BEST WAY TO SPEND YOUR WINNINGS 2005 | Aji Spa at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort | People & Places | Phoenix
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.


Arizona WinWay Center

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.
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!

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