When it's time to hit the decks, there's no doubt that Cowtown is the only choice for us. There's just something about walking into the store that makes our heart race a little faster. While it could be the constant stream of the newest skateboarding videos showcasing the latest in Skate-or-Die prowess on their big-screen television, we think it might really be Cowtown's full understanding of skateboarding as a sport and a lifestyle, not just a phase in someone's life. They're just as dedicated to pumping up local brands like AZPX, Deville, and Mob Action as they are to sneaking info about the latest Nike SB drops to their VIPs. When it's time to rock gear for some concrete and asphalt exploration, Cowtown has your back from top to bottom.

Slippery Pig Bike Shop

Cyclists can be really picky: The seat's too wide, the fork's too long, the wheels are too squishy, there's more than an ounce of fat on my body. With the exception of the latter, your bicycling needs can be met at central Phoenix's Slippery Pig, a serious bike shop for serious bikers. This full-service shop has everything you'll need to repair your prized cycle, from handlebars and banana seats to used Kevlar tires that will resist puncture wounds from Arizona's many prickly plants. The shop also does repairs on-site at reasonable prices, if you'd rather have a pro pamper your baby than risk screwing it up yourself. We particularly like their selection of pre-built bikes, which include such high-end racing bikes as pricey and lightweight Cannondales and lower-cost powder-pink cruisers for the ladies.

Zia Record Exchange

In these tight times, it's time to cut away the excess. Do you really need all those Snoop Dogg CDs? Zia will be happy to consider taking them and any other CDs off your hands. Ever since Brad Singer founded the record store nearly 30 years ago, people have taken their unwanted music into the chain's stores, hoping to walk out with mad cash in their hands or new music to enjoy. Who are you not to keep that tradition alive? Especially when you'll have a huge selection of CDs, DVDs, and vinyl awaiting your fiscal irresponsibility.

Stinkweeds

If you're like us, it takes forever to take a trip to the record store. The experience is less a transaction than a balancing act: Which new releases to pick up? Which unheard classic to finally delve into? Once you have a stack of CDs, it's time to thin the herd with cash-flow considerations. That's why Stinkweeds is like our tiny cathedral for music shopping. The staff is always available without being pushy and helpful without being condescending. The wide selection of indie music ensures there's always something new to get lost in.

Revolver Records

We don't just listen to vinyl records because they're retro cool. Their analog recordings capture the whole sound, while CDs and MP3s actually miss little bits and pieces of the sound wave. The only prob is that platters are hard to find and often in poor condition. When we want the best selection and a staff that doesn't think we're talking about our gun collection when we mention 45s, we head to Revolver. While we miss the funkiness of the store's old digs in a vintage house on Seventh Avenue, we certainly don't miss trying to cram our butts through tiny doors into equally tiny rooms. The new location, across from Carly's Bistro, is much larger, with exposed brick walls and neat little rows of albums organized by genre. Revolver's stock is huge, with over 20,000 albums, including thousands of $1 picks. There's also a handy rating system, which tells you whether the Sly & the Family Stone classic you've been eyeing is "fried" or near mint condition. Though we still can't find that 1972 Zombies album we've been coveting since the Y2K scare, it just might turn up one day. Until then, we'll satisfy ourselves with gems like jazz master Candy Lee Morgan's Blue Nite 1590, The Doors' Soft Parade on 45, or Slayer's blood-spattered limited edition of Hell Awaits. Sweet!

We know. Your band rules, but: a) you can't afford studio time; and b) no way can a clinical recording environment capture the energy and general awesomeness of your live performances. Well, guess what? There's a local drummer and professional audio engineer by the name of Ray Reeves who goes around to local music venues and documents live sets using high-grade audio recording equipment. Not only does he offer the unmastered results for a pretty affordable price, but he'll also clean up the soon-to-be platinum recording for a few extra dollars. So hit him up for his services and be that much closer to a major label deal.

Averil, employed by the locally owned repair shop that fixes speakers, amps, soundboards, mixers, Line 6 pedals, and P.A. systems, repairs gear (except instruments) for many of downtown's musicians. And since he's part of the scene and not a shady stranger, he'll tell you straight-up what needs to be fixed while trying his very best to keep repairs within your budget and/or under warranty, if applicable.

Best Place to Do Your Laundry and Hear Live Music

Washouse

Washouse

The in-shambles laundrette on the southeast corner of Seventh and Portland streets is the last place you'd expect to host live music. But thanks to Rocky Yazzie of local rock group Skinwalkers, you can be serenaded by live grooves as you do loads of whites and darks. Normally held on the first Sunday of each month, Yazzie's showcases feature locals and the occasional touring act. The deal is that each musician, performance artist, or poet gets the length of a wash cycle (15 minutes) for his or her set. And who says doing laundry is boring?

If you've spent substantial time in downtown Phoenix, you've at least heard of Michael Little. At this point, the sometimes homeless, self-taught painter and musician is a legend among folks who live, work, or play in the Roosevelt Row arts district.

Little hasn't had a day job in over 10 years. He lives off art sales and trades and was even spotted panhandling for beer money once.

His vibrant, energetic paintings of pretty ladies, imaginative dreamscapes, astronauts, fish, pianos, and bunny people have become a staple of downtown's visual landscape. He recently gained national attention for his autobiographical documentary, which was screened in 2007 at New York's Museum of Modern Art and was featured on the PBS series ReelNative, a show that focuses on Native Americans in Arizona. He jumps in for live music performances at Conspire from time to time, playing the saw. He's made a name for himself, relying on his Renaissance-man-like talents to survive.

Our favorite Little scheme is his latest: walking billboard. Make that drifting billboard. If you've happened to walk, drive, or bike along Roosevelt recently, you might've seen Little on his wind sail-powered skateboard. The sail features painted advertisements for neighborhood coffeehouse Conspire and the gRow house gallery — both establishments are venues for his art.

Little lives that dream we all have from time to time. You know, the one where we quit our day jobs, give up our mortgages, and live off the fat of the land? And while none of us may have the cojones to go off the grid, we're grateful Phoenix has a guy like Little through whom we can live vicariously.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

JP Morgan Chase Bank

Some people call it "The Flintstones Bank." Others call it "that strange VNB over on 44th Street." But whatever you call it, you gotta love this flagstone-studded Chase bank branch, which the city is trying to get listed as an historic landmark. Built in 1968, the unique structure and its park-like surroundings are situated in a high-profile, high-dollar location. One of a series of the now-defunct Valley National Bank's commissioned structures, the 44th Street and Camelback Road branch is a rare, artistic, architectural wonder: an oddly shaped bank that has rocks in the walls and that looks to be held up by a garden of concrete mushrooms. It's more than just a quirky building; it's a part of the legacy of Walter Bimson, the late chairman of the board at Valley National Bank, who in the late 1950s became convinced he could help the then-small city of Phoenix grow if he populated it with interesting bank buildings.

Bimson built other gorgeous VNB branches, and his building streak led the professional journal Arizona Architecture to dub him "a leader in the use of architectural sculpture" in 1960. But none was so gorgeous as the Frank Henry-designed bank on East Camelback. Surrounded by giant concrete "mushrooms," its crescent-shaped main building frames a northwesterly view of Camelback Mountain and is studded with the same rough-hewn rocks that highlight its stunning, curved interior. It's a Modernist building that somehow transcends Modernist style with towering interior aluminum structures that hold the "floating" ceiling aloft and that match the scalloped concrete columns outside the building. A pair of John Waddell sculptures — Despina Seated and Martha, both from 1967 — beckon to us whenever we drive by, and they and the rest of this gorgeous landmark's ultra-cool, park-like setting make us want to transfer all our bank accounts here, just so we'll have an excuse to drop by from time to time and drink all this mid-century beauty in.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

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