Cafe Istanbul
Kyle Lamb
Café Istanbul's hookah lounge sits on the second floor above a Middle Eastern market, providing an exclusive feel for its many patrons. The furniture is stylish and comfortable — ornate, carved-wood tables and black leather couches lined with pillows. The décor feels authentically Middle Eastern, with colorful, cone-shaped lamps providing decorative light, Moroccan wall mirrors, and a plasma TV that's usually showing some Arabic soap opera or drama. Each hookah is high-quality, boasting a large glass base, sturdy wire hoses wrapped in vinyl, and clay tobacco bowls so deep they'll burn for hours. There are more than 50 flavors of hookah tobacco on the menu, ranging from traditional favorites like apple, strawberry, and pineapple to more unusual tastes like cardamom, guava, and rose. Servers here are attentive, constantly replacing the hookah coals and checking on customers' contentedness. Price-wise, Café Istanbul is competitive — hookahs with one flavor cost $10.95 to $13.95 each, which is less than what some other hookah lounges charge. And when it comes to atmosphere and ethnic flavor, Café Istanbul's got everybody in the Valley beat.
Shane Kennedy is crusty. We mean that in the nicest possible way. The fixture of CenPho nightlife and longtime Bikini Lounge DJ is the sort of rough-around-the-edges scenester Phoenix desperately needs. He doesn't wear tight pants, and he had his beard before it was cool, which makes him the sort of old-school, record-store-clerk-type hipster that's quickly disappearing from its natural habitat. Seemingly oblivious to trends, Kennedy is the sort of DJ we could imagine refusing to play a new bride's favorite song at her wedding if he found it just too insufferable to spin. He plays old stuff we love and old stuff we ought to love and will love once he exposes us to it.
Anthony Hart, a.k.a. DJ Hartbreaks, titled his first mixtape The Long Goodbye. If he's departing the scene, we hope it's a long goodbye. He's our favorite kind of young hipster DJ, the kind who has the impeccable taste necessary to back up the too-cool-for-school act. Spinning at The Lost Leaf and the Civic Space Jam, he's known to play everything from Common to Animal Collective to Florence and the Machine to Chromeo. It's all artfully blended in a style we don't call mash-up, given the stigma surrounding that term. But you'll hear several songs you love simultaneously, so that's cool. You can download his mixes for free or just wait for him to be the next Z-Trip and appear in a videogame.
Yucca Tap Room
Lauren Cusimano
To quote Nas on his 2002 track "Nothing Lasts Forever," everything will come to an end. When it comes to the Valley's volatile nightlife scene, that means your favorite club night — no matter how popular it may seem — will someday call it quits. Well, except for the Blunt Club, that is. The venerated hip-hop night launched in '02 and has stayed strong for eight effin' years, with no signs of pulling a Jam-Master Jay (RIP) anytime soon. Debuting at the Priceless Inn in Tempe, it began as a combination spoken-word/live-art event hosted by Bionic Jive mic man Emerg McVay and graf artist Adam "Dumperfoo" Dumper. Evolving into a DJ-based weekly and lyrical launching pad for local ciphers like Random and Drunken Immortals, it's not only outlasted the P.I. itself, but it's survived four location changes. The DJ duo of Pickster One and turntablist Element are packing the house at its latest home, Yucca Tap Room, offering a fly selection of underground and alternative hip-hop, reggae jams, and classic cuts. Much like the long-running career of KRS-One, there's no end in sight for the Blunt.
The Twisted Peacock (formerly Ice Pics Video Bar)
Valley drag diva Pandora's about as sassy as they come, whether she's flipping a Barbarella wig or singing "Don't go breaking a fart" while covering an Elton John and Kiki Dee duet. So it's not surprising that she's launched an outrageously funny and often cheesy drag comedy show, "The Follies," at Ice Pics Video Bar (formerly Nasty Habits). Performances take place on Saturday nights starting at 10 and include drag queens from all over the Valley, and various theme show nights like "knights," "disco," and Spam-A-Little, a musical based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail. But whatever Pandora's serving up, it's sure to be a wallop of laughs, right down to the lipstick-smeared feather boas.
Bar 1
For casual gay nightlife — we're not talking pumped-up leather bars or bumping discotheques here — Bar 1 is a chill hang that still knows how to have fun. The bar's interior is clean and candlelit, with a fireplace, sofas, and a couple of pool tables that are in tip-top condition. The outside patio is a cozy, tree-lined, and dimly lit space that feels private but still party-ready, thanks to a window that opens up to the bar inside. Don't look for a raging scene at Bar 1. Instead, look for a quiet — you know, a place where can still use your (gasp!) indoor voice — friendly place to unwind and socialize in a low-pressure setting.
Cash Inn Country
The unassuming façade of the Cash Inn belies the shenanigans that occur behind its doors. Bar-goers are often found line dancing, shooting pool, karaoke-ing and throwing darts, all to the beat of what can best be described as a hodgepodge playlist. We can be even more specific and give them the Best Dancing Lesbian Bar, because seriously, these chicks can dance. And they give free lessons on their enormous dance floors every Thursday at 7 p.m. Oh, you'd rather watch? No big deal — the surrounding bunches of tables and chairs provide quite the view.
Roka Akor
Nicole Hoffman
Hope you've saved your pennies. If it's Wednesday and you're a lady, it looks like your second glass of wine (and every glass afterward) is just one cent. This may wreak havoc on Roka Akor's cash register on a weekly basis, but we're not concerned. We're too busy marveling at the restaurant's specialty ice cubes and Japanese décor. Also up for grabs are specials on cocktails and snacks and sushi. And keep an eye out this fall — the super-trendy Roka Akor will start Ladies' Shochu Nights, which will feature drinks with Fuji Apple Shochu. Hope they stick to that penny thing.
Cheetahs Gentlemans Club
Putting women in cages may sound oppressive, but give them some boxing gloves and headgear and you've got a moneymaker. Several strip clubs around town host some form of stripper fights, but Cheetahs was the first and remains the most popular. Around 11:30 p.m., dancers leave the stages and the DJ turns the music off. House lights shine down on the cage to spotlight the battling dancers. The ladies at Cheetahs are among the more attractive exotic dancers in town, with largely unscarred bodies and mostly real breasts. Any bruises on them likely come from the cage fights, because, despite wearing little more than g-strings and fight gear, these dancers throw down hard. They're not trained in mixed martial arts or anything, but their matches are more street fight than catfight. They do throw punches and kicks, but they spend a decent amount of time wrestling around on the ground, too — much to the delight of the screaming coed audience. There are anywhere from two to five fights every week, and fights last for three rounds (two minutes each). The show's always entertaining, but the more money patrons throw in the cage, the better the fights tend to be.
Philthy Phil's
Don't let his name fool you. Philthy Phil may have a sleazy moniker, but the owner and bartender of this neighborhood good-times dive bar is straight-up good people. An orphan from Detroit, Phil grew up the hard way. And while there's a scrappiness about him (he 86s anyone making trouble, especially in defense of the ladies who are drinking at his bar), his gracious way of making his lively mix of patrons feel welcome is infectious, carrying over to his friendly staff. With a hard pour, a soft spot for the downtrodden, and a reputation for joining in on the fun, Philthy Phil is your new best friend behind the bar.

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