Best Downtown Building to Poke Your Head Into 2009 | Sapna Café at Bragg's Pie Factory | People & Places | Phoenix

Remember Sapna's Chillout Café at the downtown Phoenix Public Market? We do, because we'd actually wait in line there to taste an icy Grenada and some takeaway tahini-infused hummus. Now we go to Bragg's Pie Factory Building on Grand for the same tasty bites, but also because we love the funny, wedge-shaped interior of this groovy old structure. Owner Ana Borrajo has created a casual menu based in popular street foods from around the world, and she serves it up in a slice-of-pie-shaped glass enclosure, one of Phoenix's last examples of Streamline Moderne architecture. The Wi-Fi is free and the ambiance is unlike anyplace else. Glossy white walls hung with bright-colored Indian saris, smooth white cafe tables, leggy black chairs, and shiny stained-concrete floors all combine in a cozy slice of the past that's worth at least a peek.

No offense intended, but this place looks like a giant wedding cake. That is to say, a wedding cake frosted in yellow that's been bedazzled and covered in paste jewels. A wedding cake for a drag queen, maybe. Whatever you call it, the Islamic Mosque in Tempe is a favorite among locals who love unusual architecture. The Mosque, established just north of ASU's campus in 1984, is modeled after the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Its eight-sided structure features a minaret and a gold dome, which is something one doesn't see every day in Southwest cities. We love its glittery façade and its multi-textured exterior walls, which appear to have been hand-painted in a way that makes them appear almost tattooed. Check it out — and tell them Allah sent you.

We're in love with the downtown post office, plain and simple. It speaks to our fondness for old architecture, with its wide stone steps leading up to the front door, over which a giant lantern sways in front of an elaborate glass-and-grillwork doorway framed by concrete columns on either side. Inside we can't help but ooh and ahh over old (and rather cheesy) Southwestern-themed murals, commissioned in 1938 by the Fine Arts Section of the Treasury Department and painted by La Verne Black and Oscar E. Berninghaus. We usually make a beeline for the rows of ancient P.O. boxes, with their coppery metal doors, oversize keyholes, and little glass windows etched with gold and red numbers in an old-timey font. Built between 1932 and 1936, the two-story structure's maiden name is The Phoenix Federal Building, as its construction was part of a massive federal program undertaken in an attempt to forestall the Great Depression. The gorgeous Spanish Colonial Revival building, which opened to the public in 1936 and housed the city's main post office for more than 30 years, is the only federal building from the period still standing here. But even if it were surrounded by dozens of others, we'd still love the old P.O. the best. Arizona State University occupies much of the building now. Given ASU's bad track record with historic buildings, we plan to keep a close eye on one of our favorite Phoenix landmarks.

It's a Phoenix thing: There are a lot of buildings here that just aren't what they once were. Our personal fave is Breuners. Oops, we mean the Scottsdale Post Office on Scottsdale Road just north of McDowell. Not long after Breuners went belly-up in 2007, the post office moved in and turned this former furniture store into a place where one can buy stamps or send a box of cookies to one's aunt in Pennsylvania. And, because Phoenix architecture is just weird enough that it's entirely likely that someone may very well have designed a postal station fronted with glass showroom panels and giant display windows, it works. The former Breuners' long, low, peaked façade and big, ugly wrought-iron chandelier over the door are perfect for a south Scottsdale public building. It's enough to make you go out of your way just to buy a shipping carton.

Arizona's best Roald Dahl-style "Great Glass Elevator" is at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Phoenix. It whooshes you skyward to the 24th floor, the home of the revolving Compass Restaurant. As you shoot up, it's fun to lean forward and place your forehead against the glass, giving yourself just a drop of vertigo. At the top, if you're feeling flush, grab a cocktail or bite to eat at the restaurant, which rotates slowly atop the hotel, giving you one of the coolest views of the Valley. Otherwise, just stand around like a looky-loo for a few minutes, and then enjoy the elevator ride back down again.

Heather Hoch
Apricot Glazed Chicken from Liberty Market

Can't afford that vacation to Italy you've been dreaming of? Us, either. But do you have enough gas money to get to Gilbert? If so, you're in luck. But be sure to guzzle something on the way, so you have a reason to use the loo.

Each of the five stalls at Liberty Market — restaurateur Joe Johnston's latest brainchild — reflects a different scene. There's an Italian adventure, complete with Vespa logos and streaming opera music. And there's a real men's room, with photos of hot rods and hot chicks, punk rock on the stereo, and (sorry, ladies) just a urinal. But wait, there's more. Behind door number three is an ocean motif. Don't think of it as a toilet. Think of it as an undersea getaway, with blue tile and a sea anemone light fixture. Another bathroom is built for the chef in each of us. The walls are lined with handwritten recipes and photos of Liberty Market chef David Traina doing what he does best. Don't forget to look up or you'll miss the whisks hanging from the ceiling.

Kyle Lamb

The inclusion of an iPod-ready adapter for an in-room stereo is a hotel convenience not to be underestimated. Taking your iPod to the lobby bar and subjecting guests to your favorite Japanese tracks during Aloft's weekly DJ nights is added value we just can't put a price tag on. That's why we're up for staying at Aloft even though we live a skip away. Owned and crafted by W Hotels, Aloft packs enough swank to make this budget boutique hotel seem more like a Scottsdale club with beds than a motel near ASU. Amenities include a sweet pool, fire pits, and milk and cookies on demand. Have we found Heaven?

Waves were made in July when local artist/designer/anti-establishment thinker Joey Grether pumped out a local currency called Phx Bux. The small metal tokens are worth a dollar each and accepted by more than 20 independent businesses. The idea is to keep the money moving locally and draw the attention of consumers who may be tired of shopping at malls and eating at chain restaurants. The coins themselves are a work of art. Designed by Chadwick Rueling jewelry, the square token features an outstretched palm, signifying the reliance on artists' hands for their creations and the helping hands of our arts community. Trouble is, Phx Bux got so popular so fast that folks started hoarding the coins and making them into jewelry. Within the first month, we were hard-pressed to get more than one at a time from any of the businesses that still had any, making it pretty clear that demand for this currency is high.

Finally, you no longer have to be rich to feel educated and fancy, thanks to a nifty invention, courtesy of the Valley's library systems and museums, called the Culture Pass. If you're a library cardholder, you can walk into one of six Valley libraries and choose one of 13 Valley museums to visit — gratis. You will get a slip, and then you head to your destination before the slip expires. It's as easy as that. Looks like the best things in life really can be free.

Now, now. Before you get too excited, we'd like to note that though the Phoenix Art Museum does offer free entry once a week, you are encouraged to make a small donation. So don't be a total freeloader. At least shovel out the change you found under your couch cushions to drop in the box as you take your date (poor girl) to the free night. From 3 to 9 p.m. on Wednesdays, you'll get way more than what you pay for with the opportunity to see the Valley's largest museum and a lineup worthy of major name-dropping. The museum's permanent collection includes works by Frida Kahlo, Georgia O'Keeffe, James Turrell, Claude Monet, Diego Rivera, Grandma Moses, and Chuck Close in more than 20,000 square feet, enough room to also include works by artists you haven't even heard of yet. Add the convenience of the light rail and it's a no-brainer, folks.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of