Maybe it's just us, but a majority of the front yards found around town are really quite boring. Sure, some folks might try livening things up by plunking down such cheap-ass tchotchkes as windmills or garden gnomes in front of their homes, but for the most part, the Valley's lawns bring nothing but yawns. Not so with Gary Parsel's place. This 55-year-old artist has transformed the swatch of desert landscaping in front of his vintage residence located near Seventh Street and McDowell Road into a feast for the eyes. More than a dozen surreal stucco sculptures and attention-grabbing objets d'art adorn his yard and front porch, such as a gigantic flame-spewing head, a pair of bodacious beach bums kicking back in Adirondack chairs, and a ridiculous robot cobbled together from a collection of electronic components. There's also a virtual dog-and-pony show on display, with a few concrete canines and a horrendous-looking horse dotting the premises. Let's hope his neighbors don't mind.
Located half a mile from the ASU sporting facilities in the Cornerstone Mall is this roomy and chill-out watering hole and grill that shoots down the sports bar competition. Rub shoulders with fellow sports fans and cheer on your favorite team while sipping from your choice of 26 beers on tap and chowing on pub grub from shrimp cocktail and Buffalo wings appetizers to under-$8 entrees, including seven styles of burgers, a variety of chicken sandwiches, and health-conscious wraps. The main room houses five large high-definition televisions, and there are 30 smaller sets dispersed throughout the dining area, a pool room with 12 six-foot billiards tables, and a game room with dartboards, a shuffleboard table, and a Golden Tee video game. Friday nights feature the Eastside Shootout Dart Tournament, while Saturday nights showcase live rock and blues bands, and Six Shooters partners with The Snap Lounge, Dilly Dally, and 4 Kings for pool leagues during weeknights. Smoking hot like guns a-blazing.
Shemer Art Center & Museum
This lovely stucco home with the breathtaking mountain view was built in the 1920s and donated to the City of Phoenix as an arts center in 1984. Its historic/pastoral/funky/luxurious vibe is unique in a part of the city that's better known for big houses and expensive resorts than for serene public areas. Whether you're looking at exhibits in the front room, taking an art class in the sunny kitchen, or strolling the sculpture garden, you'll be nurtured and inspired. Even the glistening tiled bathroom, with a jungle of pothos draped over the window and tub, evokes an enchanted, dreamy ambiance. Not that it's always quiet November's annual Sunday at Shemer festival kicks things up a notch, and we have friends who got married one spring on the rolling green lawn but it just feels so good having the Shemer Center in our town.
FOX Sports Grill
Ever since we've been in the Valley, friends have been telling us about this great sports bar or that cool sports bar. It seems that everybody's got a favorite sports bar like everyone's got a favorite college football team. But most of these joints smell like beer and piss and have patrons who're butt-ugly and need a bath. A lot of those so-called bars even have little ol' TVs where you can barely make out who's just scored that touchdown or hit that three-pointer. So when we first entered Fox Sports Grill, we though we'd died and gone to sports bar heaven. The place is immaculate, a virtual shrine to sports, exotic cocktails and hot babes. If your team is winning, you can glue yourself to one of the giant screens that can be seen from any vantage point. (We like sitting at the gigantic, rectangular bar, but you can reserve a table if you desire a more intimate setting.) But if your team is losing, you can eyeball all the hot gals who are usually there only to pick up on studly, sports-loving dudes. The women at Fox actually seem to love being stared at. What a perfect place! There should be a man rule that if a woman enters a sports bar, she must enjoy the leering of horny males. The thing is, most of the women we observed at Fox were bored shitless by the games, but they were certainly more than willing to strike up a conversation if a guy's willing to buy them a Manhattan Iced Tea or three. A couple of them were even willing to join us in the parking lot. (Calm down, mom, we're just kidding.) On any special occasion say, Super Bowl Sunday or game seven of the NBA Finals fuhgedaboutit! Unless you reserve months in advance, you'll have to shoehorn into the place. But even standing around streets-of-Hong Kong-style at Fox is a trip you'll enjoy taking. Like we say, the drinks are plentiful, the scenery's tremendous, and the games are on, baby! Oh, and if you're looking for bar food that doesn't bite back, Fox has among the best in the sports bar business.
Marquee Theatre
You've still got to pay five bucks to park there, but at least you don't have to fight downtown Phoenix traffic. There are other benefits to seeing national acts at the Marquee, too. The venue often hosts bands just before they blow up big (H.I.M., The Darkness), so it's a great place to catch "the next big thing" before they're too big for you to afford tickets to their arena shows the following year. And there are no "nosebleed seats" at the Marquee. With a capacity of around 1,000, you've got more than an ant's chance of actually seeing the performers without the aid of a big projection screen. And the venue books a wide range of hot national acts in the past year, Marquee Theatre's hosted shows by everyone from hip-hop act Jurassic 5 to old-school punks Social Distortion to Jack White's red-hot new band, The Raconteurs. Makes it worth the price of admission plus the five bucks to park.

BEST WAY TO RELIEVE THE GUILT OF UNDONE ART PROJECTS

Art Resource Center

Macram? Macra you, buddy. We know your dirty little secret. You've got a big ol' stash of fabric, beads, clay, yarn, paint, paper and whatnot, and you were going to make all kinds of fabulous things someday. Hey, buying craft supplies is supposed to motivate you, right? Well, when you've faced reality (or at least your bulging closet door), donate the goods to the Art Resource Center, which funnels art and craft supplies to schools and other nonprofits. (It'll take money, too.) Sherrie Zeitlin founded the center in 2004 when she was an artist-in-residence at Valley schools and saw firsthand how badly the supplies are needed. You'll feel virtuous knowing that other folks are expressing themselves creatively with your recycled stuff. And once you've dismissed your inner Martha Stewart and her grandiose decorative schemes, you'll have better feng shui in your head as well as in your home.
The Breakfast Club and Barrista Bar
Jamie Peachey
There's an age-old stereotype that artists are nocturnal creatures, immersed in their craft 'til morning and sleeping the day away. Not the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed creative cats in The Breakfast Club, an artist group founded in 2003 by Beth Ames Swartz, Heidi Hesse, and Jon Haddock that meets bi-monthly at a Scottsdale restaurant of the same name. More than 30 artists, working in mediums ranging from gestural paintings and encaustics to resin figures and politically charged mixed-media pieces, gather for morning grub, java, and conversations about the creative process while sharing their artistic victories and challenges with one another. Individually, their work has been featured in the Valley's best-known venues, including the Phoenix Art Museum, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, the Shemer Art Center, and eye lounge, as well as New York's PaceWildenstein Gallery, and the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Seoul, South Korea. In April, the Club presented its first group exhibition at Scottsdale's Cattle Track Gallery, and instead of serving the traditional wine and cheese, breakfast was prepared and dished out by the artists. The group meets on Sundays, and membership is open to new attendees. Bon apptit.
Clubhouse Music Venue
There aren't many great music venues left in the Valley. Many have closed or become so run-down that you have to bring a can of Mace with you just to get out of the parking lot safely. The Clubhouse Music Venue is one major exception. It's got a relatively clean, spacious location, with matte black walls and a portable stage. Plenty of patrons sport Mohawks and sleeves of ink, but there are also minors (confined in the front, away from the bar), college students and thirtysomethings taking the edge off with a cold beer and some heavy metal. Headliners like Presidents of the United States of America and Brit rockers Kasabian have played the Clubhouse, along with local favorites Stereotyperider and The Necronauts. Technically, the venue accommodates 640, and depending on the band, it can be completely jammed. It's standing room only, unless you're lucky enough to find a seat at the bar.
The Rhythm Room
Bob Corritore's blues juke joint has won this award before, and, to be honest, we really tried to find a topper this year. But with blues legends like Buddy Guy, Koko Taylor, and Louisiana Red playing regular gigs in this cozy club, we just can't stay away. Some artists like Johnny Rawls, Asylum Street Spankers, and Candye Kane play exclusively at the Rhythm Room every time they're in town. Local legends like Hans Olson, Sistah Blue, Chico Chism, and Big Pete Pearson regularly rock the stage as well, and Corritore himself can often be seen blowing a blistering blues harp onstage. Throw in the colorful regulars, the stiff drinks, the smoking patio, and the Rack Shack BBQ stand out back, and you've got everything needed for the best balls-out blues night in Phoenix.

BEST PLACE TO SEE AND BE SEEN ON A FIRST FRIDAY

.anti_space

We've heard whisperings lately amongst art scenesters that First Friday isn't what it used to be, especially in the Evans-Churchill neighborhood (home to Roosevelt Row). These catty kooks claim the downtown district from where the monthly art walk sprang more than a decade ago has become too gentrified and overpriced, with all the hipper happenings going down over on Grand Avenue. Guess these naysayers haven't stopped by .anti_space yet, as the newest location of Scot McKenzie and Justin McBee's art space transmogrifies into a crazy-ass countercultural carnival every First Friday. Not only does their concrete bunker house two chic boutiques and four gonzo galleries, it's also the site of plenty of outlandish and enjoyable antics. Madcap mixed-media installations are erected each month (like an enormous Newton's Cradle made with bowling balls or a gigantic gas-powered blender used to obliterate watermelons and piatas), while McKenzie or other local DJs work the wheels of steel on the sidewalk, and friends jet around on screwy-looking modified bikes. We're pretty sure you'll never get bored here.

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