AMC Esplanade 14

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.

602-955-6444
www.phoenixfilmfestival.com

Readers Choice: Phoenix Film Festival

One of the main forces that drove Stateside Presents' head honcho, Charlie Levy, to create Viva PHX in 2014 was the fact that he simply doesn't like traditional music festivals very much. Who can blame him? Giant crowds of people in exposed, enormous fields, listening to bands amplified from 500 feet away? Yuck. So Levy created Viva PHX, a festival based on the urban model of South by Southwest. (Disclosure: New Times is a sponsor.)

Instead of one or two giant stages, Viva PHX takes over dozens of stages throughout downtown Phoenix. For one magical night, giant crowds of music lovers fill spaces of downtown usually devoid of people, even on a Saturday night. This year, Jimmy Eat World singer Jim Adkins' solo set was just a few steps away from kickass rock band Thee Oh Sees, who played just blocks away from Valley locals Gospel Claws. No event better showcases the potential of Phoenix as a music city. If Viva PHX proves anything, it's that we're more like Austin than we thought.

www.vivaphx.com

Readers Choice: McDowell Mountain Music Festival

Usually when we hear the words "arts festival," we think of ceramic tissue boxes and metal wine racks — and not in a good way. But Grand Avenue has stamped its own brand of quirky onto the concept of an arts festival and come up with a much better way for you to spend a Saturday afternoon. Past festivals on Phoenix's infamous diagonal drag have included sculpture shows hanging from trees, a recycled fashion show, neighborhood tours, open artist studios, and, yes, plenty of art for sale. We can't wait to see what's on the agenda this year.

www.facebook.com/grandavenuearts0x000Aandpreservation

Readers Choice: Tempe Arts Festival

Frances

Georganne Bryant has the best taste in town, and she's kind enough to share it with the patrons of her boutique, Frances. She commandeers the parking lot at Medlock Plaza, where Frances is located, for Crafeteria on the first Friday in December. For us, it marks the beginning of the holiday season in Phoenix. With live music, food trucks, and the best craft purveyors in town, you're sure to make a dent in your shopping — and run into just about everyone you know.

Phoenix Convention Center

For people who are really into beer, the problem with beer festivals is that the offerings are usually a bit pedestrian. Sure, an event can boast a selection of 500 different ales, but if it's all stuff you can buy at Safeway, what's the point? Real, Wild and Woody is a beer geek's beer fest — every single beer poured by the 65-plus invited breweries is either cask-fermented (real), sour (wild), or aged in barrels that once held bourbon, tequila, or some other tasty spirit (woody), and many are so rare they're only available at the event. Admission ain't cheap — $57 for 20 tasting tickets — but it's a small price to pay for any beer connoisseur looking to spend four hours ticking rarities, meeting brewers, and throwing around terms like "horse-blanket aroma" and "creamy mouthfeel" with people who actually understand what the hell you're talking about.

Readers Choice: Tour de Fat

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

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