BEST SAWDUST JOINT 2005 | Bikini Lounge | People & Places | Phoenix
Benjamin Leatherman
In the parlance of gaming, a sawdust joint is a no-frills, lower-end gambling parlor, the kind of place where they might even have sawdust on the floor, but where you can still catch that betting buzz. Now, there's no sawdust on the floor of the Bikini Lounge, and there's not even gambling, unless you're wagering on when the cat next to you is going to try to light his cigarette the wrong way around. But if Phoenix is a player's paradise, then it follows that there are both sawdust juke joints of renown like Bikini for the common folk, just as there are "carpet joints" for the swells and pretty people. Actually, the 58-year-old Bikini caters to a wide array of PHX characters -- from First Friday revelers and penny-pinching Picassos on the make to brazen betties in low-cut tops and snooker aficionados from around the way making use of Bikini's one pool table in the back. The decor is old-school tiki, with a grass-skirted wahine on black velvet behind the bar. And the drinks are dead cheap. What else could you ask for in a sawdust joint? Oh, yeah, gambling . . .
Picture the polar opposite of the sawdust joint, and that's a carpet joint, the sort of plush, swank spot that caters to the moneyed and dissolute, the terminally hot, who want nothing more than to rub up on one another while sipping their cosmos. The Pussycat Lounge is the best carpet joint in a city of carpet joints -- Scottsdale, where everyone's young and good-looking, with loads of disposable cash. On either side of the large open space before the bar are the requisite couches for them to chill at, because their lives are too effin' hard -- standing around, being beautiful, maxing out daddy's MasterCard. There's even a sex swing to one side where the "pay attention to me" babes curl up, eventually to be joined by other Prada-wearin' pretties. Once the alcohol or whatever they're doing in the restrooms takes effect, they'll be making out with each other. And if you're a dood on the prowl in your shiny shirt, and wait around 'til last call, you might be able to offer one of them a ride. See, most of them have done a DUI stint or two in Tent City, and one more time could mean they'll have to do six months with the ankle bracelet. So you're their knight in shining armor, studly. Just be sure you've got plenty of Trojans on hand.
This is what Phoenix has been waiting for. When Bentley Projects opened its doors a while back, we knew something special was happening. If you haven't been yet, go immediately. Don't be swayed by the "un-Phoenix" location, so far off the beaten path it's actually south of Bank One Ballpark. The Bentley folks wisely enclosed their small enclave and provided plenty of parking. Particularly in the light of day, you'll laugh at yourself for worrying about your Benz, once you arrive. And once you arrive, make sure you first walk through the airy, industrial gallery space, home to some of the most insightful, sophisticated (and expensive, but don't worry, you're just looking) art in the Valley. Then head through Poisoned Pen bookstore (again, don't worry -- the managers have wisely included non-mysteries among their collection, as well as kids' books and a small stationery section) to City Bakery, Arcadia Farms' latest outpost. Arcadia Farms is everywhere in Phoenix -- including the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix Art Museum, and the Heard Museum. But that hasn't diluted the quality of operations, at least not at City Bakery, where the staff is friendly even as the line reaches out the door, which has started to happen at lunchtime. City Bakery is wireless, so if you can find a table, you can park with a laptop and a bottomless glass of apricot iced tea. When it's time to eat, your biggest challenge will be choosing between the curry chicken salad and the PLT (prosciutto, lettuce and tomato). Be sure to leave room for a cupcake or another treat from the bakery case. And knock yourself upside the head, hard, when you leave. Yes, you're really in Phoenix!
Introverts, you've been warned. If you're the wallflower type, stay the hell away from Bacchanal. In addition to gourmet Grecian cuisine -- like succulent lamb capama and mouth-watering moussaka -- this east Phoenix ethnic eatery is famous for its big, fat Greek wedding of food and festivities. A spirited slate of entertainment runs Tuesdays through Saturdays, where patrons, including fraidy-cats like yourself, are encouraged to participate. The eats get in on the show, too, as waiters will occasionally rush to tables carrying flaming dishes of saganaki, consisting of baked kefalograviera cheese that's set afire by a thin coating of brandy and snuffed out by a fresh-squeezed lemon. Each night a live folk band performs, followed by the sultry undulations of a belly dancer or two. Customers can either join in the dancing or show their appreciation by purchasing plates for $1 each and smashing them on the ground. Of course, you can simply stand by the sidelines and watch, but get enough ouzo in you and we're sure you'll Greek out like everyone else. Opa!


First Studio

Built in 1949, the "first television studio in Arizona" was once home to KPHO-TV and is headquarters for the most creative collective in town. The building currently houses 15 businesses, including Forsmo Design Works, True Story Films, Rhonda Graphics, and Randy Murray Productions. Lookee-loos are welcome to wander the halls, which are painted a deep red and adorned with original artwork, including the "abstract feminist" paintings of resident artist Jenny Ignaszewski. (Check out her work in the La Vida section of "Best of.") Our favorite stop -- a peek in the window of the colorfully decorated office of Darlene Wyatt Casting, in Suite 106, which looks just like we've always imagined a casting agent's office would look.
You might be pimpin' all over the world, like Ludacris, or you might be pimpin' in Old Town as a $30,000-per-annum "millionaire" with a Lexus on lease and a wardrobe by MasterCard. Either way, if you're young, hot and stylish, chances are the glamorous new Scottsdale club e4 is calling your name. The brainchild of founder/CEO Aron Mezo, e4 is really four clubs in one, each representing one of the basic elements of fire, water, air or earth. It's a veritable adult Disneyland, with alcohol vaporizers allowing you to breathe in your favorite shot on the misted "air" patio; a medieval, S&M dungeon scene for the "fire" chamber; a laid-back couch-laden lounge for "earth"; and a gurgling, blue danceteria for "water." Like in other Scottsdale party zones, e4 has plenty of chicks with fake boobs and doods with fake bank accounts. But here the eye candy gets competition from the environs, which is always imaginative and intriguing, even when the clientele is not.
It was once the lair of Walter Bimson, the late Valley National Bank president and philanthropist whose love of money was equaled only by his love of art. And, beginning this fall, the penthouse at the top of the 77-year-old Security Building will be ground zero for Arizona State University's Phoenix Urban Research Lab (PURL), filled with busy minds looking to redesign Phoenix's core, with the interests of commerce, higher education and creative types at stake. Owned by Maricopa County, the space -- featuring exposed brick walls and tiled terraces -- will be used as offices for ASU faculty and researchers, including two representatives from the Morrison Institute, and as a hub for issues related to the design of ASU's downtown campus. From its grassy (okay, it's Astroturf, but it looks pretty) and lengthy rooftop patio, PURL visitors chatting it up with ASU prez Michael Crow can see clear past the Westward Ho all the way to Cave Creek. But, more important, they've got a great front-row seat for downtown's transformation. Below, on the eighth floor, an old ballroom has been transformed into a work and meeting space, its old wood floors buffed and painted, crumbling ceilings complemented with steel pipe and modern lighting -- a reminder of the need to preserve the old while racing toward whatever's new.
There's a lot to love about the Wrigley Mansion, built by chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. for his wife, Ada, and now owned by Phoenix's own jazz-playing recluse Geordie "Son of Spam" Hormel, heir to the meatpacking fortune. The interior of the regal mansion is a little dusty and threadbare in places, but the patina only adds to the place's old-school charm. First, there's Geordie's restaurant and bar at the Wrigley Mansion Club, which offers tasteful live music on select evenings. Once in a great while, the hippie-fied Hormel himself plays jazz piano there. The bar features several rooms with plush Victorian furnishings; it's the perfect place for a glass of good port or cognac. And the restaurant offers a terrific nighttime view. But the best thing about the mansion, in our humble opinion, is that, once you've finished din-din, you can wander without escort through the rooms, drink in hand, eventually landing on a set of over-the-parking-lot balconies facing the Phoenix skyline. What happens on those balconies, stays on those balconies. Trust us, the views are great.
This new public market offers an eclectic and always-changing range of Arizona-grown products. Choose from foods such as organic fruits and veggies from Queen Creek's One Windmill Farms, cactus jellies over at Cotton Country Jams, and diabetic-friendly sweets from TJ's Good Cookie -- and that's just a start. Navigate around dog owners and mothers pushing strollers to the beat of a rotating cast of musicians and check out a number of booths offering handcrafted jewelry, photographs and ceramics. Lisa Takata is just one artist who has offered original art prints and other unique items each week. Other tables feature flower arrangements from Maya's Farm, on-the-spot customized leather belts, and the occasional specialty product such as handcrafted cigar box purses. Tents shade a majority of the blacktop parking lot, and giant coolers are brought in during the summer. It's a breeze to create a morning full of activities with Circles Records and Matt's Big Breakfast nearby. Hours are every Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon, and from 4 to 8 p.m. during First Friday's cooler months. Parking is plentiful, and admission is always free.
This tiny parking lot market closes during the hot months (June through September), but when it's up and running, it's one of the best reminders of why we live here. Where else in the country can you relax outside on a sunny morning in, say, March, contemplating the state of the world over coffee and some chocolate soufflé, or a glass of wine and a pesto-drenched panini? Camelback Market capitalizes on simple pleasures, with a handful of vendors peddling all the necessities of the good life: gorgeous, ripe produce; a strong selection of imported cheeses; some well-priced, good wines; and more varieties of olives and honey than you'll find in almost any gourmet shop. A big highlight is the homemade crepes -- savory ones with veggies, chicken or shrimp, or sweet ones with Nutella -- that are cooked to order and big enough to share. Just don't party too hard the night before you go; the market only runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of