Best Place | to Be Seen 2011 | The Icehouse | Arts & Entertainment | Phoenix
It's really only fitting that this historic downtown warehouse was known as Constable Ice Storage in 1910 because, since then, there's really no question that the happenings taking place within the various rooms of this buildings have been kept raw and very cool. Between its recent art installation by Barry Schwartz, the killer acoustics of live music shows, after-hours events by Nightlife Ninja Quincy Ross, and the influx of in-the-know people attending, it's undoubtedly the newest (and oldest) place to be cold-chillin'.

Best Sign of Youth Culture in Downtown Phoenix

Bar Smith

If you're the cynical bastard still saying, "downtown Phoenix will never happen," we suggest going to Bar Smith on a Wednesday, Friday, or Saturday night, taking a look around at the rooftop full of diverse youngsters flailing their drunk and happy limbs, then shutting the hell up. Yes, watching downtown Phoenix flourish has kind of been like watching the little blue train struggle up the mountain in The Little Engine That Could, but it's taken a hip destination like Bar Smith to prove that with a little hard work and optimism — or just killer DJ dance nights — it's damn straight that downtown Phoenix can.

Best Sign of Lounge Life in Downtown Phoenix

Copper Blues

A new addition to 2011's lounge and music venue scene, Copper Blues already stands out among the rest. Making a home at downtown's CityScape, it's certainly the classiest joint on the block. Sure, you can get your cocktail on and, just as the name suggests, hear some great live blues acts. But you wouldn't expect this kind of place to house 60 draft beers and a bottled selection to match. Beer snobs, rejoice! Selections from craft companies, domestic top dogs, and local breweries line the stage, where rockers, blues bands, DJs, and vocal acts perform nearly every night. It might not be at the center point of CityScape, but as far as Valley lounges go, Copper Blues hits the bull's-eye.
Jennifer Goldberg
Serving Scottsdale since 1959, the Coach House is one of the most unpretentious places in a city known for being more champagne than PBR. During spring training, it's not uncommon to see baseball royalty sitting on the patio enjoying a cold one; major-leaguers have been hitting the Coach House since the 1960s. We can see why. Not only does the bar serve a White Russian that would make even The Dude jealous, it opens at 6 a.m. 365 days a year. We like that idea. Whether you ride a hog or a horse (there are still hitchin' posts out front) or just like drinking while watching the sun come up, you're always welcome at the Coach House. And if you've never been here during the holiday season, you're missing out. The entire bar turns into one giant light show, with thousands of Christmas lights covering the entire building . . . ceilings, walls, and all. This is one time you may actually get away with wearing your sunglasses inside and not looking like a total douche.
Downtown Phoenix's First Friday art walk experienced some growing pains in the past year. Streets were closed off and then reopened. Merchant tents relocated or disappeared. But this flux birthed a host of new First Friday events, including The Firehouse's new sketch comedy-slash-variety show starring such locals as Shaikh Sammad, Anna Moncada, Dwayne Holmes, and John Luther, of the band Haymarket Squares. We love the organic feel of the show, which features new skits every month and brings in guest artists, from the Strange Family Circus and Mizz Lucy Morals of Scandalesque Burlesque to Hooves (who perform the show's theme song) and event co-founder Aaron Johnson. The cast never fails to shock, whether poking fun at the "birther bill" loonies or casting the Pope's disdain for condoms in a funnier light.
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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