Mesa Arts Center
Mesa Arts Center is known for bringing plays, guest speakers, and classical dance to the Valley, but the venue has established itself as a prime concert spot in recent years. Indie acts like The Weepies and The Decemberists are given equal footing with bluegrass acts like Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers and avant-jazz from Return to Forever. The seating is plush and comfortable — and though it's tough to rock out at the MAC, the sound quality is gorgeous, the lighting is top-notch, and the surroundings are beautiful. Mesa isn't exactly a hot spot for entertainment, but the MAC is leading the charge with like-minded establishments like The Royale and The Nile in bringing thoughtful, creative entertainment to the East Valley.Readers' Choice:
The Trunk Space
It's all true: The Trunk Space doesn't have the best sound system in town, it gets way too hot, and plenty of times the crowd smells like it needs a collective introduction to the deodorant aisle at Fry's. So why is it the best venue for local musicians? Simply because proprietors JRC and Steph Carrico sweat it out for local music, offering a place for local musicians to get started, hosting all-ages shows with an emphasis on spirit and community, and putting the experience of seeing passionate musicians before the comforts afforded by many other clubs. The music is wildly varied, likely to feature pop-punk from acts like Dogbreth, noise-punk from Vegetable, and twee-folk from Owl and Penny. Admission prices almost never go over $10, ensuring that the DIY ethos espoused by the bands fit those of the hardworking people behind the counter.Readers' Choice:
Blooze Bar
The Blooze Bar boasts the longest-running rockabilly night in the Valley — just take a second to think about how many tricked-out custom cars have sat in that parking lot, how many Reds have been casually smoked, and how many combs have nonchalantly been raked through grease-stiff hair under the bar's glowing electric blue neon sign. Some of the Valley's toughest greaser acts have graced the stage at The Blooze, like Pat Roberts & the Heymakers, Voodoo Swing, and The Rhythm Dragons. If you are looking for a place to show off your new creepers, pompadour, or gussied-up sportster, look no further, daddy-o.
Norton's Country Corner
New Times Archives
Don't go cruising into Norton's Country Corner wearing anything but standard cowboy gear — boots, Levis, and a Wrangler button-down — or you'll be in for some sideways looks from the regulars. Norton's is about as "country" as it gets, located out in Queen Creek, where the locals gather to sip cold ones and catch western bands tearing it up on the dancehall stage. The Pueblo-style building exudes a hickified charm, and the jukebox is loaded with classics from Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Dwight Yoakam — as well as a few odder choices, like a "best of" collection from Prince. Because, you know, cowboys get funky, too.
Handlebar-J
Courtesy of Handlebar-J
Handlebar J comes loaded with no shortage of honky-tonk history. Opened in 1966, the club has been under the management of the Herndon Brothers, whose family band, The Herndon Brothers Band, plays both kinds of music — country and Western — Wednesday through Sunday nights at the longstanding establishment, attracting visiting Nashville stars and Scottsdale urban cowboys alike. The bar offers more than just music, with comedy shows and a menu loaded with steaks and sandwiches, but we don't blame you if you're too buys line dancing and spinning your partner do-si-do to sit down for a bite.
Shady's
Lauren Cusimano
Celebrating its sixth anniversary, Shady's is the not-to-be-missed neighborhood bar in Central Phoenix. With its dark, retro interior, friendly bartenders, and amazing jukebox, Shady's has become a staple for service-industry employees and mature hipsters who like to throw back a few after a long day. Not only does the bar offer custom cocktails (try the signature Drink to Forget, a boozy coffee concoction), it also has been dabbling in the craft-beer scene. From such on-tap beers as Odell's 90 Shilling and Nimbus A-1 Pilsner to bottles of Stone IPA and Dogfish Head 60 Minute, even the biggest CenPho beer snob can find something to drink here. Another cool thing about Shady's: If you become a fan on Facebook, you'll be hooked-up with secret passwords that will get you drink specials galore. Oh, and don't forget, free pool until 7 on Sundays. This is one neighbor you'd be happy to live next to.
The Lost Leaf
The Lost Leaf
You won't find booze or a jukebox. You can't play a game of pool here, and you sure as hell won't be able to stare mindlessly at a TV at this little circa 1920s house turned bar — which is exactly why we love it. What you will find is a huge selection of the best craft beer around (including gluten-free and organic brews), an unbeatable wine list, and the perfect spot to gather with friends, socialize, admire art work, catch a live band, harass the extra-friendly bartenders, or, if you prefer, hang out on the narrow patio and make new friends while chain-smoking away. Beware: Lost Leaf sits smack-dab in the middle of Fifth Street, just south of Roosevelt Street, so expect a line out the door on First Friday.
Zipps Sports Grill
Courtesy of Zipps
Boasting a retro look that's a kitschy mix of English décor (Renaissance-style oil paintings, wrought-iron fixtures, and stuffed deer heads) and more wingback chairs than your grandpa's wood-paneled den, the Fox & Hound gives off the vibe of an old-timey hunting lodge. Since it's located in South Phoenix instead of Southampton, you're more likely to see the blue-collar crowd enjoying a $2.75 draft beer following a long workday than noblemen partaking in a snifter or two after a day of sport. The antique-looking bar is also the gathering spot for guests of the Best Western that houses the lounge, which is manned by a cheeky wait staff. While said drink-slingers probably don't give a flying flip about mixology or the trendiest in flavored vodkas, they'll definitely pour you a no-frills cocktail that's long and strong.
Do Drop In
Lauren Cusimano
With a glowing vintage "Cocktails" sign illuminating the night, Do Drop Inn makes no bones about being the kind of place you go with one thing in mind: hammering a few drinks. The wood-paneled walls of this Sunnyslope standby make the place feel like a rec room straight out of the '70s, but it's hard to imagine an arts-and-crafts nook this dark and beer-soaked. Some websites have the place listed as a "questionable drinking establishment," but don't let that scare you off. The no-bull vibe is all part of the Do Drop's peculiar charm. The only thing you need to have a good time here is plenty of booze and a sense of humor, and they can certainly supply you with the former as long as you've got the latter.
The Hoot Owl
Night owls in Glendale have been flying by this neighborhood favorite for more than 30 years, probably because of its homey atmosphere, relaxed vibe, and cheap booze. Duck inside its darkened interior and you'll witness drinkers of every stripe huddling and engaging in quiet conversation in the vintage-looking tuck 'n' roll leatherette booths lit by soft blue light. Meanwhile, regulars perch on stools and knock back strongly poured and inexpensive mixed drinks and domestic drafts underneath caricatures of themselves hanging above the bar. The cut-rate drink prices mean more money for the jukebox or, perhaps, a game or two of pool on the single billiards table that dominates the center of the bar. Or for the cab ride home after indulging in a few too many. Karaoke takes place on Monday nights and usually sees participants get a bit energetic with their singing, to say the least. Ordinarily, we'd give a hoot about such things, but we're too busy having another $3 Long Island at the bar.

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