Modified Arts

You wouldn't think an all-ages, alcohol-free music venue that doubles as an art gallery would need an aggressive bouncer, but Modified Arts' Ami Johnson has stories that suggest it does. Like the story about the time some guy pulled a knife on her for giving him a small bottle of water instead of a large. Or the story about the time two bums dented her car fighting outside, pummeling each other until she chased them off. Or the story about the time a guy stole the venue's hand stamp and tried to sell it back to her. Through it all, Johnson, who's also probably the smallest bouncer in town, maintains an admirably friendly but firm attitude that'd be a great lesson to other doormen in town, most of whom work in much nicer neighborhoods. In fact, we're pretty sure she ought to teach a certification course for local bouncers.

Afterlife

Just because those officious bastards at the Department of Liquor License say you gotta stop boozing by 2 a.m., that don't mean it's time to hit the sheets. (Who are they, your effin' mother?) The nightlife game's still afoot in Scottsdale long after last call, and we ain't referring to what's transpiring at that Denny's over near Osborn. Nightclub entrepreneur Aron Mezo turned the former e4 into a virtual after-hours Pleasure Island awaiting those insomniacs daring enough to keep strong 'til the break of dawn. Obviously, there's no alcohol around (which allows the 18-and-over types to get in), but you can suck down Red Bulls or other energy drinks for a boost while DJs like EPHX and Nando keep the dance floor going until 4 a.m. A nonstop buffet of gourmet pizzas is served on the open-air patio alongside blackjack tables and TVs showing Japanimation porn. (Yowza!) If watching schoolgirls and tentacled aliens, uh, interacting doesn't keep you awake, then it may be best to call it a night.

Icehouse

Helen Hestenes, performance artist and owner of the Icehouse, on Jackson Street in downtown Phoenix, has never given up on her dreams for the city — or her arts venue. When she purchased the neglected historic property with then-husband David Therrien in 1990, Hestenes imagined an avant-garde gallery and performance space with an edgy, urban heartbeat married to a solid foundation of history. The faux-column façade, large open rooms and church-like "Cathedral Room" seemed the perfect match to her vision. In no time, Hestenes was bringing in the kinds of acts the culture-deprived community was missing: a 12-hour performance piece by Live Art Platform, the LIFE (Liberty, Independence, and Freedom of Expression) Festival, the Invisible Woman breast cancer exhibit and an international art exchange program made possible by a Rockefeller Foundation grant.

But her dreams didn't end with the property lines. Hestenes hoped that other artists would follow suit and revitalize the surrounding buildings into gallery spaces, cozy cafes and entertainment palaces for underground art. Think an American version of Paris, minus the Eiffel Tower. The city of Phoenix had different ideas; namely, razing many of the nearby historic buildings to make way for parking garages, more jails, and a morgue — plans that never came to fruition.

Hestenes has always been outspoken about the need to preserve Phoenix's historic properties. After the Borden Dairy building was demolished, The Icehouse staged a mock funeral complete with tombstone and eulogy. Admittedly, it was a little quirky.

Nearly two decades later, the building stands as a testament to Hestenes' resolve. Despite numerous code violations, cease-and-desist orders, and demolition permits, the Icehouse hosts art shows, raves, and private parties. Recently, Hestenes offered a large-scale painting by the late Phoenix artist Rose Johnson during the summer's barter exhibit in return for a handicap-accessible ramp or repairs to the venue's elevator system.

It's proof that Hestenes still has plans for the Icehouse.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

The extracurricular activities of Chromatest J. Pantsmaker are just as colorful as his nom de guerre, if not more so.

As a member of such DJ collectives as the Salacious Beat Slingers and Warsaw Pact Entertainment, the 33-year-old broadcast engineer has spun pulsating breakbeats and glitch-hop at more raves and desert parties than you can shake a glowstick at. He's also participated in plenty of experimental noise jams, built gigantic pieces of installation artwork, and made multiple treks to Burning Man (natch) where his playa name is "Ben Monkey." Chromatest is also quite the prankster at heart, as demonstrated by his participation in the Arizona chapter of the Cacophony Society.

Never heard of it? Here's the lowdown: Created in 1986 by some Burning Man participants in San Francisco, it's an informal group of like-minded practical jokers, countercultural types, or anyone looking to engage in some zany fun. Author Chuck Palahniuk reportedly patterned Project Mayhem from Fight Club on the society and their madcap activities, which include everything from flash mobs and stripper bingo to gonzo sports like mondo croquet and pumpkin shooting. Chapters have formed in cities around the world, including Phoenix, thanks to Chromatest.

He'd heard about such shenanigans from Burner cohorts and decided it was the kinda thing that could make Phoenix a more freaky and interesting city. Along with friend Dr. Doctor (who'd participated in Cacophony in Seattle) they founded the Valley version in February 2007 by holding an Iditarod urban shopping cart race.

Based off the iconic Alaskan sled-dog race, it involved teams of five participants (some in costume) hooked up to the rolling basket and pulling it through the streets of downtown Phoenix while attempting to sabotage other players. Pit stops were held at bars like the bygone News Room, where a few beer-drinking challenges took place.

Drinking is a big part of AZ Cacophony events, as is the desire to dress in costume, cause a scene, and obtain quizzical looks from passersby. Hence the nature of "Santarchy," which is a mass bar crawl through Old Town Scottsdale in December featuring a drunken, chaotic mass of faux Kris Kringles. Come March 15 (or thereabouts) they also hold the annual "Brides of March" in downtown Tempe, where both men and women dress in wedding gowns and (you guessed it) get soused at bars like Gordon Biersch and Rúla Búla.

Anyone's welcome to join in the fun by surfing over to the Web site (www.azcacophony.org), where members discuss over e-mail what's gonna happen at the next outing.

"We're also brewing up some other fun stuff, and we're always accepting fresh ideas," Chromatest posted. "If anybody has some idea about culture-jamming, group-think rewiring, or just downright silliness, suggest it to the list!"

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

Zach Sciacca, a.k.a. Z-Trip, is arguably the biggest DJ ever to come outta Phoenix. Enjoying a level of superstardom that many local turntablists and mix masters can only dream about, the 38-year-old Valley native has spent the past decade and a half using his stellar scratching skills to propel himself to international fame and glory.

His list of coups and kudos is both lengthy and legendary: Long before he started touring venues around the world and commanding six-figure appearance fees, Sciacca was a member of the renowned Bombshelter DJs — along with Emile and Radar — in the mid-'90s. Painting local clubs and raves with virtuoso soundscapes, Spin magazine cited the trio in 1999 as some of the best wax workers in the nation. And the praise kept on coming.

Rolling Stone dubbed Sciacca the "king of mash-ups" (based on his popularization of the turntablism art form long before it became a danceteria cliché) and gave his 2005 disc Shifting Gears four stars, the highest rating doled out that year. The 16-track album also included a guest appearance by Public Enemy's Chuck D., who's become a regular collaborator, as has artist Shepard Fairey. (And Z-Trip's most recent honor is probably his biggest to date, as readers of DJ Times magazine chose him as "America's Best DJ" for 2009.)

Not bad for a self-taught spinster who started out DJing at friends' house parties, huh?

While Sciacca's success led to his relocating to L.A. almost eight years ago, the Valley native remains intertwined with our electronic dance-music scene. Almost every DJ in the PHX is connected with Z-Trip in some fashion, if only tangentially. His protégés Tricky T and Element can be found burning up the record decks at such weeklies as the Blunt Club in Tempe or Bar Smith's Pinky Ring. Whenever Sciacca comes home, once or twice a year, he not only draws hundreds to his gigs, but also serves as an occasional lecturer at the DJ classes taught by Emile and Radar at Scotts­dale Community College. There have been countless cats who've been inspired to follow in Z-Trip's footsteps.

In October, Sciacca will extend his influence to the virtual world, as he'll become a playable avatar in Activision's DJ Hero video game. Much like its predecessor Guitar Hero did for wanna-be ax-slingers, the interactive beat-juggling title will undoubtedly inspire a crop of future dance club superstars; some of whom will wanna scratch just like Zach.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

SideBar

SideBar is so elegant, and has so much bon vie, that when we first walked in, we couldn't believe we were standing over a Pei Wei on West McDowell Street. Believe it. The best new bar in the Valley is a happy, social, stylish place — a place where you're just as likely to run into an old friend as make a new one. And don't even get us started on the cocktail list. Every drink on this menu is a gem, from the Cucumint Martini to the Lynwood Palmer. We recommend coming early and staying late — not surprisingly, considering all the aforementioned qualities, this place can get packed.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

Tuck Shop
Jackie Mercandetti

We're not sure whether it's the small-batch Scottish Hendrick's gin they use, which boasts "infusion of cucumber and rose petals," or the housemade tonic water, or that thin slice of cucumber garnishing this refreshing adult beverage, but the combo rocked our palate. Beware, once you've experienced this magical toddy, you might not settle for a G&T anywhere else, ever again. Don't say we didn't warn ya.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

Hollywood Alley

When Hollywood Alley debuted in 1988, bands didn't exactly beat a path to its door.

Back in those days, the epicenter of the local music scene was undoubtedly Mill Avenue and such venues as Long Wong's and Chuy's, and not some pissant bar and grill off the beaten path in Mesa. In fact, owner Ross Wincek didn't start booking bands until months after he opened.

More than 20 years later, it's hard imagining a Valley without Hollywood Alley, as it's become a mainstay of the music scene while other establishments have come and gone. It's no surprise, considering the place has all the ingredients that make any rock club great: dim lighting, kitschy décor, black leather booths, and an ample stage that's hosted shows almost every night of the week for the past two decades.

Plenty of nationally known artists have performed at the Alley, running the gamut from spoken word/art rock chanteuse Lydia Lunch to psychedelic indie rock band The Apples in Stereo. (Public Enemy even stopped by for an impromptu show one evening in 2007 after getting booted from the Marquee Theatre). More importantly, however, the joint has served as a launching pad and stomping ground for some of the biggest bands in Valley history.

The old-school punkers of both the Sun City Girls and Beats the Hell Out of Me were regulars way back when, as were such members of the '90s Mill Avenue movement as The Refreshments, Gin Blossoms, and Dead Hot Workshop. Local legends like Jimmy Eat World and Authority Zero used to rattle the roof constantly before graduating to more mainstream concert halls. The modern-day tastemakers of Back Ted N-Ted, What Laura Says, and The Love Me Nots also regularly include the Alley in their gig schedules.

In addition to its myriad musical talent, another draw has been the extended family atmosphere provided by the three generations of the Wincek clan working behind the scene. Famished patrons and starving rockers alike have feasted on the delicious homemade recipes of Ross' grandmother Rachel and his late mother, Lucy, from the kitchen. Meanwhile, 67-year-old paterfamilias Roger helps make the place spotless after the last drunk has ambled out the front door.

Thanks to the Winceks' untiring dedication, you can undoubtedly look forward to another 20 years of hanging out at the Alley.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

Though we've had a feud or two with the Blunt Club posse in recent years, it's time to man-up and give 'em much respect for putting on the biggest and best weekly in the city. After all, mic-wielding luminaries like host Emerg McVay, as well as turntablist talent Pickster One and remix king Element have done their Thursday-night thing for more than seven years. In that time, they've brought in bodies by the hundreds, not to mention a rogue's gallery of local hip-hop heroes, including freestyle freaks The Insects, the golden-voiced Golden Tung, and rhyme-spitter extraordinaire Span Phly. The lineup of underground and alt-rap superstars who've visited in recent months is equally as impressive, ranging from Scarub and the other members of L.A.-based collective Living Legends to the Grammy winners of Digable Planets. Even Public Enemy were in the house back in 2007, with Chuck D. and Flavor Flav collaborating and performing with the Blunt Club boys. And if that isn't the ultimate sign of respect, we don't know what is.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

Alwun House Gallery & Gardens

Before there was a First Friday or a Roosevelt Row, the best — and for a while, the only — place to find alternative contemporary art was Alwun House. Folks looking for a funky, big-city art scene had only Alwun, downtown's first gallery, to rely on for "something different," art-wise. The first independent non-profit art space, Alwun set the current trend of galleries' advocating for artists with its Alwun House Foundation, the first local arts organization to address the significance of historical buildings.

The name is phonetic for "all one," as in "we're all in this together," a principle that Alwun House founders Kim Moody and Dana Johnson have clung to since purchasing the old, dilapidated property and commencing their rehabilitation on the house and property in 1971. Built in 1912 by shop owner John Sedler, Alwun originally rested on five acres on the northeast corner of 12th Street and Roosevelt, overlooking alfalfa fields south of Roosevelt, before there were even sidewalks out that way. Following its funky restoration, Alwun House quickly became the first gallery in downtown Phoenix, and has stayed on as a maverick torchbearer for the downtown arts community. Its central floor houses an art gallery; its basement is home to a multi-media theater, and its rambling backyard gardens and patio are the settings for poetry slams, music concerts, and exhibits by local visual and performance artists. Alwun's annual Exotic Art Show showcases uncensored and frankly naughty works, and its bar and cafe make this a jumping joint for any kind of off-hours party. Alwun's a three-decades-old mainstay among those of us who need an alternative art fix.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of