Best Of :: Shopping & Services
The best record stores have something beyond albums in their bins. The music playing on the speakers, the posters and albums chosen to decorate the walls, the person behind the counter — when you enter a great record store, the sum is greater than the parts, and it's immediately apparent. Whatever that impossible-to-define ambiance is, Revolver Records' downtown Phoenix location has it. You walk in and you know you're among friends, musical and otherwise. You can flip through the racks and find rarities from musicians you'd forgotten you loved, strike up a conversation with the employees and get a non-judgmental recommendation to help expand your music tastes, or stop by on First Friday to hear a local band or two. Do any of it and you'll get an idea why Revolver is consistently the best of Phoenix.
In just a year, Altitude Coffee Lab has become known for its roasts, but this cafe is more than that. The low-key interior is homey and relaxed, the perfect spot to spend an afternoon getting work done on the ivy-covered patio. Should you get hungry, Altitude offers full breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus that include dishes from all over Europe like Spanish frittata, Danish smørrebrod, and more. For aspiring musicians and poets, weekly open mic nights on the high-end shop sound system will present your work well. Should you need liquid courage before you perform, the coffee house also offers beer, wine, and a small selection of spirits. However, you shouldn't leave without trying the Gibraltar, which mixes espresso and foamed milk at temperatures lower than a cappuccino's so you can taste the amaretto and raisin notes of Altitude's espresso blend.
When we say Phoenix coffee, you say Cartel. Phoenix coffee, Cartel. Seriously, though, you might have your favorite spot to relax or get work done, but this is about the roast. All ambiance arguments aside, there's a reason that celebrities hit up the roaster when they're in town. With a strong focus on natural, unwashed beans and bright, acidic flavors, Cartel-roasted coffee is a unique experience, regardless of the bean you choose. You must be made of stone if can resist grabbing a cup after passing by the Tempe Cartel during roasting hours and smelling the intoxicating coffee aroma wafting from the building. Though you can buy the beans and take them home, feel free to let the highly trained barista staff show you how it's done if you're not a confident home brewer, and don't be afraid to ask questions.
In the morning, French Grocery makes a perfect coffee stop, complete with locally roasted espresso from Tempe's Cortez Coffee. And for more filling fare, there's the weekly menu of cuisine from chef and owner Kevin Lentz. He's spent most of his adult life living and eating in the Big Easy and wanted to bring some of that city's flavor to Phoenix. No matter the time of day, we can swing by for one of the restaurant's macarons, which come in an array of colors and flavors that change each week. And as if that's not enough, French Grocery provides a well-curated selection of wines, cheese, and other artisan products, including European-style butter, goat milk, and chocolates. We only wished we lived closer to French Grocery — or that this type of neighborhood market and restaurant will start taking off all over town.
Though we're happy to see farmers markets popping up in just about every Valley neighborhood, we have to admit our favorite Saturday morning stop is still the Old Town Farmers Market. Because as much as we want to eat local and healthy, we don't have the time — or energy — to make a dozen stops to get the shopping done. The variety of vendors at the Old Town Farmers Market makes this a one-stop shop for market-goers with everything from organic produce to grass-fed beef and local honey. And in most cases, you'll have your choice between several vendors in each category. It's true that things slow down during summer, but at least we can still get in and get the basics before the heat really hits. The fact that the market is dog-friendly is a big plus, because we feel guilty about taking our time when we leave our four-legged baby home alone.
When it comes to cocktail classes in Phoenix, Jade Bar has something for everybody. With a weekly rotating course focusing on gin, whiskey, rum, Prohibition-era cocktails, Tiki cocktails, and more, you certainly can pick your poison. Thirty dollars gets you about four cocktails per class, plus a wealth of information ranging from preparation to history. With small class sizes of 10 people, you get plenty of time for individual instruction and Q&A. Given that it's one of the bars that launched the careers of many of the Valley's top bartenders, you're sure to get an education worthy of any pro. Be warned, though, you may want to consider a room at Sanctuary after the class because those cocktails can knock you on your bum.
For the mornings when aspirin seems asinine and drip coffee just doesn't do the trick, hangover sufferers of Old Town Scottsdale don their sunglasses and head directly to The Drip Room. This Valley vitamin bar brings its customers everything from B12 to botox, flavored oxygen to fillers. Although The Drip delivers IVs for every need, including weight loss, detox, energy, anti-inflammation, and anti-aging, the antidote for alcohol-fueled benders is the Party Drip. This intravenous innovation replenishes the burnt-out party animal with hydrating fluids, vitamins, and wonder drugs to combat the nausea and bloating that prevent you from pushing your luck a second night in a row.
So Wedge and Bottle might not have the largest wine selection in the Valley. It also might lack the insanely low Trader Joe's prices you're used to from your wine-buying experience. However, what this Ahwatukee wine, cheese, beer, and more store does have is a knowledgeable, friendly staff who knows a thing or two about pairing wine and cheese and isn't afraid to sell you on it. Wedge and Bottle also sells gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, which go shockingly well with a glass of wine. If you're ready to make a commitment to wine and cheese but not ready to make a decision, you also can opt to join Wedge and Bottle's wine and cheese pairing of the month club. A three-month subscription can be bought in the store or online for $165.
It's been a wild year or so for Arizona craft liquor lovers, with the first tastes of locally made bourbon, gin, rye, and Durum wheat whiskey coming from Tempe's Arizona Distilling Co. Not since before Prohibition has anyone even tasted a Valley-made spirit. Turns out, it's really good — so good that the brand-spankin'-new distillery won high marks in international spirit competitions already. With a heavy infusion of local history, everything from the labels to the ingredients has Arizona ties. Chalk it up to the fact that the distillery crew comprises childhood pals from Tempe, but no matter which way you cut it, local craft liquor is here, and it's a very good thing. In particular, the Desert Durum Wheat whiskey is an impressive creation of all-local grain, distilling, and aging. Could it be Arizona's answer to Kentucky bourbon or East Coast rye? Maybe.
BevMo and Total Wine might be able to best Tops' selection, but when it comes to personalized suggestions from a knowledgeable and friendly staff, those big-box booze chains don't even come close. If you think that's not important, try staring at the library-like selection of local and international craft beer and figuring it all out yourself. For the quantity-over-quality crowd, Tops also usually has smokin' deals on big old boxes of beer. Plus, we don't know how many times we've picked out one bottle of liquor, only for the folks behind the register to replace it with a better and cheaper choice. Now that's just too cool.
Bud's Glass Joint brings a unique, artistic dimension to First Fridays, often hosting live glass-blowing competitions and demonstrations for spectators to enjoy. It features many pieces by local artists and even sells locally made incense, among other things. Bud's modest location has plenty of products on display without becoming an overwhelming, hard-to-shop mess. If it doesn't have what you're after, just tell the proprietors and they are usually willing to track it down for you. The staff is courteous, knowledgeable, and welcoming, plus they really know how to throw a 420 party.
Aunt Effie sets a high bar for "medibles," cramming a potent dose into a tiny cookie about the size of a quarter. Both affordable and accurately dosed, the buttery and nutty flavor of the cannabis cooked into these treats makes them a far cry from the snickerdoodles your grandma used to make.