We recommend you take in a puppet show all the details of the current season are posted on the theater's Web site but if you don't have time for that, you should really pop your head in sometime. The decorative ceiling panels in the Spanish colonial revival style, almost completely ruined by leaks and lack of maintenance, were restored by a muralist/scene painter (those puppeteers have good connections), and the entire complex has the kind of 1930s throwback vibe you feel all the time in southern California and so rarely here in Phoenix.
We love the new Pei Wei/Starbucks compound at Seventh Avenue and McDowell. There. We said it.
Now let us explain. For months, we avoided the corner. We knew the beloved Emerald Lounge (really, more of a light green shack, if a shack can be made of slump block) was gone, with a couple of nasty chains erected in its place, and frankly, we just didn't want to have to look. But then we met up for dinner with a dear friend who lives a stone's throw away, and we had to sit in the parking lot for a few minutes, first, to compose ourselves. It was shock and awe, but not the bad kind. We were thrilled. Finally, a sign of urban civilization, a corner in Phoenix holding something other than a Circle K. (Don't worry, the one across the street is still there.)
We never expected a Pei Wei could look so hip, so, well, San Francisco (okay, you have to squint, but relatively speaking, you've got to admit that we're right). But with all the corrugated steel and urban-y architecture and then the exposed brick, painted cement floors, and airy spaces inside we have to tell you we were darn impressed. We figure somewhere at Pei Wei HQ there's a big notebook filled with prototypical Pei Weis you know, the strip mall Pei Wei, the stand-alone urban Pei Wei. That means there are plans to put Pei Weis on urban corners all over North America.
Maybe we've lost perspective, maybe we're desperate, but we don't care. Give us our brown rice, chicken with broccoli, and a bottomless Diet Coke, and let us hang out a little longer, acting all urban and shit. We just hope Pei Wei plunks one of these suckers on a corner at 12th Street and Jefferson. But not the southeast corner, 'kay?
Don't hate them; they're a way of life. We must love them, coddle them, and appreciate strip malls for all the glorious things they can offer.
Too much effort for you? That may change with the help of Sloane McFarland, who has decided to spend $12 million to rip one of those drab suckers apart and build something fabulous. He's revamping the strip mall on 16th Street and Buckeye, and unveiled his plans in style this past May by opening the decrepit structure for curious guests to explore.
The redevelopment will be called Yourtown, and in each space, McFarland worked with colleagues to create art installations to express what his future plans will bring. Various abandoned retail shops were filled with conceptual evidence of planning that we are anxious to see come to fruition. In the space that used to be a flower shop, piles of ground coffee were dumped on the floor, emitting the pungent odor of what will soon surely be the hottest coffee shop in the area. (Or any part of this town, we dare say.) We look forward to what this local pioneer has to offer, and after his work is done, we may see our strip malls in a whole new light. At the very least, we'll have a cool new hangout.