Best Drag Show 2011 | "Scandaleyez," Fridays at The Rock | Arts & Entertainment | Phoenix
Lauren Cusimano
Savannah Stevens, the Phoenix drag queen who hosts Scandaleyez, isn't from the RuPaul school of drag, in which men try their best to look like beautiful women. Stevens looks more like the Divine school of drag, in which the aesthetic is more about crazy, outlandish makeup (including pinkish-red blush that makes cheekbones look like T-bones) and provocative performances that look more like wack cabaret than a Liza Minnelli or Cher tribute. Sure, it's a gas to watch a guy in heels and a Hindenburg-size curly wig lip-synch to Lady Gaga, but that's the whole idea. The fellow drag queens Stevens sometimes brings with her for the show (including Rihanna Matthews, Asia La'Vega, and Candi Colee) add their own distinctive styles to Scandaleyez, but the overall vibe stays the same: outlandish, campy fun in a haze of hairspray and padded bras.
Amsterdam — with its bordello-meets-swanky-speakeasy décor and endless martini menu — has always been a nightlife destination for gays, lesbians, and their straight friends. The music, which usually leans toward Euro dance/techno tunes, is always booming and inspires plenty of booty-shaking. The drag queen shows are equally entertaining, and the booze (again, there are hundreds of martinis here) is always poured strong. Part of the reason is that you usually have to wait a while for your drink — Amsterdam's often packed by 11 p.m. on weekends, and the lines at the bar can be epic. Bartenders must figure you might as well get your buzz on before waiting 20 minutes for another round. As for the crowd, it's become more eclectic over the past few years. Amsterdam used to be the domain of gay men with an occasional sprinkling of lesbians. Now, the crowd's split about 50-50 between men and women, and a good percentage of patrons are not gay. Because socializing inside can be difficult when you can't find two inches to move and the music's booming, a lot of people prefer the outside patio, where it's less stuffy and sweaty.
The Cash Inn has long been a nightlife destination for Valley lesbians looking to hang out, hook up, or both. A few years ago, the bar was suffering from a case of homogeneity — the music was almost all country, all the time, and line dancing was the big thing. Cash Inn still plays plenty of country and still offers free line-dancing lessons, but the club's expanded its events menu to include things like live rock shows from local bands like The Pübes, The Sugar Thieves, and all-female collective Chicks with Picks, drag queen pageants, and DJ nights that include Top 40 music and dance tracks. So while retaining its cowgirl vibe, Cash Inn Country's also brought in a whole new group of Valley lesbians, who are just as eager to grind around to Scissor Sisters as they are to two-step.
Meagan Simmons
Crave Cafe & Lounge may not offer the most authentic Middle Eastern hookah experience, but it does provide the most relaxing and hip atmosphere we've found. The interior looks like a swanky bordello, with deep red walls, black leather couches, and mirrors everywhere. Music videos (ranging from The Killers to PM Dawn to U2) play on big-screen TVs and also are projected onto the wall. The hookahs are served in buckets of ice and hit so subtle and smooth that you're not even aware you're smoking 'til you exhale a big cloud of fragrant smoke. The food is pretty darn good, too, and includes fare like hummus and tzatziki, arranged artistically on a plate. Sunday is the best day to visit, because Crave offers half-price unlimited hookahs, half-price food menu items, and two-for-one well cocktails. (There's also ample parking around Mill Avenue on Sundays.) And if you're craving some fresher air, Crave has front and back patios for your eating and smoking pleasure — there's even a plasma TV out back (but alas, no misting system).
Packed with hip-hoppers, coeds, and rockers, The Stray Cat serves a diverse clientele. But no group is better taken care of at the Tempe spot than hardcore smokers. The bar doesn't feature a smoking patio, per se, but it does house a ventilated room complete with tables, couches, TVs, and fans, all dedicated to the Cult of Nicotine and its members' ashy habit. Best of all, smokers can bring their drinks out with them, enjoying those classic twin vices of cigarettes and alcohol. Smoking indoors is practically unheard of in city limits, but at The Stray Cat, this is about as close as you can get — without breaking the law.
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Ahh, there is nothing like relaxing on a patio while drinking one of your favorite beers and noshing on a plate of cheese puffs on a crisp autumn day — and then your neighbor has to go and ruin it by lighting up a dirty cigarette. We hate when that happens! It won't happen at Four Peaks — the brewery's expansive tree-shaded patio is 100 percent smoke-free before midnight. It's rare to find a patio in the Valley that wasn't built with the smoker in mind, but if you smoke on the Four Peaks patio, you and your cigarettes swiftly will be asked to leave.
Any bar can plaster a couple of flat-screens on the wall and call itself a sports bar, but a true sports fan knows that it takes a lot more than a few plasmas from a big-box store to be drafted as a game-day watering hole. Hazelwoods understands this. In addition to the more prominent flatscreens, the bar provides a mini TV at every booth that you can tune to your sport of choice. The bar food is solid, and there's no shortage of game-day specials. And if you get a bit too tipsy rooting for the home team, Hazelwoods has a booze-mobile that will drive you home free of charge within a five-mile radius. Now that's team spirit.
One of the perks of being within walking distance of the major sports arenas in downtown Phoenix is that you end up drawing a pretty respectable crowd of pre- and post-game sports fans. Though there's no shortage of sports on every big-screen TV at Coach and Willie's, what really makes us sweet on this bar is the above-average menu (bacon crusted mac 'n' cheese and the signature lobster bisque come to mind), which makes it easy to linger over a couple of beers, even in the off-season. Not that there's ever an off-season at Coach and Willie's, because they seem to subscribe to the sports fanatic's HD dream package.
As far as neighborhood sports bars go, CK's Tavern and Grill hits it out of the park. Plenty of TVs for rabid sports fans to catch the game and generous daily specials — both food and drink — make it worth the visit even in the off season. Plus the atmosphere attracts a diverse crowd from families to weekend warriors, with pool tables, buzztime trivia, and even a claw machine to snag a stuffed animal. The chipotle raspberry and mediyaki (medium with teriyaki) wings are always delicious, as is the adovada pizza, a crisp fried tortilla topped with spicy pulled pork and queso.
Every neighborhood needs a solid sports bar where you can catch the big game, and Catch 22 is on deck to appeal to any and all sports fans. From the Monday Night Football crowd to the UFC fight-night fanatics, we consider Catch 22's many flat-screen TVs and extensive sports packages a home run. The menu goes above and beyond fried bar food, and there's even a section geared toward the little leaguers tagging along. We particularly like their burger homage to players who wore jersey number 22, from the Emmit Smith (chedder, bacon, and chili) to the Roger Clemens (pepper jack and sweet peppers) and every other topping, er, player on the roster.

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