Best Place to See a Comedy Show 2013 | Tempe Improv | Bars & Clubs | Phoenix

Comedy, as the saying goes, is tragedy plus time. At most stand-up joints, it's the standard formula for good jokes. At the Tempe Improv, however, it also sums up the drama the renowned establishment has endured over the past 16 months. In June 2012, the iconic club shut its doors after 25 years, following heated allegations by owner Mark Anderson, who charged comedy impresario Joel Bachkoff of conspiring with former Improv employees to steal Anderson's business. Anderson, who reportedly had a history of mental issues, then went missing. Weeks later, the 60-year-old was found dead in a Buckeye motel room of a cerebral hemorrhage stemming from a brain deformity. Anderson's widow, Holly, eventually approached Bachkoff about partnering to revamp and reopen the Improv in hopes of securing her late husband's legacy.

The club returned in May, following a total renovation of its interior and showroom, giving both more of an upscale look that's heavy on exposed wood and vintage imagery, as well as adding a full bar and VIP areas upstairs. Some things haven't changed, however, as its famous stage (which has hosted the likes of Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock) and red brick wall are still there. And the comedians are just as hilarious as ever. After all they've been through down there, we're sure they could use a laugh. The usual two-drink minimum is also still around, of course, so be sure to raise a toast to Anderson with at least one of 'em, maybe both.

A word to the not-so-wise, fella: You needn't bother reaching for any of the thick volumes lining the walls of Skeptical Chemyst for any answers during its weekly pub quiz. Firstly, it's as off-limits as fishing your smartphone out of your pocket and hitting up Google. And second, those are all boring legal tomes and are just for show, dummy. Instead, we recommend using that Rolodex of useless information you call a brain to overcome the competition at the Irish pub's popular weekly event, which consists of seven waves of 10 questions each. And hurry up, because the clock's ticking and there's only a certain amount of time per round. Since the quiz allows either individuals or teams of any size, we recommend inviting your egghead friends and relying on the collective smarts of the whole group. It's gonna take all of you to answer some of the questions, which cover a vast array of random topics (ranging from comic books and music to science and world history) and are either decidedly obscure or definitely difficult. Two rounds also involve a visual component, during which participants could be asked to scope out famous faces or identify artwork from famous rock albums. Pride is at stake (as well as a $50 bar card for first place), so try not to choke, especially in front of your nearest and dearest.

When it all boils down to it, all video games essentially are about one thing: escapism, pure and simple. You hit start, leave reality behind, and get in some CGI-animated wish fulfillment of the bullet-slinging, ass-kicking, or fast-driving variety; at least until your energy bar (or money) is exhausted. And at either of the Valley's two entries into the Dave & Busters chain, such fully rendered ego trips are a bit more realistic, given the high-end graphics of the games comprising its glitzy Million Dollar Midway arcade. And the extensive menu of booze, beer, and cocktails of a mixed or frozen nature available at each of the large in-house bars certainly helps matters, too. Try having a few Big Wave Daves, one of D&B's eight signature drinks, followed by a spin on the Typhoon undersea simulator. Or maybe have a Newcastle or three before storming the castles of Infinity Blade FX. Best off all, things go 21-and-over after 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, so you can get in some quality time on the Fruit Ninja FX machines without having to wait for tweeners to finish their games first.

Good friends can become bitter rivals when hanging out in Gypsy Bar's arcade, ahem, game lounge. Believe us, we've seen it happen, usually over one of its many player-versus-player sports games (like 2 Minute Drill or NBA Hoops) and definitely after imbibing something ice-cold and intoxicating from the large, fully loaded bar. Sure, egos might get a little bruised, and taunts are often exchanged, but it's all in good fun (we think). Not all the mega-games are of an athletic bent, however, as there's Pac-Man Battle Royale Deluxe, Guitar Hero, Terminator: Salvation, and Deal or No Deal. Pretty much everything involves two players or more, so prepare yourself for an impromptu challenge, should you be there with friends. The flash and clamor of the glitzy game lounge often competes with the hullabaloo of other activities taking place throughout Gypsy Bar, which is located next door to Lucky Strike Lanes at CityScape. If it's a weekend, there's probably a crowd on the dance floor or around the bar as people engage in an interactive affair of a more social sort.

The best un-kept secret at Venezia's (besides the hero sandwiches) for the area's large population of cash-strapped college kids and underemployed recent grads is its very good handcrafted pizzas. The Montanile family, which opened the joint in 1995, serves up handcrafted pies with thin, crispy crusts, tangy homemade marinara, and 100 percent mozzarella cheese. You can get them whole or by the slice — either of the build-your-own variety or as one of the specialty slices that rotate on a daily basis. And with an extensive array of daily specials, your wallet never feels lighter than it should.

What are the two things Charles Bukowski loved more than women? Playing the ponies and drinking like a fish — if a fish drank beer. So if the poet laureate of the barroom were alive today and visiting Phoenix, where would he hang? No doubt at the Turf Irish Pub, where you can suck back the brew of your choice (ours being Guinness) and place your bets as the horses pound the track on the TVs up above. Should your stomach begin to growl, the Turf serves a mean boxty and a classic Irish breakfast with all the fixin's. And when you're finished wagering for the day, there's a long, classic wooden bar on which to bend an elbow and perhaps chat up a fembot or two. No doubt Buk would approve.

High-fives and fist-bumps are common at this particular Zipps, dished out by either celebratory jock junkies or actual pro jocks themselves. That's because superstar athletes and retired greats from the Phoenix Suns, Arizona Cardinals, and other local teams have swung by Zipps over the years to glad-hand with fans, sign autographs, or just load up on its primo sports bar repast. (Check out the slew of framed menus around the place with autographs of such hometown heroes as Dan Majerle, Edgerrin James, Goran Dragic, and Seth Joyner.) Rubbing elbows with big ballers is just one of the appeals of this Arcadia neighborhood fan favorite. The others? Savory grilled wings, 11 different loaded focaccias, and its trademark Zipparitas delivered by adorable waitresses. Down enough of the intoxicating signature concoctions, which are stronger than a Sir Charles slam dunk, and you might get up the gumption to challenge one of the athletes to a match on the arcade games in the back. Just prepare to be schooled, son.

It's not much of a mystery which particular team Friday's Front Row rallies behind, considering it's heavy on Sedona Red décor, teeming with Arizona Diamondbacks ephemera, and, uh, located inside Chase Field. The latter fact facilitates its most obvious amenity (and biggest draw): giving folks opportunities to catch the D-backs in action during their 81 home games each year. Setting aside that, and the fact it's part of the Friday's chain, it offers more than just epic views from its left-field location of either the cavernous stadium or the boys of summer playing with their balls. Eye-catching shadowbox displays detail the intricate manufacturing process of baseball mitts, signed sports memorabilia dots the walls, and there are 50 high-def televisions about.

The sizable bar has more than a dozen different tap handles (including Camelback IPA from the Phoenix Ale Brewery) and a decent pour for a chain establishment. And if you're sitting in the booths, tables, and patios set aside for game-day viewing (which require a ticket purchase, whereas other seating is free), there's a chance you'll catch more than just a buzz if a game's going. According to servers, well-hit Rawlings sometimes grace the place, like when a Mark McGwire homer slammed into the exterior sign in 1999. "You gotta keep your head on a swivel sometimes," one jokes. Consider hitting up the team shop for a helmet before your visit, just in case.

Jessica Obert

If the yardstick of any sports bar ultimately is the size, quality, and visibility of its screens, then Red Embers is the heavyweight champion of the West Valley. Most everyone else? Mere 90-pound weaklings when compared to this upscale bar and grill inside Surprise's labyrinthine Uptown Alley entertainment complex (read: bowling alley on steroids). Though not a sports bar in the strictest sense, it rivals any jock joint with its fantastic wings, brew selection, and vast selection of screens, including the monstrous 20-by-15-foot projection HDTV. There aren't many craned necks or bad seats in the house as the titanic screen is the centerpiece of the Sports Theatre attached to Red Embers and is visible from practically anywhere in the place, as well as most of Uptown Alley (and maybe from Wickenburg). Perched in front are eight overstuffed chairs and a row of benches for up-close viewing. And mere steps away are a huge arcade, a circular lounge with pool and darts, and (of course) 40 bowling lanes. Kinda puts your neighborhood game-day hangout to shame, bro.

On game day in Ahwatukee, you'll find the serious sports fan at this friendly neighboorhood hub. It's easy to see why: about three-dozen flat-screen high-def TVs, subscriptions to all the major sports packages, a congenial atmosphere, a major-league selection of beers, and respectable bar-food options. In business for a nearly a decade, the family-run CK's also offers daily drink and food specials and live music on the weekends. If you can't actually attend the big game, then you'll discover CK's is the next best option.

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