Uncle Bear's Grill & Bar
From the hardwood floors covered in peanut shells to the outdoor patio, this friendly neighborhood bar immerses itself in a modern country-and-western feel. The Uncle Bear's moniker comes from the owner's pooch, and the pup's insignia is plastered on the walls and the menu donning a full offering of pasta dishes, gourmet pizzas, Tex-Mex fare, burgers, and sandwiches. We particularly enjoy getting our paws into a number of "Bear's Favorites," like the Cajun Belly Rub Burger smothered with homemade Cajun rub spice, chipotle mayo, diced onions, and jack cheese. Booze is a man's best friend with a bar serving up frosty microbrews and a number of tropical "doghouse drinks" be sure to try the Fire Dog concoction with Meyers Dark Rum and juices served on fire. Weekly entertainment includes Texas Hold 'Em poker tournaments on Tuesdays and Thursdays, free pool and shuffleboard on Sundays, and even a kids-eat-free special on Wednesday nights.
How do you separate your new gallery from all the other "upscale, contemporary art" galleries on Marshall Way? Simple. Don't put it in Scottsdale. Michael Costello and Daryl Childs chose wisely when they selected the historic Gold Spot in downtown Phoenix as the location for their new gallery. The building, constructed in the 1920s, has been completely restored to its original beauty, with a few modern additions namely, the polished concrete "faux tile" floors. It has all the charm of a vintage brownstone, while allowing Costello and Childs to set up a bright, airy, welcoming space to draw emerging and mid-career artists like painter Pat Berger, sculptor Kate Ritson, and photographer Richard D'Amore. Costello and Childs, who together bring more than half a century of experience to the table, have found their niche in featuring only national artists. The downside? Local artists need to look elsewhere for a new space to exhibit in. The bonus? If you've ever been out on a First Friday, we need say no more.
The British Open Pub
If an English pub is well-lighted and smoke-free, be suspicious. No self-respecting Brit would be caught dead in a place like that, which is why owner Gregg Troilo created the British Open. It's clean enough to suit American tastes, but it's windowless and the ashtrays are always full. The wooden bar is as dark and stout as fine ale, and the walls are plastered with advertisements for Guinness and Newcastle. Looking around, it seems that the British love golf almost as much as they love tea. Images of golfers in plaid vests and knickers perch behind the bar, in photos and newspaper clippings, and the menu sports clever wordplay like "sandwedges" and "on the greens." We can't get enough of the home-style bangers and mash with brown gravy and the Guinness-infused pot pie, usually ordered with a black-and-tan chaser. You might be subjected to a bit of golf trivia, but this friendly bunch will overlook your Yankee roots if you know the difference between a nine-iron and a putter.
Lisa Sette Gallery
Andrew Pielage
With all the talk about edgy Phoenix, we forget that some of the Valley's strongest art roots are, in fact, in Scottsdale and we're not talking howling coyotes here. Try those equally iconic gussied-up Weimaraners, since William Wegman is a longtime member of Lisa Sette's posse. Sette is one of the most elegant women in town, with a gallery to match whether with a recent group exhibition focusing on hair or the amazing show that celebrated her 20 years in Scottsdale. She challenges and tempts us, and we're grateful.
Located in the 1888 Andre Building in downtown Tempe, this authentic Irish saddlery-styled pub has been pouring the best Guinness and whiskey in town since 2000. Rla Bla's Gaelic name translates into "uproar and commotion" in the context of celebratory times, and this authenticity extends throughout the space with stained-glass booth dividers, rustic wooden furniture built in Ireland, even bartenders imported from the Old World. There's traditional pub grub, such as the shepherd's pie with Angus sirloin, carrots, champ potatoes, parsnips, and peas, as well as new Irish cuisine, including baked trout with curried orange butter served with red potatoes. Enjoy pints of Stella Artois, Harp or Boddington's while listening to live Irish music Thursdays through Saturdays or on the sociable patio decked out with misters in the summer and portable lamp heaters in the winter. Oh, and did we mention the Guinness?
Believe the hype. ASU Art Museum has catapulted itself into the 21st century with its latest exhibition, "New American City," making Tempe for real a new American city to watch. Curators Heather Lineberry and John Spiak panned the Phoenix metropolitan area for good stuff, and came up with a satisfying collection of shiny nuggets. There are familiar names like painter Sue Chenoweth, whose work here is bigger and bolder than ever, and less familiar names (see photographer Paho Mann's "reinhabited" Circle K series) the combination achieves the kind of synergy that you look for in a major metropolitan museum show. And judging by the enthusiastic, not-the-usual-suspects crowd that flocked to the opening youngish, moneyed and big-city hip we're not the only ones paying attention. It's too late to attend the opening, natch, but the exhibition runs through January 27. And just think, this way you'll actually be able to see the art, instead of the people we were tempted to watch instead.
Urban Cafe
Leave your troubles at the door when entering the Urban Cafe. This Mediterranean eatery and hookah bar is a killer place to chill and enjoy a plate of hummus and baba ghanouj while listening to sitar music. Hookah is treated as a main course, with tobacco flavors ranging from exotic Zaghloul to green apple. Shisha, a blend of tobacco, honey and fruit, is gently heated over natural charcoal, diffused through a glass cylinder and then inhaled through ornate hoses. They say shisha is smoked for the flavor, not for any physical effects it produces, but we tend to disagree here. Somehow when people gather at the Urban Cafe for hookah, it turns into a mini-Woodstock where folks give the peace sign and sing "Kum Ba Yah." As for naysayers who think hookah should be outlawed in public places, all we have to say is dude, stop harshing my mellow.
Julie Hampton's small studio was only open for a few months, but we'll never forget her Art Detour 2006 exhibition. In honor of a show called "Green," Hampton and her co-curators forked over some of their own green to lay the studio with sod, for a few short days. The inspiration came from a conversation about a previous Art Detour exhibition, in which an artist built a house in her studio, then put grass around it. This was quite the ordeal, Hampton recalls. The day of the more recent landscaping, Hampton knowing there was a sod shortage called four Home Depots at 6 a.m., in search. She found it at 75th Avenue and McDowell Road, so she hopped in her Nissan Sentra and drove, as she puts it, like "a mad woman" to get it calling her co-curator, Kriste Peoples, on the way. Peoples met her with a Toyota RAV4. The two crammed 20 rolls of sod (about 220 square feet) into their vehicles it barely fit put air in their tires, and drove to the studio on Grand Avenue, in Beatrice Moore's wedding cake of a building, called La Milgosa. They put plastic on the ground, then rolled out the sod. "Sort of a hack job, but it turned out okay," Hampton says. We recall it as more than okay. In fact, we were entranced, as was our 4-year-old companion, who immediately slipped off her shoes and got down on her hands and knees. Much like the Hanukkah miracle, the grass held up for a full week. "That much wet grass in a small space was a bit humid for my liking, but people seemed to enjoy taking off their shoes and walking around," Hampton says. a.ware's formal space is gone, but the vibe continues with open houses and Tupperware-esque home parties (but much more arty!) thrown by Hampton and Carol Panaro-Smith, who also plan to offer workshops on bookmaking and candlemaking. For more information, e-mail [email protected]
Arizona Doll and Toy Museum
We thought we'd seen it all when it comes to Phoenix, at least until a friend brought us to the Arizona Doll & Toy Museum. This small treasure, tucked into a historic house in downtown's Heritage Square, is a wonderful monument to childhood. Antique dolls from different decades share their home with more modern Betsy Wetsy types. There's even a period school room all set up for the dolls. We won't tell you everything that's there we don't want to ruin the surprise but make sure you go, and take a kindergartner along. You'll both have fun.
You'll have to excuse us if we're a little tired. We've spent the past few nights visiting the Valley's various flesh factories in search of the best strip club. Frankly, they tend to run together, all seemingly offering the same pole-dancing and lap-grinding brand of nearly naked ladies of the night who move and groove to blaring rock and hip-hop jams. Fortunately, the femmes fatales of the Pin-Up Girl Lounge stood out from the rest of the pubic pack. It's a classy joint, with a sultry red color scheme and a seductive series of dancers shaking their moneymakers, most of whom appear to be naturally endowed, with very little silicone in sight. While witnessing all this bumping and grinding, we enjoyed the lounge's seriously swank selection of premium liquors, including cognac and scotch. The cover only ran us $7 (from 7 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. daily), leaving plenty of greenbacks to partake in lap dances starting at $10 (it's $15 for "up against the wall action" and $20 to get into the VIP room), particularly from that one honey-haired hottie we had our eyes on all night. Do you think she'll really call us, like she promised?

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