When nightlife impresarios Edson Madrigal, Pete Salaz, and Sean Badger dubbed their newest endeavor the regal-sounding Monarch Theatre, it wasn't a self-aggrandizing gesture. Truth be told, the trio pretty much reigns supreme over the downtown Phoenix club world. They already own Bar Smith, arguably the hottest joint along Washington Street's stretch of clubs, which hosts some of the more epic dance nights around — including Sticky Fingers, Solstice Saturdays, and The Scenario. (Plus, Senbad and Salaz are widely considered to be kings of the local house scene, thanks to more than two decades of working the mixers.) And the Monarch Theatre, which opened in April, is the veritable crown jewel of their growing empire. They took old-and-busted hip-hop spot PHX Nightclub and gave it a thorough makeover by pimping out the décor, installing a boss PK Sound system, expanding the dance floor to 7,000 square feet, and constructing an enormous stage. Renowned artist Lalo Cota also created a unique monarch butterfly painting out front. Aiming to give downtown its biggest room dedicated solely to electronic dance music, they teamed up with local promoters Relentless Beats to bring in marquee-level talent. Thus far, they've packed the 500-person venue by featuring the likes of electro-popsters Designer Drugs, house heavyweight Satoshi Tomiie, and Grammy-nominated electronica vocalist Nadia Ali. Plans are afoot to bring in nationally known Latin acts and turn the Monarch's second floor into a swanky lounge, thus bringing even more bodies to their door. It's good being the kings.

Readers Choice:

Yucca Tap Room
Lauren Cusimano

Don't let the fact that shows at the Yucca Tap Room are free fool you. The bar consistently books some of the best garage, power pop, punk, and metal acts in town, from touring stars like The Ataris and Radio Moscow to showcases from local stunners like Earthmen and Strangers and Avon Ladies. Things can get pretty wild at the Yucca, with bands often hopping off stage to roam the dance floor and bar (pop-punker Nobunny stood on the bar, wearing only a pair of briefs and a leather jacket), and that's part of the charm. You can wander in almost any night and find something crazy going down, and the selection of craft whiskeys at the Yucca's neighboring boutique bar certainly makes the decision that much easier.

Red Owl

The March shooting at a Nipsey Hussle show at the Clubhouse Music Venue in Tempe was a low point for the Valley hip-hop scene but hardly was indicative of the vibes cultivated by promoters like Sean Healy Presents and Universatile Music just down the street at Club Red/The Red Owl. The split club hosts punk, metal, and rock acts, too, but really shines with performances by hip-hop legends Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest and Talib Kweli and buzzy up-and-comers like Big K.R.I.T. and Brooklyn rapper Action Bronson (the latter performed part of his set from the Club Red bathroom). The selections walk the thin line between arty backpack rap and street-credible and savvy bangers, but consistently prove that the city's hip-hop tastes run deep.

The Rhythm Room

Local blues king Bob Corritore's long-running club turns 21 this year. That means it's old enough to drink legally, but something gives us the impression that the club has had a shot or two of the good stuff already. Corritore's mission to keep the blues flowing in Phoenix extends to his five-hour Sunday night blues radio show, Those Lowdown Blues, on local NPR affiliate KJZZ, but his dedication sweats it out on the stage, too. Each weekend, the club features some of Phoenix's finest, like Cold Shott and the Hurricane Horns, Bill Tarsha and The Rocket 88s, Tommy Dukes, George Bowman, and The Rhythm Room All-Stars (featuring Corritore on harmonica), as well as welcoming in traveling bluesmen like Shawn Pittman, Texas Red, and Arizona legend Hans Olson. They say it's all downhill after your 21st, but something tells us that the Rhythm Room's best days are still ahead.

Handlebar-J
Courtesy of Handlebar-J

The Herndon family has owned Handlebar J since 1975. In all those years, they've maintained a very simple policy: People like steaks and ribs, and they like country music. They've been giving Scottdale patrons exactly what they come for year after year. It's just a stone's throw from the bustling and flashy Old Town scene, and while you're certain to catch a few sparkly Ed Hardy T-shirts, Handlebar J fondly recalls the days when Scottsdale was known as "The West's Most Western Town." The latest dance moves might be practiced just a few blocks away, but on Handlebar J's sawdust-sprinkled floor it's all classic two-steps, and we're happy for the hoedown.

Amsterdam

A whirlwind of change ensued inside Amsterdam over the past year, as its proprietors gave the glitzy gay and lesbian landmark a different look and a whole new groove. Its trademark marble pillars and Rodin-like naked male sculptures are still around, but most of the overstuffed couches and swanky furnishings were ditched to free up space for a larger dance floor, new DJ booth, and lighting elements. No longer considered a lounge (a role ceded to adjacent Club Miami), Amsterdam is now a full-on discothèque most nights a week, where high-energy dance music and Top 40 remixes are the norm. Muscle-bound go-go boys also frequently dance around in nothing but skivvies atop the Art Deco bar, which still serves more than 350 signature martinis and custom cocktails. The clientele also is largely LGBTQ, but an increasing number of straights have made this a weekend dancing destination, a fact that's acerbically discussed out on the smoking patio during catty conversations between regulars.

Afterlife

Despite their musclehead reputation, the doormen at local bars and clubs are pretty adroit at spotting fake IDs. In other words, members of the under-21 brigade might want to reconsider using their older siblings' faded driver's licenses to slip into some swank Scottsdale club. Instead of getting denied by beefy bouncers, or even reported to the cops, they instead head for all-ages affairs put on three nights a week at Afterlife. The liquor-free establishment offers many of the same nightlife thrills for those 18 and over as other Old Town joints (minus the alcohol, of course). If you dig dancing, scores of local DJs spin Top 40 remixes and electronica tracks in three rooms. If you're feeling competitive, arcade and casino games are available out on the patio. And for those gentlemen eager to throw their mack, go-go dancers and scantily clad ladies are in abundance during Afterlife's frequent theme parties. Even better, the place stays hopping until 4 a.m. every night it's open, which allows underage types to keep partying while the hard drinkers at most nearby bars have to call it a night.

Wild Knight

A word to the wise: Don't try to slip a $20 to the doormen outside of Wild Knight, because it won't work. Bullying is just as ineffective as bribing, because attempting to intimidate or accost them is more likely to get you in handcuffs instead of inside the club. They've got their own system of who gets to be lucky enough to party inside this exclusive Saddlebag Trail nightclub, and it usually involves selecting only the hottest or best-dressed chicas. The hulking guardians of the velvet ropes also keep out most photographers (with the exception of some select professional shutterbugs), as management prefers to keep what happens inside on the down-low. It's also why there aren't any windows, save for the opaque panels on the doors of the tiny outdoor patio. It helps add to the clandestine aura of the place, which has also developed a reputation for being one of the biggest hotspots for electronica in the Valley, thanks to the array of EDM superstars who have performed here, like Rebecca and Fiona, The Bingo Players, and Zedd. Skrillex reportedly induced a major riot at an after-party held in his honor last year at the club when the entire crowd lost their shit during his stint on the mixers. It was definitely a wild evening at Wild Knight.

Yucca Tap Room
Lauren Cusimano

It's been an important year for the cats behind The Blunt Club. At the beginning of the summer, they celebrated the 10th birthday of the long-running Thursday night affair, marking a full decade of bringing hip-hop music and culture to the masses. The party served as both a major milestone and a major rager, taking place over the course of two nights at both Tempe's Yucca Tap Room and Hollywood Alley in Mesa. It also marked the brief return of Organic, who pulled a Prodigal Son and temporarily resumed his role as one of the night's resident DJs for a few weeks alongside Pickster One. They also added a few new painters (such as Loopy and Ray Rivas) into the potent weekly mix of fly artwork, b-boy dancing, turntable artistry, and funky grooves, which is accentuated by the diverse array of touring underground rappers and hip-hop artists who stop by for guest performances almost every Thump Day. The Bluntsters show no signs of slowing down, and — in all likelihood — have enough swagger and skills to go for another 10 years or more.

Hate to break it to you, club kiddies, but Skrillex didn't invent dubstep. While the cutesy-pie electronica producer helped light the match that caused the bass-heavy genre to explode in popularity in the past couple of years, dubstep's been around for more than a decade now. Just ask the cats behind long-running club night UK Thursdays, who were blasting bass long before Skrillex launched into the limelight. Since its debut in 2009, the weekly dance party has showcased a wide variety of dubstep artists from throughout the Valley and around the globe, each of whom offers a different take on the diverse British-born genre. In addition to the sort of brutal grinds and killer drops typified by the "brostep" generated by Skrillex and his ilk, the event has featured the more ambient flavors of dubstep, as well as such closely related variants as drum 'n' bass and UK garage. Locals like Sluggo, J. Paul, and ill-legal have been featured, as have such influential heavy hitters as 12th Planet, Rusko, 16-Bit, and BBC One's Mary Anne Hobbs. Pounding the walls of School of Rock with sub-harmonic thrum every Thursday, the night has helped give new meaning to the term "Thump Day."

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