A first date should be relaxed, fun and easy to escape if something goes horribly wrong. A 24-hour coffee shop with a weekly poetry slam is exactly what the date doctor prescribes. Counter Culture Cafe is a bohemian hideaway, with art by locals lining the walls, and bookshelves stocked with well-worn tomes to borrow. Seating is varied, which is ideal for a first date. You can opt for one of the smaller tables near the mic or choose a comfy couch if you want to test your date's cuddle potential. The Wednesday night Speak Up! open mic doubles as the perfect cover to avoid talking to Mr. Boring ("Shhh . . . I really dig the way this cat spits rhyme") or a conversation starter ("So what do you think of the establishment?"). Either way, you'll get the benefit of the Valley's best beatbox, urban, home-grown folk and old-school beatnik talents. Snap. Snap.
We love what Hollywood does with real-life miscreants, so this year's prime-time television take on polygamy really caught our eye. What HBO's Big Love series lacked in reality it made up for in high cheekbones and even higher-gloss soap opera antics, courtesy of co-creators Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer and a passel of midlevel movie stars. They took a randy religious practice involving multiple wives and pedophilia committed with underage "spiritual" brides and turned it into a weekly hour that's as down and dirty as an episode of Three's Company. The abuses of polygamy in the northern Arizona and southern Utah towns of Colorado City and Hildale never looked so good, particularly as described, over the years, in the pages of Phoenix New Times, where John Dougherty broke much of the news about the real-life polygamists. But leave it to HBO to turn a program about a perverted practice that enslaves women into must-see TV. We defy you to look away from Utah polygamist Bill Henrickson (played by Bill Paxton) or his wives Barb, Nicki, and Margene (Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloë Sevigny, and Ginnifer Goodwin), who live in three separate houses on the same hunk of suburban crabgrass. Despite our better judgment, we haven't been able to turn off this sudsy mess, which returns for a second season next month.
It's time to relax, and one beer stands clear. Not Miller, fools. Kirin Ichiban! A tall frosty pint glass of Kirin will chase away that desert-induced tickle in the back of your throat. Of course, it's best to imbibe where there's the appropriate Nipponese grub, a chill atmosphere, and some bar stars of both sexes for gawking purposes. Hey, you can eat sushi anywhere. But in the enclosed confines of the Zen Bar, with Japanese anime being screened on one wall, sexy bartenders, a hella-hip vibe, and that already mentioned glass o' Kirin fresh from the tap, the tuna roll or yellowtail maki just seems to taste better. And the restaurant serves sushi 'til midnight, which helps. Plus, most nights of the week, there's a reverse happy hour, with some free noshes provided. So let's get crackin' at it like a bag of knuckles. And if you arrive there first, pardners, save us a corner seat.
Caffe Boa on Mill
Lauren Saria
We love the concept behind happy hour cheap drinks and eats and a way to avoid traffic for a while after work. But the reality of happy hour usually sucks: We can only consume so many Buffalo wings and Bud Lights. Which is why Caffe Boa is our favorite place to blow off steam, and enjoy libations after a long workweek. Glasses of wine from the cafe's impressive list are half-price (try the Sauvignon Blanc Dry Lands from New Zealand). Bread and oil is served free, and, combined with a few glasses of wine, we usually call it dinner. If you're classier than we are and like actual appetizers with your drinks, check out the formaggi piatti a fancy way of saying "cheese plate" or the bruschetta. The atmosphere is better than most happy hours no unruly drunks in sight but you can still escape, nice and toasted, for less than $20.
Freedom Inn at Scottsdale
Voting ain't what it used to be, at least if the pathetic local and national turnouts in recent years are any indication. But given the choice of sitting on our behinds and whining about the sad state of affairs or casting our votes for whatever sorry sucker somehow strikes our fancy, we'll take the latter. That brings us to this spotless assisted-living facility, which also serves as a refuge for people with Alzheimer's disease. You've never seen volunteer service like this in your life. Probably three volunteers all of them in the homestretch of life for each voter. You need a glass of water before you start fooling with those chads or whatever they are? They'll fetch one for you. Hungry? They've got snacks. Need a quiet place to make up your mind once and for all? No problem. These well-informed oldsters are thrilled just to be alive; helping the electorate is gravy. Now if only we could convince one of them to run for office.
Giuseppe's on 28th
Jamie Peachey
Giuseppe's Italian Kitchen owns this spot, like Mark Cuban owns the Dallas Mavericks. Of course, it costs the Eye-tie eatery a pretty penny. Three hundred of them, to be exact. See, the corkage fee at Giuseppe's, the no-frills eatery with the way-above-average fare that's owned by Richard Bock, principal cellist for the Phoenix Symphony, is only $3 per bottle. That's about what you'd tip a Scottsdale valet these days. So rather than pay the 200 to 300 percent markup at some hoity-toity grub house for a jug of vino that'd cost you $10 at Trader Joe's, you can bring in your own fermented grape juice and sit down for a nice plate of linguini or baked ziti. See, Bock's in it for love, not moola. So he's fine with turning a modest profit without gouging his customers. Other restaurants allow BYOB, but we've yet to find a place that's anywhere near as low as at Giuseppe's on the corkage, so this space will remain as a free advert for Bock & Co., up until someone else out there in restaurant land finally gets a clue.
Janet Napolitano's the hands-down champion when it comes to political maneuvering around here. The mere fact that a woman who comes across as this butch can get elected governor and, before that, attorney general in Arizona (of all places) is testament to her political IQ. Plus, she's a bleedin' Democrat! Somehow she's been able to avoid all the hot-button issues, or make us think she cares hugely about them without really doing much, and now the pollsters have declared her unbeatable this election year. She offended her bedrock feminist voters by refusing to step in to stop the rape of little girls by the polygamists of Colorado City (would have pissed off too many powerful mainstream Mormons who pull the purse strings in this state), but who else are feminists going to vote for in the governor's race? Whenever we criticize her at a cocktail party, longtime lefty Arizonans (yes, there are one or two) chime in: "But you should've been here in the past she's so much better than anybody else we've had as governor!" She came out strongly that something should be done about illegal immigration but vetoed every Republican-inspired measure the Legislature came up with to beef up patrols along the border. Oh, right, she supported putting some National Guardsmen down there. Big whoop! Now, we richly enjoyed seeing knee-jerk Neanderthals like Representative Russell Pearce put in their place, but we recognized Janet's tactics as classically, well, Janet. That is, she makes a lot of noise about solving a problem that's big with voters and then takes the least possible action. Yet it's all working. There's not a candidate around least of all the GOP's Len Munsil who has a snowball's chance in the Sonoran Desert of unseating her. She's gotten so powerful that, if she really is gay (like a lot of people think), Napolitano could come out and say so and still get elected. She'd be the first lesbian governor. We'd certainly never hold it against her. But she'd never do that! Which is why she gets our nod as best pol this year. A great career politician never does anything that's even slightly risky. A great politician stands firmly in the middle of the road.
Whenever we get that little desert tickle in the back of our throats, we do what the po-po do: Park it next to Sonora Brewhouse and amble inside for a pint or three of one of Sonora's locally produced brew-ha-has. Not that we're saying the Phoenix PD drink on the job, but it just so happens that we always see plenty of cop cars in the SB parking lot. Hey, Five-0 knows quality when they taste it, and we're about 95 percent certain they wait until they're off duty to imbibe. The rest of us, however, need not wait to quaff Sonora's hand-crafted beers, like its refreshingly smooth pale ale, its hoppy IPA, or its chocolaty-malty super-dark porter. Just belly up to the bar, matey, or, if you're in a rush, Sonora also does jugs of its brew to go. We advise you not to drink it in your car, though. After all, the po-po are watchin'.
The word "nepotism" comes from the medieval word for political favoritism shown to the nephews of prelates. What Webster's dictionary failed to do in its explanation was include a link to Don Goldwater's Web site, where the poster boy for nepotism begged voters to do for him what his dead uncle could no longer do give him a political position he didn't deserve. Donnie is the nephew of the late senator Barry Goldwater, patron saint of Arizona. The Don explained on his Web site that he got a 3.77 GPA in information technology from the University of Phoenix. He also apparently has run every backwater Republican Party committee in the state. He's on the City of Laveen Planning Committee. He likes flying model planes and playing Ping-Pong. Great rsum if you're running for the Queen Creek Weed Advisory Board. But no, he wanted to be governor. So now one looks to his message. Don's slogan: "Goldwater: The Name You Know, The Name You Trust." Is this the Hapsburg Empire? Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico? Oh, sorry, Don. We'll speak in plainer English. Like, "Limited Government," "Economic Freedom," "Individual Liberty." This was Don's platform. This was Barry's platform of platitudes in 1953. Then Barry grew up and stopped running around America getting liquored up and taking pictures and started buckling down and suggesting progressive, moderate legislation that actually did real good for many Americans. Don, you are no Barry. Oh, and another thing. Barry is dead. Time to cut the cord. Or maybe you just need a name change. Most any name but Kennedy would be fine.
Len Munsil is the shiny-happy-people candidate for governor. He's the golden boy of all the folks who pray a lot to a white-haired, white-skinned Christ-bearing God who oh, wait, holy crap conceived his first child out of wedlock. As one of the leading voices for Arizona's Christian right, Munsil has spent much of his life lambasting the heretical lifestyles of liberals. Two biggies on his list of goodies: the sanctity of marriage and the importance of abstinence. But a funny thing happened during his ascension to political heaven. Someone did a push poll asking what voters would think if they found out this herald of goodness had actually gotten a woman pregnant out of wedlock. We're assuming that, unlike God, Munsil could only pull this off by doing the nasty. So the knocked-up chick is his wife of 20 years. She got pregnant right before they were to be married. They stayed married and raised the child. The child is a lovely Christian. All would seem good. But, is it? It's one thing to make a mistake, then quietly make good on a promise to raise the child well. It's another to make a mistake and hide it while making political hay condemning to the fires of hell people who do exactly what you did. Those who hold themselves highest fall the farthest from hypocrisy. Munsil, riding the highest horse of this year's candidates, better damn well walk the narrow walk he talks. He didn't. He doesn't. And as his sacred text reminds, "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun." Okay, so maybe we got a little carried away. In any case, don'tcha just love Arizona politics?

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