If you've never seen the PhoenixPhreaks in action before, just wait until the next First Friday rolls around. This roving gang of cycling psychos (who serve as the local chapter of the national Freakbike Militia) can typically be found cruising down Roosevelt Street or in the vicinity of Bikini Lounge or the Firehouse. They're as much a part of the monthly art walk as the paintings and free cheese and crackers. Speaking of masterpieces, the modified two-wheelers being piloted are works of art in their own right. Most are ordinary bikes that have been elongated and rebuilt to resemble Harley-Davidson choppers straight outta Easy Rider (if Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda were pedaling their way across the Southwest, that is). Others have been pimped up and polished in classic cherry lowrider style. Then there are the bizarre and beautiful customizations, like Allan Greenblazer's "Green Fuzzy Chopper," which (as the name implies) is covered in emerald-colored shag carpeting. We were feeling pretty green ourselves, albeit with envy, after seeing it roll past.
How is it that we've scraped this town, year after year, searching for drinking digs without ever coming across this little gem? The Ice House Tavern is really kind of a messed-up idea — but in a creepy, fantastic way. Anyone who grew up in Phoenix probably skated at Arcadia Ice Arena at least once in his or her life. Little did we know as fumbling, tumbling idiots on the rink that drunks were watching us the entire time. Yep, there's a bar connected to the rink where boozers can slurp their cocktails and peer through windows to the rink while wobbly skaters slide around on the ice. In 2009, local hipsters latched onto this hole in the wall and celebrated its slightly seedy — definitely cuckoo — novelty.
Now that Phoenix has "made it," we're all searching for the little things to help round out our city's Mid-Century Modern aesthetic. And See Saw is here to deliver. Run by six young and talented designers and boasting two massive old-school letterpresses, See Saw is more than an Urban Outfitters-style paper factory. Its cards and calendars capture a clean, minimalist design that stands out in a very powerful but understated way. And it's a heavy hitter, to boot. Boasting a client list that includes the much missed Palatte restaurant and Mayor Phil Gordon, these designers are quickly establishing themselves as the people to go to in Phoenix for hip and unique cards, invitations, or branding. Their blog is pretty cool, too.
To the uninitiated, chef Joshua Hebert's contemporary American restaurant concept may take some getting used to. He calls it "improvisational cuisine," and in the same way that a jazz musician gets in a groove and spins off an impromptu melody, Hebert plays around with ingredients in unexpected, unpredictable ways. And while some of the Valley's top chefs are constantly tweaking their menus based on what's in season, Hebert eschews a menu altogether. Instead, guests guide their dining experience with a checklist indicating how many courses they'd like, which featured meat and seafood appeals (or doesn't appeal) to them, whether they'll eat raw foods, and any other preferences. (If it's reminiscent of omakase dining at a sushi bar, where you trust the chef to feed you well, that's because Hebert did a stint at Tokyo's Miyako Hotel several years back.) Beyond that, dinner is a series of tasty surprises — scallop carpaccio with radish, pickled grapes, and squash blossom pesto; foie gras with citrus coulis and spun sugar; mushroom-braised veal with morels, peas and fresh mint. Seafood is Hebert's forte, but he's also fond of the exotic, like roasted kangaroo. To be sure, the Posh kitchen can handle the most finicky diners, but the customers who'll have the most fun will simply leave their meal in Hebert's capable hands.
To hear people talk, you'd think Phoenix has had her wings clipped. But we know the truth. This is our wonderland. Times may be tough, but instead of biting the dust, Phoenicians are sticking their heads in the clouds. And here, as proof, is our annual love letter to the city — 595 examples of dreams becoming reality.
This year we got back to basics with an emphasis on the do-it-yourselfers who are creating this city even as we write this. We asked a group of creative types — from visual artists to musicians to a pastry chef — to show us their own personal Phoenix wonderlands. You can see their work on the pages of this issue. The originals will be on display on First and Third Friday in October at [merz] project, 1437 North First Street — and you're all invited.
Phoenix, you make our wildest dreams come true.
To paraphrase an old saying about a dead cat, you could swing a baseball bat in this town and hit a piñata. Many grocery stores sell them, and you can easily cruise 16th Street in central Phoenix and find a wide selection. But would it be wide enough? This year, our little princess didn't want a princess piñata. She wanted a piglet. And not just any swine would do; she wanted Piglet — you know, from Winnie-the-Pooh. After exhausting our brick-and-mortar possibilities, we got online and found Arizona Piñatas. We called, and a cheerful employee complied, agreeing that Piglet would be ready by Friday. And would we like it delivered? What? We just about dropped the iPhone, we were so happy. Yes, absolutely. And, sure, throw in the matching stick to whack the thing with. This endeavor wasn't cheap, we'll warn you. But, boy, was it worth it. Piglet arrived on our front porch on time as promised and was the life of the party until, well, until he wasn't.
Though nobody knows her real name, "Cake Lady," as downtowners have affectionately dubbed her, continues to contribute to central Phoenix lore. In short, there's a woman about town who occasionally shows up at gatherings (a music performance, an art exhibit) looking for free stuff, especially cake. The consensus is that she reads New Times (a smart woman, indeed) and then calls ahead to inquire about the possibility of free goodies. She's been spotted only a couple of times, including years ago at a birthday party at the now-defunct Paper Heart, where she briefly showed up, then dashed out the door with a bunch of cake to go. Hey, Cake Lady, share some next time!
So you've run out of gouache and if you don't get some fast, your artistic muse will leave you. No worries. Head to Ash Avenue in Tempe and talk to the good people at Wet Paint. Whether you're in need of blue Prismacolor pencils to lay down the sketches for your next Web comic or bamboo brushes to practice Japanese calligraphy, you'll find Wet Paint well stocked. Also check out the posters and fliers near the store's entrance for events around town targeting art enthusiasts. As for that muse, it comes and goes, but maybe a few peeks at the art mags on display at Wet Paint will give you a jolt of inspiration.
Now this is what we call progress. After years of light-rail construction — when the streets were torn up, local businesses took a hit, and most of us avoided the area altogether — the Central Corridor has bounced back in a big way. Our favorite sign is the emergence of new restaurants along the rail path, exemplified by a charming neighborhood spot called Maizie's Café & Bistro.
Just steps from the station at Camelback and Central, it's hip, affordable, and friendly, thanks to the hospitality of the Miller family, who opened this place last year. And the menu at Maizie's has personality, from the "not your average quesadilla" (Brie, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and pine nuts in a spinach tortilla), to the bacon- and blue cheese-stuffed "inside out" burger, to the breakfast pizza (served on weekends). If Maizie's is a sign of good things to come along the light rail, it's a bright future, indeed.