BEST BAR TO SING WITH ROCK STARS 2006 | The Real Bar | People & Places | Phoenix
How many towns boast weekly gatherings of sousing and open mic jams hosted by some of the biggest local musicians around? Ever since Billy Marcks from Authority Zero started booking events at The Real Bar as an excuse to do some singing and swilling with his buddies, the Tempe juke joint has become quite the magnet for the Valley's musical A-listers, if there is such a thing. On any given night, guests can rub shoulders with AZ singer Jason Devore and Marcks, and hang with other Valley biggies like Brian Blush (ex-Refreshments), Big Blake, Jason Hubbard and Lauren Z. Guests can grab a guitar and do their best Santeria cover or try to drink Marcks under the table (which will be quite the undertaking). And with $2 Tecates and $1 PBR, you'll feel like a rock star after a couple of pints even if you're the only one there.
Ragan Fox is the poster boy for gay overachievers. He published a book, became a university instructor and got his doctorate all by the time he hit 30, which probably explains why his podcast is so damn brilliant. Technically, he's Dr. Fox now, but his fans just call him Rag pronounced rayg as in "ray of friggin' sunshine," not rag like "on the rag." Sure, he anal-yzes Brokeback Mountain and sings lesbian karaoke, but parts of Fox's show would appeal to conservative, redneck high school dropouts. Brangelina's love child? Hell spawn. Jessica Simpson? Just Anna Nicole Smith with a career. Terrorism? "Who releases a threat on an audio tape these days?" Fox quipped after a voice recording of Osama bin Laden aired. "You might as well release the shit on an eight-track." If Osama really wanted to get some Web hits, says Fox, he'd release a sex tape like Pam Anderson or Britney. Wow. That's why we love you, Rag!
The same building that once housed reggae musicians and Grateful Dead tribute bands as The Sail Inn became Trax this year, a "casual but trendy" nightclub that mixes house, breakbeat and electronica music from DJs like Rephil and Earth with live rock music by bands like Fat Rhabit and the Chris Tafoya Band. The club's most popular components seem to be the outside stage and patio, and the custom lounge tables that the club's always encouraging people to dance on. But the lack of a cover charge most nights along with cheap, strong drinks and eclectic young crowds probably doesn't hurt, either.
The swanky Gen X set that wants to find the perfect Roaring Twenties cigarette holder, wear zoot suits, and drink a mah-tini has the perfect soundtrack on Star 97.5. The station's self-avowed "sass, brass, and a whole lot of class" format includes jazz, blues, pop, swing, and standards, with the coolest of the old school (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Nat "King" Cole, Ella Fitzgerald) getting airtime alongside the new guard (Harry Connick Jr., Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Brian Setzer, Madeleine Peyroux). Programs like the "Two Martini Lunch" (from noon to 1 p.m. on weekdays) and "Starry Nights" (from 7 p.m. to midnight on weekdays) keep listeners cool with finger-snappin' numbers by the likes of Sammy Davis Jr. and Tony Bennett, and hot new numbers by the likes of Norah Jones, The Swingtips, and Diana Krall (a.k.a. Mrs. Elvis Costello). With set lists like this, you can live in 2006, but still party like it's 1945.
We knew a fellow from Arkansas who stepped out with women who were not, technically, single. He said the best bars have no front windows. The Great Escape does that concept one better: The parking's out back, so passersby can't even spot your wheels from Indian School Road. Inside, the ATM's broken. The popcorn looks wicked old. Want a draft? It's Bud or Miller. A couple years back, a bear of a man tended bar here while watching Cartoon Network, and some guy gave us crap about our taste in music. Seemed promising. But then the other night, a trim, silver-haired gent introduced himself and thanked us for playing the jukebox. Aaaaah, we thought. They're getting soft. Place's losing its edge. Then our new friend leaned in and hooked his thumb back toward the rowdies at the next table: "If they start," he said, "just get outta the way." Yesssss! The Dive abides.
Country's become a lot cooler recently, probably because it's become a little more cheeky. Instead of the stereotypical, twangy, "lost-my-woman-now-I'm-drinkin'" sob songs, we get flashy, hot cowboys like Big & Rich, and roaring ditties like Trace Adkins' "Honytonk Badonkadonk." The folks over at KMLE country embrace this new wave, with cool country cats like Stacey Brooks , Shappy, and ex-KUPD jockey Dave Pratt spinning tunes by the likes of The Lost Trailers, Rascal Flatts, Sugarland, and Michelle Branch's new band, The Wreckers. Sure, you'll still hear some LeAnn Rimes, Toby Keith, and Tim McGraw, but they'll probably spare you crap like "Achy Breaky Heart."
There was a time in the '80s when an army of spandex-stretching, Aqua Net-abusing metalheads controlled the turf of nightclubs across the land. Thankfully, times have changed, but for folks who still want to be rocked like a hurricane, BulldogZ is the bar to kick-start your heart. The best thing about BulldogZ, besides the reemergence of ponytails and old Slayer shirts, is the locale. Because it's situated at 55th Avenue and Camelback Road, heshers don't have to subject themselves to the gnarly parking and the poseur frat boys of Mill Avenue. The local metal zone holds 400 people and is all-ages complete with a 21-and-up bar. Owner/manager Tom Gibbons launched the nightspot in response to friends and local musicians who were craving a metal venue on the west side. A haven for local acts like KOAMA, BulldogZ also brings in bigger acts like Prong and F5.
This Christian radio station is pretty traditional in its beliefs, and those beliefs are reflected in the station's talk programs, specifically Dr. Randy Carlson's "On Call" evening program, where the venerable doc discusses such family topics as "Overweight Children" and "Coping With Infertility" (we are, of course, referred to Bible verses for the answers). But Family Life isn't just all talk. The station plays a lot of Christian Contemporary tunes, and there's really more music than sermonizing. The station's stable of DJs spins the best in righteous rock, from solo artists like Michael W. Smith and Mark Harris to God-loving groups like Big Daddy Weave, Sonicflood, and Third Day. Don't touch that dial! And that comes from a higher authority.
The best gay nightclubs are the ones that welcome all shades of the rainbow, from post-op trannies to Latin lovers to straight women just looking for a place to party without having to fight off a dozen touchy-feely slimeballs. No matter what your preference, you can find it here. Karamba is friendly, inviting and pretty clean for a place that's packed on weekends. There are three large rooms inside, each with its own bar, and an outdoor patio for smokers or hombres wanting a private chat. Most nights, DJs spin cumbia, norteo and other Spanish styles. The sexy Susana, in her cowboy hat and tight jeans, hosts Vaquero Thursdays for all those cowpokes who'd rather saddle up with a partner than spend the night alone. While we'll miss "Hot Pink!" Fridays, we certainly aren't complaining about the replacement hunky go-go dancers with rippling pecs and rock-hard, er, abs. Ay, Karamba!
Angela is an "interdisciplinary artist" represented by one of the most prestigious venues in town, Bentley Gallery in Scottsdale. Tania is a writer and playwright with an acclaimed memoir, My One Night Stand With Cancer. You might have seen her at a local 10K running topless, fighting breast cancer. Sadly, the couple left town for L.A. several years ago, but lucky for us, they're back, making art, writing and teaching, spreading the wealth of their knowledge and spirit Angela as an assistant professor at Arizona State, and Tania through the Virginia G. Piper Center. One of their close friends put it best: "Angela is Tania's best reader and cheerleader; she's not afraid to say she doesn't like something Tania wrote if she doesn't think it's Tania's best work, and she's also at every performance and 10K/marathon Tania does." And Tania reminds Angela not to settle for less in her life: 'Honey, if you only look for a house in the ghetto, we'll only get a house in the ghetto.'"

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