The Nile Theater

Few venues can boast as impressive a second act as The Nile Theater, in downtown Mesa. Since reopening under the direction of Mantooth Group in 2010, the venue has spearheaded a kind of downtown revival, hosting punk and hardcore in the sweaty and utterly rock 'n' roll basement (re-dubbed The Underground as opposed to just "the Nile Basement") and singer/songwriter/indie fare in the neighboring (and couch-equipped) Lo-Fi Coffee. Punk and hardcore legends — like The Bouncing Souls and Alkaline Trio — take the stage, and the folks at Mantooth are never shy about fostering a DIY sense of community, tapping the best of the all-ages rock scene to open up for venerated lifers and play the annual Within These Walls festival. Downtown Mesa still has a way to go, but with the likes of the Nile Theater leading the way, it's easy to see things heading where they ought.

The Rogue Bar

The Rogue Bar plays host to plenty of good touring acts (remember when controversial black metal band Liturgy brought its hipster sound to the Valley?), but the venue truly shines when it comes to locals. The venue's residency program, which gives a weekly platform for buzzing locals like Snake! Snake! Snakes! to experiment, curate lineups of their favorite bands, and try new material, has inspired similar shows at Crescent Ballroom and Long Wong's in Tempe. Owner Emmanuel Tripodis is a vocal booster of locals like Yus and rap-rock dynamos Wolphpac, and the excellent sound system at the venue and his tireless support of local music (he was early to champion local-friendly radio station KWSS) keep the Scottsdale bar a destination for fans. What's more, this year saw the return of dance parties at Rogue curated by William "Fucking" Reed, and the new night, "Rebel Yell," instantly reminded locals of the legendary "Shake" night at Rogue.

Crescent Ballroom

Charlie Levy apparently is a very patient man. After his famed Tempe music venue Nita's Hideaway closed in 2002, the local concert promoter waited almost a decade to open another place of his own. He was biding his time until a spot that was just the right size and in a perfect location became available. And when that day finally dawned last summer, he pounced, starting the process that brought the Crescent Ballroom to downtown Phoenix. Making up for lost time, Levy snatched up the location of flash-in-the-pan R&B joint Bentley's Nightclub and began a whirlwind three-month renovation of the building, a former auto garage constructed in 1917. Outside, unsightly stucco was removed to expose the original red brick underneath, while the inside was transformed into a concert hall with a swanky bar and lounge in the front. The Crescent made its debut last October, and it's been unlike any other music venue in the Valley. Patrons and musicians have raved about its choice acoustics and crystal-clear sound system, as well as such nifty amenities as the bleacher-like stadium seating in the rear of the house allowing the more diminutive fans a primo view of the stage. And they wouldn't want to miss a minute of any show, considering the level of talent that's performed here. A "who's who" of indie tastemakers, folk troubadours, and art rock icons have passed through the place, including names like Iron & Wine, Phantogram, Santigold, and St. Vincent, just to name a few. As a result of all of these factors, the Crescent has become a much-beloved concert palace and increased Levy's legend tenfold. Guess that patience paid off, right?

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.

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