George & Dragon Pub
We once invited an English gal pal to the G&D. She took one look and went all wiggy on us. Mumbled something about Liverpool, started gulping down Guinness, and passed out in the loo. We took this as a sign that she liked the place, which turned out to be true. Moral of the story: If you can get a Brit to throw up in your toilet, you're doing something right. This venerable pub and restaurant can't seem to do anything wrong, from the Union Jack it flies from the roof to the last yummy bite of the 100 percent authentic shepherd's pie. G&D also stocks lots of hard-to-find suds and is one of the few places in town where fans of real football can get their fill. And with its back room full of pool tables and dart games, it makes for an abso-bloody-lutely great place to just arse about.
This Tempe joint has the ultimate credential for an Irish bar: It knows how to pour the perfect Guinness. Ice cold, with a delightful head of froth, it's got us ready to belt out, "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" — and, thank God, the good-looking crowd of college kids and professionals mingling on the patio is usually happy to join in.
Celebrity Theatre
With a maximum capacity of 2,600, Celebrity Theatre may not be the biggest concert venue in the Valley, but therein lies the charm. No seat is farther than 75 feet from the stage, making this venue the only one in Phoenix where the phrase "not a bad seat in the house" really holds true. Because of the enclosed space and the circular seating around the stage, the acoustics are excellent — which may be one reason the venue still draws national acts like Heart, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, and Bow Wow, despite bigger venues in town with more advertising muscle. And Celebrity Theatre's unique setup (like the revolving stage) often provides concertgoers with a more personalized experience, as some performers are always compelled to comment on the setup from the stage. Return performer Lucinda Williams has remarked about the "weird" half-round setup that always has her directly facing the stage exit the past three times she's played the venue. Or Cyndi Lauper, who found herself performing on the stage in 2003 while it was rotating and proclaimed, "Stop the stage! I feel like I'm gonna throw up."
Clubhouse Music Venue
In addition to being one of the few all-ages rock clubs in town, The Clubhouse has the distinction of hosting some of the hottest bands in the PHX on a regular basis — Authority Zero, Casket Life, Greeley Estates, The Format, The Heartless, and The Earps have all played that stage, many as opening acts for national performers. And the venue seems to have a knack for booking national acts that are about to blow up into the year's biggest buzz bands — artists like Sage Francis, Isis, Matisyahu, and Menomena. The CMV doesn't shy away from the unknown, either, as it's played host to numerous Battles of the Bands, from the Zippo Hot Tour competition to the 101.5 Free FM showcase to the Emergenza local showcase competition, where Valley rockers like Cold Fusion, e(v)olocity, and Storm Within have gone for the glory. The acoustics in the place are great, and yes, there is a bar for those 21 and older. The only drawback is that you can't take your al-kee-hall past the bar, and the entire area in front of the stage is a no-booze zone.
Located at a dusty intersection just off the Old West Highway (natch), Arizona Joe's is a rollicking roadhouse where you can do some serious hootin' and a-hollerin' any night of the week. Country is king here, as an array of cowboy hats is stapled above the bar and the walls are lined with plenty of Western art and NASCAR memorabilia. Local groups like The Desert Skies Band and The Jeff Stevens Band serve up some pickin' and grinnin' here nightly, providing plenty of good ol' boy music, drinking songs, and Willie Nelson covers for the delight of the cowboy junkies in attendance. Trailer-park rats, trucker hat-wearing country bumpkins, and tattooed Kid Rock types come from miles around to boot-scoot across the dance floor, suck down bottles of Budweiser and Coors, or puff on Marlboros. It makes us want to throw on our snakeskin boots and amble on down for a taste of country comfort. Y'all come back now, ya hear?
The Rhythm Room
Rhythm Room owner Bob Corritore isn't about to relinquish his title as "Mr. Phoenix Blues" just yet. While his club has been booking more rock acts in the past few years, he still manages to host every hot blues show in town, from the legendary (Joe Louis Walker, Mem Shannon, Sonny Rhodes) to the new guard (Black Diamond Heavies, Wayne "The Train" Hancock, Candye Kane). And the Rhythm Room still plays host to more Valley bluesicians than any other venue, with acts like Big Pete Pearson, Paris James, Hans Olson, and Sistah Blue regularly rockin' the stage. But the Rhythm Room is more than just a blues club — it's a Phoenix institution, where famous blues guitarists mingle alongside the club's regulars and all-star jams can last until 2 a.m. Despite the absence of "Arizona's Ambassador to the Blues," Chico Chism, who died in January at age 79, the Rhythm Room's fire is still burning, and like the posters of past performers that adorn the walls, the vibe in the small club is one of remembrance and celebration, a slice of nostalgia straddling the modern world.

BEST CLUB FOR NEW BLUES AND ROCKABILLY

The Blooze

Blooze Bar
Situated in a strip mall on the northeast side, The Blooze may not look like much, but once you walk in and get a feel for the place, you appreciate the kicked-back atmosphere. On weekends, local blues and rockabilly bands like Jailhouse Poets, The Dynoglides, Maricopa County Prison Band, and Shadowcasters set up on the modest stage and rock the joint, while patrons enjoy $1.25 domestic drafts. Occasionally, an out-of-town band like Cali's Brian Jay & The Last Call Boys will play the club, too, and since The Blooze is so hot on cars (they broadcast every NASCAR race), they welcome car enthusiasts — vintage vehicle clubs like Glendale's The Invaders are frequent visitors.
The same scrubs behind the defunct Emerald Lounge are trying to make a go of it with their recent purchase of this downtown bar. It's a slippery game they're playing — trying to be all shadowy and underground and indie, without forcing it. Authenticity cannot be faked, but the Ruby Roomers must be doing something right because their club is starting to catch on with local bands and DJs. Every time we've been there, the place is riddled with local musicians, checking out their peers' work or showing their musician pals some support. With a crowd like that, we'll be keeping our eye on this spot for sure.
Mesa Arts Center
It takes more than a glitzy exterior for a venue to be fly. It's what's inside that counts. That's why the stunning Mesa Arts Center, arguably one of the most stylish arts spots in the Southwest, places a premium on programming happening events like Sound in the Ground. The bimonthly Thursday-evening series plugs the opening of exhibits in the Mesa Contemporary Arts galleries by bringing in local musical acts that represent the displayed shows. Because the art lives on the edgier side, the musicians — ranging from high-energy rock/funk group Attack of the Giant Squid to Terminal 11's electronica freak-out — are geared toward the experimental and improvisational. The larger ensembles perform outside on the spacious courtyard while eclectic DJs entertain folks queuing at the wine and beer cash bar inside. That old racket about Mesa shutting down after sunset just isn't true when SinG is in full effect, cuz the party goes off 'til midnight.
Club Mardi Gras & VooDoo Lounge
While Long Wong's may have gone to the great music scene in the sky after getting the bulldozer treatment a few years back, the spirit of the legendary Tempe rock 'n' roll bar lives on at Club Mardi Gras & VooDoo Lounge. Hang out at this raucous roadhouse in south Scottsdale and it'll feel like you've been transported back to the glory days of Mill Avenue, as many a local music scenester from the mid-'90s onward grabs some stage time here. Every Wednesday, brothers Brent and Kylie Babb unleash their brand of experimental pop-rock followed by a weekly gig by Dave Speed of Truckers on Speed. On Sundays, see The Zen Lunatics holding a weekly "Rockaraoke Night," in which they perform live-band karaoke. Steve Larson and Dead Hot Workshop have frequented the place, as have former Long Wong's favorites The Sand Rubies, and Greyhound Soul. Now if only Roger Clyne would reform The Refreshments and stop by for a couple renditions of "Banditos," we could die happy.

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