BEST FEMALE STARTENDER 2007 | Westley Nieto at Bikini Lounge | Bars & Clubs | Phoenix
Benjamin Leatherman
Wes, as she's known to friends and regulars, is from the old school. Not the fancy spinning-shaker-of-death-thru-fire bartender, but the give-it-to-me-straight school of bartending. We couldn't be happier about that.

It's true that Wes doesn't take any guff, so you'd better be nice to the staff and the regulars. There's no snapping your fingers or waving bills at the Bikini Lounge. We dare you to try. We saw someone do that once — rumor has it they're still waiting for a drink. Wes has made every drink you've never heard of, twice. And if you're not sure what you want, she'll create one for you that will scratch the itch you didn't know you had. She's quick with the quip, ready with the laugh, and serves up drinks faster than you can say "tiki bar." If you're a downtown boozer, there's no one better than Wes.

To hell with hitting up Wikipedia. Whenever we wanna get the 411 on house music, we hook up with DJ Joe DiPadova. The laid-back record-spinning cat is a virtual walking encyclopedia on the subject — both its history and how to lay it out on the one's and two's, the latter of which he's been doing since his love affair with the genre began more than a decade ago.

After getting his start in the clubs of Boston, DiPadova relocated to the PHX in 2002 and started making appearances at Pete "Supermix" Salaz and Senbad's legendary house night Batucada, as well as at nightspots like Sky Lounge and Scottsdale's Next, before striking out on his own with StraightNoChaser at Tempe's The Loft in 2005.

DiPadova relocated the night to chic gay lounge Homme in 2006 and rechristened it "StraightNoChaser Presents: one," where the 31-year-old slung out different flavors and subgenres of house (including deep house and Loft Classics to more global variations like Afrobeat and Italio) and brought in guest DJs to share turntable duties, including the legendary JoJo Flores.

Jennifer Goldberg
The jukebox inside this central Phoenix neighborhood bar is an absolute gem. Aside from the fantastic selection, it's one of the few "real" jukes left in our favorite dimly lit haunts. So many bars have gone the way of the Internet jukebox. Sure, it's kind cool to be able to play literally anything, but it's also boring — we've got iTunes on our laptops. Part of the fun of a bar jukebox is being forced to hunt for a song, and, often, you remember songs you haven't listened to for years. The juke at Shady's sits unpretentiously next to the bathroom — no flashy lights or wireless connections here — and is full of forgotten favorites. The usual suspects are there — Joy Division, The Smiths, Bauhaus, Velvet Underground. But you also get Aretha, Roy Orbison, the Cramps, Detroit Cobras, and Otis Redding. A buck will buy you three plays, $2 gets you seven, and if you wanna be "that guy," you can choose 18 songs for $5.
Benjamin Leatherman
This fast-paced world of today? We are not entirely down with it. Take last year, when Bikini's jukebox was replaced by some digitized interwebby thing mere days before its (perhaps no longer deserved) Best Jukebox award went to press. But this artsy-skeevy-tiki bar is a delicate ecosystem. Knowing this, its proprietors maintain some balance by designating a surly, savvy Homo sapiens to finesse the weekend's sounds (at an event called Sophisticated Boom Boom — though if you're really sophisticated, you'll remember when it was called Scratchy Rekkid Night). DJ HFE (Hooray For Everything, a.k.a. Shane Kennedy) makes moment-by-moment selections from a rangy, quirky play list just about every Thursday (when people tend to sit, drink, and mumble), and most Fridays and Saturdays (when it can get a little dancy and/or crowded up in there). HFE considers requests — you can even bring your own — but his mood is law. You'll learn a little more about music and your community. Or you'll just have fun.
Brigett's Last Laugh isn't much different from any other neighborhood bar in the Valley, except it's the reigning karaoke capital. Seven nights a week, DarkHorse Productions lets customers croon favorite tunes by everybody from Alanis Morissette to Judas Priest, and almost everybody gets in on the action. Brigett, the owner, can often be seen dancing along to the music or singing her version of Sammy Hagar's "I Can't Drive 55" while regulars rush to sign up for their favorite songs. Some of the singers are actually pretty good (one regular does a rendition of Tommy James' "Mony Mony" that always brings down the house), while others are clearly there to see how badly they can butcher a song for comic effect. The karaoke carries on from 8 p.m. until close on some nights, but there's plenty for patrons to do if they won't brave the mic — the bar's got a full kitchen that serves up greasy grub, there are two pool tables, and a lot full of high-end Harley-Davidsons outside.
Lauren Cusimano
Time Out may look like just another strip mall dive bar, but make no mistake: The pool tables are the main attraction. Well, the pool tables and the incredibly strong, incredibly cheap drinks. Banners from pool tourneys past line the wall, and the bar hosts amateur tournaments on Saturdays at 3 p.m. Most people who play are very good, so if you're an amateur (read: if you suck) you may want to steer clear of the billiards, at least during the bar's peak hours. There's plenty — darts, pinball, jukebox, random neighborhood weirdoes — to keep you entertained while you wait for a table, but pool is the main focus here. The crowd is laid-back (unless you're blocking a shot) — mostly skateboarders, blue-collar types, and Tempe locals. Plus, the bar staff is friendly and heavy-handed. On Sunday night, one of the place's most popular evenings, pool is free. So, if you're a serious shark, get there early or prepare to spend some time waiting for an open spot.
Benjamin Leatherman
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.
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."
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.

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