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.

Centerfold's Cabaret

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.

Joe's Grotto

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.

Goat Head Saloon

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.

The Rhythm Room

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'.

Handlebar-J
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.

Spirits Bar & Grill

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.

Texaz Grill
Tedd Roundy

There's more to Texaz Grill than great Texas comfort food. When you're chowing down on a Texas-size chicken-fried steak, with a massive mug of iced tea waiting for you to slurp down your gob, you may think there's nothing that could possibly enhance your experience. Well, pardner, you'd be wrong. Just ask owner Steve Freidkin. If there's one thing a real Texas joint needs, it's a jukebox. It just so happens that Texaz Grill has the best one in town. For just a few shiny coins, you can hear all your favorite Texas musicians from Stevie Ray Vaughn to ZZ Top to The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Listen to "Texas Flood" while you're shovelin' down award-winning Terlingua Chili and just try to tell us we're full of bull.

Marquee Theatre

Sure, the parking costs $5 (and there's never enough of it), the security can be rude, and all shows are general admission and standing room only. So what makes the Marquee Theatre the best place to see national acts? Well, one reason the shows rock at the Marquee is because of the venue's sound and light system, which is state of the art. We've heard crappy bands sound good at the Marquee Theatre, which isn't an easy trick to pull off. But the main reason the Marquee gets this award is because the venue gets all the great national shows. Sure, the arenas around town get the familiar stadium-fillers like Rolling Stones, The Police, and Rush, but Marquee Theatre has a knack for hosting hot acts that are just starting to crack the national market or already have a huge indie following — The Killers, Tegan & Sara, Dresden Dolls, Hank III, Peter Murphy, Dilated Peoples. Now, if we could just find somewhere to park.

The Sets -

Sure, The Sets hosts its share of mid-level national shows (everything from punk legends The Dwarves to underground hip-hop act Bear The Astronaut), but this massive venue hosts more local shows than national ones and, indeed, more local shows than any other venue of its size. The bulk of The Sets' calendar is filled with Valley artists' gigs, from local indie rockers Kinch and rising Phoenix death-metal stars Abigail Williams to hip-hopper Intrinzik and folk-rock heartthrob POEM. With Kim LaRowe (former booking agent for the now-defunct Mason Jar) handling business at The Sets, the venue's become known for providing a great atmosphere for local artists to hold their CD-release parties. That's pretty sweet for locals, as The Sets has one of the largest club stages in Tempe and a state-of-the-art sound system. Bands won't get bored between sets, either, as The Sets has a large game room, an outdoor patio, and three full-service bars (so singing snockered is easier than ever).

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