Best First Friday Hangout 2011 | Bragg's Pie Factory | People & Places | Phoenix
It's tough to spend a lot of time in any of the galleries along Roosevelt Road or Grand Avenue on any given First Friday — and that's no fault of the artwork. Thousands of Phoenicians travel downtown for the monthly artwalk, and they move quickly through the galleries and streets. If you're looking to find a spot to discuss the work on the wall with a few local artists (or just a couple friends), try Bragg's Pie Factory. The space is huge, the artwork is always surprising, and there's usually a spot to park in the back alley. Bragg's typically opens its month-long shows on First Fridays (while more and more galleries now opt for Third Fridays) and it welcomes all media — from installations, sculptures, and design conferences to paintings, protest art, and piñatas. You might catch a few funny stories from the venue's owner and arts maven Beatrice Moore, and you're guaranteed to find yourself in the company of dozens of art fans and artists (some of whom have studios down the hall) who are more than happy to hang out.
The world may not be a black-and-white place, but when it comes to photography either you've got skills or you're no better than a 5-year-old with a cheap, disposable plastic camera. All the artists at Tilt Gallery fall into the former category. We love that owners Melanie and Michelle Craven (twins who graduated from ASU's fine art program) focus on vintage, hands-on techniques such a Victorian ambrotyping and hand-tinted sepia printing rather than the flashy digital media that's saturated the market. Guest artists also host classes on everything from portraiture to infrared photography — so even if your Facebook pics are all missing heads and you think that bichromate has something to do with hermaphrodites, there's still hope for you at Tilt.
So, you've got an hour or three to kill at the damn airport and you're sick of people-watching and drinking yet another cup of coffee. You've hit all the stores in Terminal 4, but you're not quite ready to go toe-to-toe with the TSA. We've got the solution, and it's art. The folks at Sky Harbor really have it going on culturally, especially in sprawling Terminal 4, where the 24/7 galleries always have something for the most discriminating and the simply bored to enjoy. In the past year, we checked out a photographic exhibit of our state's magnificent saguaros, as well as atmospheric landscapes by Ellen Wagener and a trippy exhibit of outstanding artists who work with fiber in various ways. But our recent favorite was a multi-media tribute to baseball's spring training in the Valley. The black-and-white photos of the San Francisco Giants (with the Hall of Fame Willies — Mays and McCovey) working out in Casa Grande in the early 1960s were priceless and helped us lose ourselves for a few moments without reaching for our wallets. Art for the masses, indeed.

Who doesn't have a picture of themselves in front of the Love sculpture on the Scottsdale Civic Center Mall? Visitors to Scottsdale flock to the sculpture because it is one of only a handful of them in the country. It is large and, unlike most pieces of art, you can touch it and climb on it. This makes for a perfect picture-taking opportunity. We can't wait to see your Valentines.

Evie Carpenter
Joerael Elliott's well known in the Phoenix area for his incredible large-scale murals on the sides of Way Cool Hair Salon and The Caravan, but his latest (very) small-scale work has us hooked on lattes and cappuccinos at Lola Coffee. Between mural gigs and canvas projects, the local artist has a part-time barista gig on weekday afternoons, when you can catch him doodling on coffee bags with sharpies. But the real magic happens on foam — backgrounds and intricate faces emerge as Elliott chats about the local art scene while drawing with his milk thermometer. We've never been so inspired or over-caffeinated.
Dominique Chatterjee
Desert at Lux
We don't mind the notoriously long lines at Lux Coffee Bar — they give us more time to check out what's up on the walls. The shop's monthly rotating shows have included Hipstamatic photography by Jason Hill, a documentation of train graffiti by Christopher Marks, and a photo essay of Haiti by The Parlor owner Aric Mei. Lux owner Jeff Fischer promises to continue the rotating art now that the shop has expanded into the building next door, which means more walls, more art, and even more open seats so we can sit down to enjoy the view.
We are not sure why outdoor malls are so trendy these days, because having grown up in the Valley, we find nothing more comforting than the blast of freezing cold, good-smelling air that greets you when you open the door at Scottsdale Fashion Square. We've been around so long that we remember when SFS was an outdoor mall — when you had to hoof it in the heat from Guggy's to Goldwater's, or get in your car to drive to Sakowitz. Now Goldwater's is (several generations later) Barney's, and we're thinking the old Guggy's was about where Anthropologie is now. Sakowitz is Neiman Marcus. Not a bad trade, and the whole thing's enclosed, so you won't get wet from some misguided misters. Love. All our favorite shops are here at Fashion Square — they've even got Pita Jungle in the food court and Modern Steak for fancier feasts. And did we mention Barney's?
Manhattan has the Hearst Tower, the first truly green skyscraper in the country. In Los Angeles, it's the Audubon Center at Debs Park, with more than half its materials locally manufactured and the first building in the United States to receive a platinum rating under the renowned Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system. Here in the Valley, though, we're greener than green, thanks to the forward-thinking, desert-loving developers who built DC Ranch, Scottsdale's preeminent golf course community. The developers approached the McDowell Mountains as an asset by integrating walking roads and bike paths into a landscape that embraces the desert, rather than trying to obscure it with bearing walls as so many desert-centric developments do. We say, if you're going to live in the desert, live in the desert — which means being able to look out your window and see cactus and sand, not brick walls and pavement.
It's not often that a building turns out looking exactly like the architectural drawing that inspired it. But somehow, Optima's location just north of Scottsdale Fashion Square materialized into a modern version of the famed hanging gardens of Babylon, chock-full of lush climbing plants and beautiful flowering bushes with blossoms the muted orange and purple colors of an Arizona sunset. The multi-tiered complex — which houses condos, restaurants, shops, and an art gallery — boasts a massive central courtyard, with gorgeous fountains and plush sitting areas dotted with colorful couches. The bottom floor of the open expanse offers an amazing view of the whole building, and it always makes us feel as though we're vacationing in a tropical paradise, without ever leaving the desert.
We don't mind a little history lesson with our home tour, so long as it's fun — and Modern Phoenix always provides a nice mix of both education and entertainment to fans of mid-century architecture from all over the Valley. Last April, Modern Phoenix's Alison King and her many dedicated midcentury cronies threw open the doors on a dozen rehabilitated midcentury homes in Sunnyslope (including a few contemporary models, among them houses by architects Ralph Haver, Paul Christian Yauger, and James Trahan. Several of the houses even had vintage cars parked out in front. But King and company didn't stop there, offering a full day of free slide shows and hands-on workshops — with themes like "How to Research Your Midcentury Modern Home" and "Modern Scottsdale" — in collaboration with the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. In addition, a Modern Marketplace Expo offered a day full of midcentury design, architecture, landscape, and furnishings aimed at '50s fans everywhere. No wonder this wildly popular tour sells out every year!

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