Buffet, Devina, and Evelyn Edwards has made this nightspot a weekend favorite. Both fake females and soon-to-be-females flock here to relax with a cocktail, play pool next to a wall canvassed in colorful murals, or chat it up with a handsome suitor who may or may not be worthy of such a woman. Don't take our word for it; cruise on in yourself.
Laurie, we hardly knew ya. That's so totally a lie. After countless years as a columnist at every rag in town (but this one) from Planet to the Arizona Republic, and -- count 'em -- four books of essays, we know everything about Laurie Notaro. Everything, from the time she tried out to be a Playboy bunny to the time her mother got a cockroach stuck in her ear. We've never laughed as hard as the night Laurie read the essay about the time her brown corduroy pants split, then offered them up as Exhibit A. When her first book, The Idiot Girls' Action-Adventure Club, hit the New York Times best-seller list, we figured Laurie wasn't long for Phoenix, and we were right -- last year she moved to Eugene, Oregon. We miss Laurie, but we can't wait to read her tales of life in greener pastures. We won't have to wait that long for our next Laurie fix; An Idiot Girl's Christmas: True Tales From the Top of the Naughty List will be released in November. Laurie promises she'll come home to do a reading.
Locating this nightspot can be difficult if you're not a leather queen or at least a fan of same, since the Padlock has no flashy sign, just a giant black and blue flag (which means "Trusses and biker caps in here, lads!") painted on the front wall. Inside, dungeon decor and dartboards are the play stations of bare-chested, buff and burly studs who pack the place every weekend for special events like "Uniform Night" and the "Best Asset Contest" designed to make even the toughest leather daddy blush. "Drop'm and drink" Tuesdays get bottoms and tops alike to party in nothing but underwear for half-price drinks. Looking for an excuse to dust off those leather chaps and riding crop? Now's your chance to spank your weekend for being bad and embark on a night of naughty fun.

BEST AUTHOR WHO LEFT TOWN AND CAME BACK

Tania Katan

What's a nice Jewish girl like Tania Katan doing in a place like Phoenix? Very well, thank you. Katan was raised (at least partially) in the Valley, a proud graduate of McClintock High in Tempe, and she escaped to assorted environs including San Francisco and Long Beach, according to her book, My One-Night Stand With Cancer, which you really should read. Now she's back, and we're glad to have her. Katan is a fantastic writer; reading her book is like sitting down for a glass of wine with her -- although you'll be giddy enough from the literary ride she takes you on (even considering the subject, which you've guessed from the title). She's also a playwright and performer, and we hope to see her on a stage near us soon. For now, you can catch a glimpse of her when she runs in several races this October. We won't tell you why, but you won't be able to miss her.
Groggy's
A pool hall, as opposed to a billiards parlor, should be comfortable but with an edge. The kind of place where no one tells you to take your feet off the neighboring barstool; where the drinks are strong, a game costs 50 cents, the sticks are straight, and chalk is plentiful. You want a place where people treat each other with respect, but fighting words are occasionally exchanged. Attractive members of the opposite sex are a bonus, but not required -- you're here to shoot pool, not watch players bend over to make shots. Groggy's is just such a rough-around-the-edges spot, with six tables and plenty of room between them. Skill levels vary from rank amateur to pretty damn good, but this isn't a place for hustlers; just a kick-back-and-relax neighborhood tav where the eight-ball rules. The bartenders know their business; even when it's busy, you'll never wait longer than a minute for a refill. And Groggy's has it going on: The kitchen makes a mean sandwich, and the digital jukebox plays virtually any song ever recorded. Drop in when Tits on a Stick (she insists they're real and she really answers to that name) is working. 'Nuff said.
Even before its publication, Martha Beck's Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith was causing cramps among Latter-day Saints around the globe. Which is one of several reasons we're proud of Beck's Phoenix connection (she now lives here), right up there with her "I'm not gonna take it" attitude, her regular column in O magazine, and the smooth, amusing style with which she wrote about a painful subject. Beck's memoir describes sacred Mormon ceremonies and accuses her recently deceased father, Hugh Nibley, a well-regarded authority on Mormon teaching, of sexually molesting her as a child. We're just plain proud of Beck for standing up for herself in such a big way, and for dodging the physical threats, lawsuits and smear campaigns launched against her. We're delighted to call her our neighbor.
George & Dragon Pub
It's hard to resist the charms of a bar that serves up both darts and bangers and mash, which is why George & Dragon is our pick as the best English pub in town. A low-key spot, it's bigger on comfort than style, catering to football hooligans and people who like a good pint -- real Brits, in other words, and the Americans who love them.
Fibber Magees
We've picked Chandler's Fibber Magees as the Best Irish Pub again for one salient reason: To be a great Irish pub, you not only have to have great drink, an authentic atmosphere, and Irish music, you also have to have a solid Irish menu, one that does more than give lip service to the cuisine of the Emerald Isle. More than any of the other fine Irish establishments in the Valley, Fibber Magees delivers on Irish eats with baskets of soda bread, plates of boxty -- the Irish potato pancake -- bangers and champ, trad Irish breakfast with black and white pudding, and so on. One or two other Irish places in the area make a stab at Irish food, but none comes close to the quality of what you get at Fibber Magees. Yes, you can get a proper pint of Guinness here, as well as a shot of Jameson. And there are plenty of fair colleens to gaze upon. But the food is why we keep comin' back, and it's why Fibbers keeps winning this award.
Homeward Bound
We've gotta tell you, if we have to go to one more charity luncheon, we're going to puke up our chicken plate. We gave at the office, sweetie -- now can we go to the mall and shop? Here's exciting news from the society scene: Now there's a charity luncheon where you can actually pick up a fabulous handbag (one that might even have some history) and give to a very good cause at the same time. The Old Bags Luncheon, sponsored by Homeward Bound, a Valley organization that provides transitional housing for the homeless and victims of domestic violence, features a silent auction of vintage and designer purses. Some are donated by department stores, but others come from celebrities: Last year's auction featured a vintage Hermes bag given by Sofia Coppola, and even Oprah made a donation. So did Cindy McCain. We're not so sure we want her baggage, but we hear there were bags by Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Ferragamo. Certainly worth choking down some rubber chicken, and since the luncheon's scheduled for November 8 at the Arizona Biltmore, the food might not be so bad.
Red Sea Hookah Lounge
If you regard pitas, shish kebabs and belly dancers as a distraction to your hookah pipe smoking, then the Red Sea Hookah Lounge is the place for you. The Red Sea isn't a restaurant; it's a straight smoking joint. Sprawl on the velvet love seats and order up a water pipe of tobacco in flavors like mango, blueberry and peach. If you want food, they'll go to the bar next door and get you something. Otherwise, this place is about smoking, and nothing else.

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