BEST C&W NIGHTSPOT 2006 | Handlebar-J | People & Places | Phoenix
Courtesy of Handlebar-J
The Herndon family has owned this landmark institution since 1975, when the late Brick Herndon and his wife, Gwen, sold almost everything they had to purchase the place where Gwen had worked as a waitress for eight years. Over the past 30 years, the family's turned Handlebar-J into the country capital of Phoenix, with the Herndon Brothers band (led by Gwen's sons, Ron and Ray) playing Wednesdays through Saturdays. Guest performers who've graced the stage include Jessi Colter, Kris Kristofferson, Hank Williams Jr., Toby Keith, Vince Gill, and Lyle Lovett. Getting ahold of the big country stars isn't hard for Handlebar-J, considering that Ray Herndon is a well-known Nashville recording artist who's played with Lovett's band for years. Handlebar-J has awesome steaks, too, but the best thing about the place is the unpretentious atmosphere. As one patron put it, "You don't have to be country to come in here, but you might be a little country when you leave."


Tilt Gallery

We had just become accustomed to tromping around Grand Avenue in the dark when galleries began opening off Grand. Don't be afraid of this one Tilt really is just barely off Grand; you can almost see it from the main drag. Look for the bright pink walls. We love to hang at Tilt on Third Fridays, the best time to really see the art at any of the galleries on Roosevelt Row or Grand, given that the First Friday crush usually allows for people-watching and not much else. Third Fridays are for arty types, and Tilt, quickly becoming known as one of the best photography galleries in town, knows that usually the artist or artists are on hand to discuss their work or mingle with the crowd that hangs on Tilt's patio to sip wine and hear live music. Viewing hours beyond that are by appointment only, so mark your calendar accordingly.
Why has the Blunt Club nabbed this award three years in a row? Because we just couldn't help it; there was no alternative. Blunt Club's arsenal of awesome includes a crew of P-town's hottest hip-hop DJs, including residents Mr. Hyder, Tricky T, Pickster One (Vinyl Rockers, Drunken Immortals), and DJ Daddy Rich (3rd Bass); stellar national underground guest acts like Tee Double, Radioinactive, and J. Boogie; and local rap artist Emerg McVay, a host who can spit it with the best. With all those aces, the Blunt Club's got a winning hip-hop hand that's hard to beat.


Mill's End Cafe

For the past few years, the hype surrounding the Final Friday Art Walk in downtown Tempe has pretty much centered on one venue in particular, namely the art supply store Wet Paint. But now the kick-back cats over at Mill's End Cafe are giving those pigment-slinging peeps a run for their money, as the java joint has proven to be a pretty popular hangout during the monthly event. A sizable throng of dreadlocked scenesters, emo kids, and college-age cronies stop by the Mill Avenue coffee house to witness poetry slams, smoke flavored shishas from various hookahs, and partake in live music from local bands like Icy Core of Jupiter, and The Complainiacs, as well as new works from such artists as painters Tracy Perdue and Disposable Hero, photographer Sooz, and mixed-media maven LaTanya Ree. There are also plenty of the requisite caffeinated beverages on tap, which we're gonna need to give us the energy to hit all the other venues open on Final Friday.


the untitled artist bowling league

Cosmic bowling is so last year. Now the hot thing on the lanes is to actually start your own league. Case in point: a group of Valley art types who started bowling just to hang out with friends, and are quickly expanding into several teams. It all started when Neil Borowitz, an exhibit designer at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art who used to work at the Heard Museum, wanted to get together with friends, including Melissa Martinez, who works at the Heard and used to be at SMoCA. Neil gathered some SMoCA folks, and Melissa brought the Heard people. ASU Art Museum and Roosevelt Row followed and now, the sky's the limit! "Honestly, we're very flexible," Melissa says. "It's not like a rigid team structure." Knowing those creative types, we're inclined to believe her. We hear they have some pretty interesting team names, too, but Melissa's not telling.
There are dozens of reggaeton nights around town, but Saturdays at Jackson's was the first (it started in 2002), and it's still the largest, drawing an eclectic crowd that sometimes includes celebrities like national reggaeton sensation Pitbull, and Wu-Tang Latino Records CEO Ray Acosta. Every week, hundreds of people flood the three dance floors at Jackson's to hear everything from hip-hop to salsa; most of the reggaeton action goes down in the main room, where various DJs spin everything from reggaeton hits like Daddy Yankee's "Gasolina" to lesser-known songs by up-and-coming reggaeton artists like Mr. Phillips and Omawi Bling. The dance floor is usually packed with hip-shaking hotties by midnight, but if you can't find a spot on the dance floor, you can just do what everybody else does, and dance where you stand.
Folks who like to get their sweat on along to the deeper world beats of Brazilian, salsa, and merengue have been filling up the funky dance floor at downtown Mesa's Club Cabo. The "Afro" refers to Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian, and the baile is Portuguese for "dance party," and both merge when DJ Seduce tantalizes and marinates eardrums with an eclectic mix of deep soulful house, chill-out downtempo, and funky world beats. The weekly shout-out to lovers of world music happens each Thursday night.
Picture a bunch of shivering folks willingly waiting in line during the middle of the night, exchanging friendly banter and warm coffee. Now, strip away the consumer-obsessed IKEA feel and the Cabela's "real American" quality and you've got the bookworm diehards awaiting the Volunteer Nonprofit Service Association (VNSA) book sale, held annually during the second weekend of February. The largest book sale west of the Mississippi features a 50,000-square-foot nerd oasis filled with more than 600,000 books, including $2 hardcovers and $1 paperbacks, as well as videos, CDs, audio tapes, records, maps, and puzzles. The warehouse is broken up into sections ranging from classics and cookbooks to history/war/politics and foreign language reads. The rare and unusual section where we've found a first printing of Tolstoy's War and Peace for $10, an out-of-print history of ASU from 1960, and bizarre literature such as 1920s white supremacy propaganda is definitely our favorite. Shopping carts are provided, but they go fast (usually in about 10 minutes), so it's a good idea to bring your own bags. If you don't want to brave the Saturday chaos, come back on Sunday, when most books are half-price. There is a fairground-parking fee, but admission to the sale is free, with proceeds benefiting local nonprofit human service agencies.
We know that Bob Marley preached a world filled with one love through spiritually uniting music, but sometimes other soul music pioneers like Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, and D'Angelo are seriously slept on. That's why Karlie Hustle, a mover-and-shaker in the soul and hip-hop scenes, created the Groove Candy Night weekly lounge night. The Power 98.3 DJ represents dusty grooves while keeping microphone yammering to a minimum. The backbone of the series is most definitely the DJs, including resident emcee DJ M2, who spins classics mixed with neo-soul, reggae, and hip-hop, from The Roots and Common to Erykah Badu and Goapele. Wrap your fingers around a cocktail, feel the love, and unwind to some groove therapy each Wednesday night.
The granddaddy of microcinema, No Festival Required, has brought underground films sans the censorship of distribution, festival rules, or economics to Modified Arts during each first Sunday evening for the past three years, and counting. The films run the artsy gamut of comedy, drama, documentary, and experimental works, whether it's during February's annual Arizona Statehood Show that showcases local filmmakers, the sublime Lunafest featuring all women directors, or the scathing rap short film of the U.S. administration's handling of Hurricane Katrina in "George Bush Don't Like Black People." The motion picture series is also featured during select Sunday afternoons at the Phoenix Art Museum. You won't have to navigate the commercial megaplex to enjoy a No Fes flick.

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