Best First Friday Hangout 2015 | Welcome Diner Patio | Megalopolitan Life | Phoenix
Jackie Mercandetti Photo

Whether you've already made the gallery rounds, need to stop mid-First Friday runaround, or want to pregame the monthly downtown Phoenix art walk, Welcome Diner's patio is the place to be. There's a more than fair chance you'll bump into creative types from the Grand Avenue and Roosevelt Row circuits while lounging at one of the communal tables, typically rousing with conversations about pop culture, local news, and the latest exhibitions. Add to the din cheap beer, good cocktails, and hearty Southern-style food and you've got the perfect recipe for an arts district-adjacent late-night hang.

Readers Choice: Roosevelt Row

Andrew Pielage

Lisa Sette and her eponymous gallery are nothing short of institutions in Phoenix's art world. Over 30 years, the gallery has earned a reputation both locally and nationally as a serious exhibition space that features seriously talented artists. Housed in a partially subterranean Al Beadle building in Central Phoenix, Lisa Sette Gallery's current artist roster reads a bit like a who's who of Arizona's most notable contemporary artists, including Carrie Marill and James Turrell. For art collectors and appreciators alike, Lisa Sette Gallery is in a class all its own.

Readers Choice: Modified Arts

When Arizona State University's art school relocated its Step Gallery to one of Michael Levine's rehabbed warehouses, we had a sneaking suspicion that we were going to love it. Not only is the raw, industrial space great for displaying artwork, it's also home to studio spaces for the art school's grad students. Seeing completed exhibitions from up-and-coming artists in the same building as their fellow students' in-progress pieces is kind of an art-nerd fantasy. And it's one we get to live out every First Friday.

Isaac and Gabriel Fortoul like to keep things moving. Originally from New Jersey, the brothers have bounced between New York and Phoenix for the past decade, building their art careers through their nomadic gallery, 40Owls. When the pair returned to the Valley in the winter of 2014, they found an empty spot on Central Avenue and promptly filled it with works that blend modern primitivism with cubism — before shutting down again. Blending strong artistic points of view with commercial elements, 40Owls was short but sweet, and we wouldn't be surprised to see the Fortouls pop up in downtown Phoenix again.

As part of the multi-city initiative INFLUX's 2015 cycle of projects and commissioned by the city of Tempe, Kristin Bauer (no, not the True Blood actress) installed a lovely reason to look skyward at Mill Avenue and Fifth Street, on a brick building that houses Terralever and Comerica Bank. LOOK UP AND SEE ME, the piece demands in red all-caps. The perforated vinyl piece wraps a corner, and on its other side is a dreamy black-and-white portrait of actress and model Audrey Munson in a 1918 silent film. Bauer's work often pushes its viewers to question how text and imagery interact, and this piece begs for multiple passes.

Nestled between Arizona State University's downtown campus and a handful of municipal and commercial buildings, Civic Space Park is the most important piece of green land downtown. What the park lacks in a name (it'd be like calling Camelback Mountain "Central Phoenix Big Red Mud") it makes up for in art. Her Secret Is Patience is Janet Echelman's outlandish sculpture, and no piece of public art in Phoenix prompts as much discussion. Everything from the price ($2.5 million plus maintenance costs) to the execution raised questions since the piece's completion in 2009. But short of the weather, there's nothing Phoenicians strolling the streets of downtown love to debate more than their impressions of the gorgeous netting and multi-hued curves of Her Secret Is Patience.

Seventy-seven years after it first opened, the former College Theatre continues to kick cinematic ass. Valley Art's consistently interesting roster of foreign films, independent movies, and arty flicks appeals to ASU jocks and cineasts alike. Despite its hipness quotient and a 15-year-old $1 million renovation that modernized the old-fashioned theater, it still retains its vintage charm. The only single-screen theater in the Valley, the venue is one of dozens in the Harkins chain, which spans five states and includes more than 400 screens, and it's the one where the whole chain began. Owner and CEO Dan Harkins is wise enough to let his programmers slot rare fare at Valley Art, which in recent years has shown us Kuchar Brothers festivals and animation extravaganzas, as well as small movies getting notice in New York or L.A. that other commercial houses won't risk showing. Valley Art is a beautiful thing.

The weird thing about Pollack Tempe Cinemas is that it's better than most theaters — so why is it "discount?" The answer, of course, is in its last-chance movie selection. If you just have to see it on the big screen but missed it, then realize it's playing at Pollack, that's serendipity. Three bucks for the flick ($2 on Tuesdays), plus a visit to a museum-like theater that shows how it cares about film and the people who watch it. What's not to love about a place with a cabinet full of life-size presidents? Other mannequins, standees, and various Hollywood-related items that owner Michael Pollack's collected over the years decorate shelves above the lobby. It's got a hometown feel and several old-school video games to go along with its 1980s prices. The comfy seats and good sound system make for a two-thumbs-up experience — depending on the movie, of course. But then, if it sucks, you didn't waste much cash. If possible, we'll wait till it gets to Pollack.

The concept still seems unreal: Drinking a glass of beer or a cocktail while watching a tasty flick on the big screen was something only Europeans could do for most of our lives. Americans were stuck with soda, candy, and popcorn until someone came up with the simple idea to offer quality seats, quality food, and — of course — quality booze. Several luxury theaters have been open in the Valley for a few years now, but we keep returning to the AMC Dine-In Theatres Esplanade 14 for that upscale moviegoing comfort. Tucked in the Esplanade development's citified compact strip mall with a parking garage, it's a far more peaceful experience to see a movie there than, say, Arizona Mills Mall. The recliners alone make the higher ticket price worth it. If the movie's boring, watch out — it's easy to fall into a deep sleep as you lay nearly prone, legs stretched out just like at home. Good or bad movie, we love using the call button between the seats at least a couple of times during the flick to summon our next drink. We can get used to this.

Readers choice: AMC Esplanade 14

Forget the Oscars and Sundance. What local filmmakers and cinephiles really get excited about is the annual Phoenix Film Festival. Bringing in nationally known titles, directors, and heartthrobs — er, talent — is obviously cool and exciting, but it's the spotlight this festival shines on the Valley's own talent that makes us swoon. Plus, PFF is all about allowing audience members to interact with filmmakers, scheduling in-theater Q&A sessions right after the screenings. So go for it and ask the director of the quirky indie rom-com you just watched what exactly that little blue car was supposed to mean. We're sure the filmmakers involved with PFF would be happy to explain.


Readers Choice: Phoenix Film Festival

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