Modern Steak
Courtesy of Modern Steak
When Valley designer Catherine Hayes created a steakhouse to look like a jewelry box, we knew there had to be a killer bathroom. Behind an unassuming door with a frosted window — right next to the Dorothy Draper-style dresser — is a fabulous backdrop for a mid-meal photo shoot. Pepto-pink wallpaper, gracefully lit vanities (we all know the effects of poor bathroom lighting), and a pair of retro-chic couches create a convenient getaway from an awkward date, a family reunion — hell, even a friendly lunch. Baskets of powder-room necessities can be found near the vanities, because a quick powder might be necessary after that T-bone steak. Hayes says she wanted to create a place for women to feel comfortable and have the chance for a quick chat. Little did she know she left their dining partners waiting and wondering just where their ladies went.
So what if it's essentially an advertisement for the hundreds of local and national companies that gather to show off their wares and designs. We've always gotten a kick out of the salespeople trying to outdo each other's exhibits, displays, seminars, demonstrations, and contests. The Home Shows happen several times a year around the Valley, but we are partial to the one at the Arizona State Fairgrounds, 19th Avenue and McDowell, because everyone seems, well, at home there. The how-to seminars usually are winners. We even learned a lot about how to get the clutter out of our homes and offices (not that we've put it into practice). Now, if we only had the coin to buy any of that newfangled home-improvement stuff that we surely can't live without another second.
Sometimes we'll skip the Encanto or F.Q. Story home tours, but we never miss the Willo neighborhood tour, which usually falls on a weekend in February each year. Willo — bounded by Central and Seventh avenues and McDowell and Thomas roads — is one of the largest historic neighborhoods in Phoenix, with nearly 700 homes built between the 1920s and the 1940s. For us, it's like a holiday to wander through Willo's wide variety of architectural styles — 1920s bungalows, 1930s Spanish Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, Greek Revival, American Colonial Revival, and Pueblo Revival homes. We even like the mid-century ranch houses. And after we've wandered through a dozen or so cool old houses, checking out the rehabbed kitchens and the neatly period-correct moldings and doorframes, we like to grab a quick bite and do a little shopping at the Willo street festival that's one of the best parts of this fun-filled event.
This 75-year-old neighborhood offers a glimpse of what tony downtown residential districts once looked like. Encanto/Palmcroft is home to some of the loveliest older architecture in the Valley: Tudor Revivals and American Colonial and California Craftsman homes, all situated on generous lots, nearly all of them restored or maintained, and each one a glimpse of beautiful bygone days. A tight, friendly neighborhood association and close ties to the Historic Preservation office have kept Encanto's charm intact. The folks on these blocks — 15th to Seventh avenues, north of McDowell Road and south of Encanto Boulevard — are proud of the hard work they've done to maintain both their beautiful buildings and the nifty neighborhood spirit they've developed. Even if you don't live there, you can enjoy this 'hood.In a city of grids, Encanto/Palmcroft offers walkers an alternative to the straight line. Curved streets lined with old, lushly landscaped Period Revival homes set the stage for an out-of-Phoenix experience (even the temperature is purported to be a few degrees lower in this unique urban ecosystem). The Encanto Circles offer myriad route possibilities, and when you've exhausted those (or yourself), you can always head to Encanto Park, bordering the north side of the neighborhood.
Maybe it's all the gorgeous trees that grow in some places right over the street and touch in the middle, creating a crazy canopy that drops the temperature what feels like 10 degrees. Or maybe it's all those gorgeous 100-year-old houses lining both sides of the street. Or the sexy joggers bouncing past. Or those little horse properties that dot this lovely three-mile stretch of residential Phoenix. Probably it's the combination of these things that make this one of the best drives in town. We go out of our way to enjoy it, ogling as we go past the tidy lawns of a handful of new-built properties and the oddly un-Phoenix-like absence of desert scrub and messy medians. Beautiful!
What's not to do on this dynamic drag between Indian School and Van Buren? Grab some lunch at Lucky Boy Burger Shop, Tortas El Güero, or Two Hippies Beach House before treasure hunting at UFO Universal Furnishings and Offerings, Lizabel's Treasures, and Boom Boom La Rue's. Groovy grocery shop at Phoenix Ranch Market and the Middle Eastern Bakery and Deli and snag a sweet treat at Michoacana Helados after a lesson at the Phoenix House of Karate or while waiting for Rover at Family Affair Pet Grooming. Finally, dine delicious at Barrio Café, with drinks and entertainment later at Philthy Phil's and Rips to toast this single street's sweet scene.
We get fired up about great ideas — even if they seem a little ambitious. Greatness, after all, was built on dreams, and we think Canalscape has tremendous potential. Planners took inspiration from places like Venice and proposed incredible ideas for the Valley's 181 miles of waterways. These winding canals are based on the ancient Hohokam's crop irrigation system and have previously been seen as utilitarian systems. Not any more. The plans include beefing up our waterfronts with small marketplaces filled with coffee shops, cafes, and retail boutiques. Imagine going for a jog along the waterway, free of cars and stinky traffic, to stop for a cappuccino and a newspaper. Sounds like a dream to us.
You know a street has arrived when it starts to put down roots — where so much is happening on the main drag that stuff starts popping on side streets, too. That's what has happened on Roosevelt Row, where just to the south, the stretch of Fifth Street from Roosevelt to Garfield has become the place to be. From MADE at the northwest end to Conspire at the southeast corner, with The Lost Leaf smack-dab in the middle, this is a street to emulate. The city hasn't been able to tear down all the charm — not yet, anyway — and this little scene is, in our estimation, city living at its finest.
Those in the know around Roosevelt Row call Sixth Street "the new Fifth Street," and we see what they mean. It doesn't quite have the hustle of Fifth — not yet, anyway. But that might not be far in the offing. Butter Toast Boutique is a welcome presence, as is Rouse Salon. Artist Robert Zunigha's studio is on Sixth, and we hear there are other artists planning to land there soon, too. The Grow House at the south end of the street is a super idea, well executed. Our favorite Sixth Street story is the one about Margaret Gabaldon — stepmother of author Diana Gabaldon — who grew up on the block and bought her parents' house so she could stay there. If you haven't been to Sixth Street, take a pass next time you're on Roosevelt, and you'll see why we're kinda jealous.
The Duce
Where do we begin? That's the problem we have when we visit The Duce, and it's our problem now, as we try to figure out how to describe it to you. Trust us, it's the kind of problem you want to have.Steve and Andi Rosenstein ditched Chicago for Scottsdale, only to realize once they'd arrived that, um, there's not much to do in these parts. Enter The Duce, a ginormous old warehouse in what was once the produce district in what is now largely abandoned South Phoenix. The Rosensteins treat the warehouse as their playground and have created what Steve describes as a city block under a historic roof. We have to admit that a year ago, when we described the vision in our "Best Retail Vision" entry in the 2009 Best of Phoenix, we never imagined they'd make the dream come true. But they have, and it's even better than we hoped for, with a funky vintage retail space, bar, soda fountain, restaurant, and trees literally growing through the roof. There's a charm to the hands-on approach Steve Rosenstein is taking. He sends out e-mails himself about musical guests, lunch specials, and delivery options, and literally sends out a refurbished school bus on First Fridays to take folks to his new spot in style. He's just as excited about The Duce as we are.

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