Best Hotel Bar 2008 | Wright Bar at the Biltmore | Bars & Clubs | Phoenix

When it comes to hotel bars, we don't want one of those sealed-off, hipper-than-thou Ian Schrager nightclubs. We want a place to chill out, chat up the bartender, and watch the foot traffic. And, on every count, the piano bar tucked into the lobby of the Biltmore delivers. The look is pure Frank Lloyd Wright, but the vibe is casual: You can watch the Suns game and even play checkers. Don't miss the Tequila Sunrise — the classic drink was invented here, and the bartenders are happy to show off their skill.

Clubbing is fun, yes. But after a few nights of pulsating lights that keep your pupils in a constant state of dilation, bass beats that shake your arm hairs, and chemical poisoning from your spray tan, you're on the verge of a code 10 anxiety attack. It might be time to peel off your sparkly dress and kick off your eff-me pumps for something a little more relaxed. Head to Vocé Ristoranté and Lounge for a night out that won't wear you out. Revive your protein levels with fine Italian cuisine cooked up by chef/owner Michael Lepore and give your eardrums a rest by taking in the smooth sounds of live jazz musicians like Dennis Rowland, Khani Cole, and Rachel Eckroth. With a rotating list of national performers, Vocé draws a sophisticated crowd every evening. So instead of cramping your calves all night freaking with some duder on a dance floor, cozy up in a booth or at a table for some luscious lounge time.

Whether it's rock bands or baseball stadiums, re-creating the old charm just never quite seems to work. That's why we were skeptical when Chez Nous — the super-dark '60s cocktail lounge on Seventh Avenue and Indian School Road that was torn down and replaced by a British supermarket — announced that it was reopening the Nous at the old Fat Cat's bar on Grand Avenue. However, it's pretty insane how dead-on the new Chez Nous looks compared with the old one (that is, after your eyes adjust to the dungeon-like lighting). There's the same weird rock water shrine behind the bar, carbon-copy cushion-y booths, and identical vintage velour wallpaper. Plus, many of the resident jazz, blues, and soul bands still jam at the space, including Roscoe's Motown Mania on Friday nights. Something else that hasn't changed: They still accept cash only.

The club scene in Phoenix can be as fickle as a pickle. Some new nightspots throw open their doors and are the place to see and be seen, packing in the hotties by the hundreds. Meanwhile, other places can debut to much pomp and circumstance but remain emptier than a ghost town. Thanks to its swank environs, bangin' DJ lineup, and numerous off-the-chain elements, the brand-new PHX Nightclub has been chosen by fate to be the former. Every night it's been open there's been a line out the door, populated by hopeful honeys and homies waiting to gain access to the joint, which rocks an upscale urban vibe. On Fridays and Saturdays, hip-hop, R&B, and Top 40 jams get dropped by the DJ crew. Break out your best threads if you're thinking about dropping by, because the upscale club is strictly "dress to impress," yo.

The charm of Centerfold's is threefold: hot chicks, cheap drinks, and good music. The dancers here run the gamut, from blue-eyed blondes with enhanced breasts to petite Asians in tiny neon thongs to beautiful black women with sparkling body jewelry. The common thread among them is a desire to make money — and the more money you flash, the more attention you get (we recommend leaving a stack of singles sitting on your table — but keep an eye on it). The stage at Centerfold's includes not only the traditional stripper poles but a nifty "spinning handle" suspended from the ceiling that dancers can use to twirl themselves in circles. Patrons who aren't ogling the goods at seats around the stage can relax in the club's plush velour chairs, or kick it in the VIP area with a titillating private dance. Drink specials vary, but are ever-present, and the pitchers of beer here are never anything but ice cold. And the music is the best exotic dance soundtrack in the city, covering everything from contemporary hip-hop to classic metal to blues and industrial. Centerfold's gets bonus points for the sidewalk banter, too, as customers who step outside to smoke usually get regaled with other peoples' tales of arrests, new tattoos, and where so-and-so got her new boobs.

This long-standing north Phoenix rock club got a new, state-of-the-art sound system in the past year, allowing for concert-hall sound in a small room. Owner Joe Grotto has been booking bands that know how to take full advantage of a sonic boom, from the manic rockers of -itis to the brutal metal of Hellen to the roaring blues guitar of Carvin Jones. The Grotto has been hosting more all-ages shows in the past several months, and Joe Grotto recently relaxed his covers policy (bands used to be required to incorporate a certain percentage of cover songs into their sets). Now the club hosts more original music than any other club on the north side and packs the house on weekends. It's bumpin' on weeknights, too, as the pool and dart tournaments at Joe's — combined with such drink specials as $1.50 domestic longnecks — attract plenty of people looking for a friendly, good-time vibe.

Here's some groovy news for you: Ever since opening its doors last spring, Goat Head Saloon has become a destination place for fans of jam rock. Every month, this charming Mesa watering hole hosts gigs by bands specializing in the funky, Grateful Dead-style genre, usually featuring extended solos and fits of psychedelic jamming. Groups such as Xtra Ticket, Endoplasmic, and The Noodles perform here regularly, as do such out-of-towners as 3 Ugly Guys and Alfred Howard and the K23 Orchestra. The place evokes the spirit of the old Sail Inn (the infamous bygone east Valley jam-rock hangout), with the usual crowd of granola-munchers and tie-dyed types turning out for shows. It's not all hippies, however, as a varied crowd of rock 'n' roll fans make the trip to Goat Head every week to have a funky time.

There are other blues clubs in town, so what it is about the Rhythm Room that separates it from the pack, year after year? At first, we thought it could be the sheer number of shows at the place — there's live music almost every single night of the week. Then we thought, it's gotta be because the Rhythm Room gets the majority of old-school blues players and modern purveyors to play there exclusively (blues stars like Candye Kane, Junior Brown, Johnny Rawls, and Louisiana Red will always skip other venues in town to be at the RR). But after years of attending shows here, we've finally realized what it is that gives this small, dark blues club its real magic: the sense of community and comfort.

Owner Bob Corritore, aside from being a renowned harmonica player, blues producer, and DJ, is a walking Rolodex of blues players. When a blues legend dies, Corritore makes sure there's a tribute show at the Rhythm Room (in the case of late blues drummer Chico Chism, there's a tribute show every year), and everybody who's anybody in the local blues scene shows up to jam. Best of all, nobody at the Rhythm Room is afraid to dance — this isn't some stodgy arts center where Buddy Guy's sound engineer will give you the stinkeye for coughing during the performance. Getting down is encouraged at the Rhythm Room, as the regulars and the performers both seem to feel that if you're not movin', they're not groovin'.

Courtesy of Handlebar-J

From the hundreds of cowboy hats adorning the walls to the sawdust on the floor, there's no place more "country" than Handlebar-J. This steakhouse/nightclub has been owned and operated by the Herndon family since 1975, and owner Gwen Herndon's sons, Ron and Ray, can often be found performing as the Herndon Brothers on stage.

Guests such as Starfire and Jessi Coulter pop in to perform every so often, too, and on the rare nights when there's not live music, Handlebar-J's jukebox selection of C&W classics keeps patrons two-steppin' and line dancing.

This bar — formerly Thunder Pass, located in the no man's land between Mesa and Apache Junction — is one of the most eclectic watering holes around, a place where cowboys, biker dudes, and young Republicans somehow mingle with one another without overturning tables and tearing out ceiling fans. The focus is definitely on the bygone Western era, when men in Wranglers posted up at the bar and drank cheap, cold brews until the cows came home. Folks flock to the spacious dance floor on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday when DJs spin honky-tonkin' new-country hits. It's definitely a yee-hawing good time.

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