Cocktail pilgrimages. They're a real thing. Booze enthusiasts have been known to squeeze them into two-day business trips or sneak away from family vacations to pay homage at whatever can't-miss bar they might be within reasonable distance of. This insatiable need to experience the hottest cocktail offerings from around the country is what makes Top Bars of America so appealing. For this annual event, part of Arizona Cocktail Week, some of the best bars in the country and world come to Phoenix to pour drinks. This year, we got to sample cocktails from bars including the Dead Rabbit and Death and Co. from New York City and Herbs and Rye in Las Vegas. It's not exactly the same as visiting the destination, but it does cost significantly less.

www.arizonacocktailweek.com

The Devoured Culinary Classic has been the hottest food event in the Valley for some time, but the organizers aren't sitting back on their laurels and enjoying the ride. This year, they expanded the festivities to include four events over several weeks. In addition to the two-day Devoured Culinary Classic on Saturday and Sunday, the celebration of local food and drink included the Devoured Bartending Competition and Palette to Palate, an evening that brought together local artists and their culinary counterparts. The weekend tasting events are still the centerpiece of the shebang with tickets selling out months in advance, and once you've attended it's easy to see why. Many of the top local chefs and restaurants pull out all the stops for the Devoured Culinary Classic, splurging on ingredients such as oysters and foie gras and even serving their fare in photo-worthy style — think, miniature milk bottles and faux wooden plates. Every year, we eat so much we think we'll burst, but as soon as we leave, we start counting down to next year's gluttony.

www.devouredphoenix.com

Readers Choice: Scottsdale Culinary Festival

In the past two years, Bite Magazine has gone from digital to print and back again. Though you no longer can pick up a copy of this locally produced food- and beverage-focused magazine, you certainly still can ogle the impeccable photography and find great food and drink content in digital form. From trend pieces about the local coffee scene to barbecue-based infographics that will make your mouth water, Bite gives a completely fresh look at the Valley's food scene. Publishers Michelle Jacoby and Mark Lipczynski have excellent eyes for design, giving this publication a fun, modern sensibility that's as entertaining to simply look at as it is to read. Some of our favorite pieces have included an eight-page spread about perfect food pairings featuring macro-size photos of locally made food products (can we get posters, please?) and a photo essay showcasing the beauty of Arizona's desert landscapes.

www.readbite.com

In the wake of Serial, podcasts — a platform that allows in-depth conversations, longform storytelling, and no-holds-barred comedy — are all the rage. Jason Allen, Anthony Sandoval, and Tim Rutherford are the hosts of The Naked Yak, a Phoenix-based culture podcast that finds the three seeking out "artists, comedians, and musicians to help them take back the desert night." Featuring interviews with local musicians like Danny Torgersen of indie prog band Captain Squeegee and rapper Mouse Powell and comedians like John Higbee, Ali Masa, and Matt Micheletti, the conversations are freewheeling and often hilariously candid, full of regional flair and references, and the trio's relaxed style brings out the best in their guests.

www.thenakedyak.com

Finding the right balance of news, music, humor, pop culture, and personality is a challenge for any morning radio show, but Lady La and her sidekicks get as close as possible for the local radio waves. There may be more established radio shows out there, but La and her crew put forth energy and realness on their show rather than constantly rely on cheap jokes and shots at celebrities. No morning host represents the Valley as well as Lady La does, and she doesn't shy away from putting herself out there at local gatherings, including parties, First Fridays, culinary tastings, and charity events.

602-260-1015
www.live1015phoenix.cbslocal.com/tag/the-lady-la-show/

The dedicated staff at KJZZ makes it easy to mostly leave the FM radio dial alone while driving in the Valley. The home of NPR programing, BBC World Service Newshour, and PRI's The World, the station also features programs grown right here. Whether tackling big concerns like Arizona's use of the death penalty and Governor Doug Ducey's education policies or lighter topics like Arizona pop culture history and audio tours of Phoenix's Central Avenue, shows like Here and Now and The Show inform and entertain.

480-834-5627
www.kjzz.org

Local Republican blogger Barbara Espinosa is a colossal pain in the Arizona GOP's butt, a role she enjoys immensely. Whether she's openly supporting Democrat Fred DuVal in the 2014 general election against fellow Republican and Governor Doug Ducey, or lambasting the state GOP's miserly approach to funding education, she drives Sand Land GOPers bonkers with her blog, American Freedom by Barbara. Indeed, Espinosa's ideological heresy so unhinged former Maricopa County Republican Committee Chair A.J. LaFaro that he sought to strip her of her voting rights as a precinct committeeperson. (He ended up having her and some other rebel Rs censured, instead.) A month later, LaFaro ran for GOP State Party chair, and lost big-time. Guess he didn't figure on karma — or on Espinosa, who became his deadly enemy and helped dig his political grave. A Texan by birth, a lady, and a longtime GOP activist and donor, Espinosa blogs lightning bolts daily. Mess with her at your peril.

www.americanfreedombybarbara.com

Unapologetically lefty, Blog for Arizona proudly wears its Democratic donkey on its banner, sings the praises of Obamacare, and incessantly is critical of Arizona's Republican overlords. In other words, for this redder-than-red GOP state, Blog for Arizona is an outlier. That doesn't make its team of progressive opinionators any less fierce. In fact, they regularly draw blood, whether it's erstwhile Democratic Congressional candidate Bob Lord's exposing former Republican schools' superintendent John Huppenthal as anonymous blog commenter "Falcon 9," or "Democratic Diva" Donna Gratehouse skewering the Rs over their attempts to restrict abortion rights for women. Like Gratehouse, some of these scribblers have their own blogs, but together they form a left-wing Wu Tang Clan, fighting a guerrilla war against a better-funded and far more populous enemy. They dream of a day when Arizona goes blue, or perhaps purple, though a lighter shade of pink may be the best they ever can hope for.

www.blogforarizona.com

Greg Patterson's Espresso Pundit is a must-read blog for Valley junkies of politics and news. Patterson's political spin and undying obsession with the Arizona Republic's left-leaning writers are more than outweighed by his sharp insight and biting criticism, from a reader's perspective. Officially titled "Arizona's Own Espresso Pundit" and subtitled "Ruminations of an Over-Caffeinated Political Junkie" (perhaps to set himself apart from the right-wing Mormon contingent), Patterson started the blog in its current format in 2006 and has sparked legislative hearings (related to the 9/11 memorial on the Arizona Capitol grounds). You don't have to agree with him — we often don't. But Patterson's not predictable, he's snarky, and he breaks news. A former lawmaker and current member of the Arizona Board of Regents, Patterson taps into his base of extensive connections to offer fresh information and angles on various stories in the news. Ever the critic of perceived liberal bias in the media, he might label a suspected hit piece without substance as a "Mr. Smith Showers Nude" story, for instance. Fun stuff like that keeps bringing us back, especially around election time.

www.espressopundit.com

Lefties love the idea of the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Act, while wingnuts love the reality of free cash to espouse their loony, far-right ideas and, often, get elected to office in the process. This welfare for Arizona pols removes the need for politicians to seek money from those who have it and who are unlikely to hand it over to some wackadoodle. Take our state's current superintendent of public instruction, Diane Douglas. This crazy cat lady would still be a wall-eyed instructor at Glendale's Stained Glass Shop if she hadn't scored $97,620 of free Clean Elections money in the 2014 GOP primary and $146,430 in the general election. That's just under a quarter of a million bucks total, if you're keeping score at home. Yes, Douglas was heavily outspent by Democrat David Garcia in the general election, but there is no way she would have been able to raise the cash necessary for a statewide campaign on her own. Without Clean Election dough, Douglas would not have prevailed. She thus becomes the best and latest argument against this failed experiment in socialism that local libs hold so dear.

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