For years, the building at 333 East Portland Street sat neglected. In its former life, it had been Beth Hebrew Congregation, the first Orthodox synagogue in Phoenix; a Mexican evangelical church; and the performance space of the Black Theatre Troupe. Even as condo projects and hip eateries went up around it, 333 went overlooked by most — but not by artist and real-estate developer Michael Levine. In March 2015, after years of trying to save the building from destruction, he bought it and set out to restore it. Built in 1955 by Valley architect Max Kaufman, Beth Hebrew is a treasure of local Modernist architecture, with some fascinating Hebrew and Egyptian design details thrown in for good measure. While the restoration is still a work in progress, the building has played host to Jewish religious services and community events, and Levine has big plans for the future, including film screenings, art exhibitions, and private celebrations. We're glad to see the lights on and the spirit back in the place. L'chaim!

Whether you're a midcentury building or a midcentury human, facelifts are rarely ever a complete success. Which is why we were pleasantly surprised when local developers Vintage Partners did away with the stucco surrounding Uptown Plaza and replaced it with a more honest interpretation of the shopping center's 1955 roots: exposed brick, atomic fonts, neon signs, and some much-improved shade structures. Now the neighborhood shopping center at Central Avenue and Camelback Road has become the hotspot for local boutiques like Manor and Muse as well as trendy restaurants like Shake Shack, Flower Child, and Lou Malnati's Pizzeria. Restoration never looked so right.

Bragg's Pie Factory

Contrary to the advice of old-timey books on home decor, it takes more than matching shag rugs and toilet-tank cozies to perfectly appoint a bathroom. Phoenix artist Bill Dambrova gets it, as evidenced by the bathroom inside his Goat Heart Studio at the historic Bragg's Pie Factory. It's basically an eclectic, multimedia art installation accented with a roll of white toilet paper, where eye candy sometimes includes language earlier generations dubbed potty mouth. Vintage ephemera lining bathroom walls from floor to ceiling capture moments from the city's past, or quirkier parts of the artist's personality that take subtler form in his paintings filled with biology-infused abstractions. The Goat Heart Studio bathroom is a mischievous microcosm of the artist's mind, and practically a mini-museum hidden in plain sight within the artist's equally engaging art space.

Downtown Phoenix's warehouse district is finally getting the new life it deserves, thanks to a number of business owners who know a good deal when they see one. Located between Jefferson and Grant streets and Seventh Street and Seventh Avenue, the warehouse district offers up a central location, plenty of space, and, with a little remodeling, an industrial charm that would make any startup company swoon. The area, which is already home to event venues and creative agencies, is quickly being snatched up by other companies looking to take advantage of Phoenix's urban upswing, including tech companies WebPT and Galvanize. Forget skyscrapers and stucco commercial buildings — the warehouse district is the new destination for doing business.

Works well with others? That might be an understatement for Jenny Poon. The creator of the branding and design boutique eeko, which incidentally was instrumental in the launch of Phoenix's premier bike-share program, Grid Bikes, has become a much-talked-about entrepreneur in Phoenix over the last several years, thanks to her co-founded project CO+HOOTS. Now with locations in downtown and midtown, the thriving co-working space has given local startups a chance to grow their business as well as donate their services to make the community better thanks to the company's nonprofit branch, CO+HOOTS Foundation. Whether she's pioneering for the success of her fellow entrepreneurs or speaking out on the lack of diversity among Phoenix business owners, one thing can be said for certain about Jenny Poon: She's never satisfied just helping herself.

Phoenix Convention Center

Earlier this year, Phoenix Comicon shattered previous attendance records. And while there were plenty of reasons to go nerd out with likeminded people — big-name special guests, thought-provoking panels, an overwhelmingly packed exhibitors' hall — there was one particular reason that we braved the heat and staked out the Phoenix Convention Center: Phoenix Comicon offers the best people-watching the city has to offer. And we're not just talking about ogling the impressive costumes of Deadpool, Harley Quinn, and Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, even though that could be reason enough. Even the non-cosplayer attendees are fascinating, and inspire enough questions to keep us entertained for hours. Why are you here? What could possibly be inside of that mystery box you're clutching so tightly? And where are you planning to put all of those Pop! Vinyl figures? We may never know the answers, but while we're watching this subculture in action, we'll never stop asking.

FilmBar

Yeah, there are quite a few places where you can have a beer with your movie. But do those big chain theaters have Prince movie marathons, Four Peaks on draft, lectures from seasoned screenwriters on why Jaws is still legit, and regular local film showcases spotlighting aspiring Scorseses among us? Um, nope. But downtown indie standby FilmBar sure does. Add to the list indie films and documentaries you won't find anywhere else, DJ nights, art shows, and snacks from the Tamale Store, and you get the picture. The flagstone-adorned little building is ideal for movie nights when you're in the mood to linger at the bar post-screening and compare notes with fellow moviegoers.

Pollack Tempe Cinemas

Pop quiz: What costs $3? Let's see. Acceptable responses include two sticks of loose gum, a really big bobby pin, or four off-brand crayons. Oh, and also a ticket to see a movie (a real, actual, professionally made film) at Pollack Tempe Cinemas on the south side of the Valley. The lineup at the strip-mall theater delivers — and not just a bunch of big-screen stinkers. Nu-uh. At Pollack, we slackers who kept meaning to see the latest blockbuster in the Avengers franchise are rewarded for such laziness and poor planning with dirt-cheap tickets, eye candy by way of lobby memorabilia displays, and literal candy at prices that won't have you groaning over how you forgot to sneak in Skittles. Pretty sweet.

When Harkins finally shuttered its tiny indie Scottsdale outpost Camelview 5 (the property's owners had announced plans to bulldoze the theater for mall expansion), Phoenicians commiserated with both sadness and rage at the Valley's inability to hang on to anything culturally cool. But then we saw the theater that replaced its cozy, five-screen predecessor. Camelview at Fashion Square includes 14 screens, reclining leather seats, and a dedication to screening the arty flicks the 5 was famed for showing. While the excitement of pairing a cocktail with the big screen is still as real as FOMO, we appreciate the state-of-the-art sound and visual components at the new Camelview, and the fact that they won't interrupt the movie to deliver another basket of fries to the bottomless pit in the back.


Harkins Scottsdale 101

The Phoenix Film Festival isn't where you go to see big blockbusters. Instead, it offers films just on the cusp of breaking out, indie comedies, weird horror, documentaries, television programs, and other oddball flicks. In 2016, the festival screened movies like Chad Hartigan's hip-hop coming of age comedy Morris from America, Ricky Kennedy's mockumentary The History of Time Travel, and the pilot of Starz's The Girlfriend Experience. Spread over a week on seven screens, the works are varied and range in quality, but the curation is smart and well-put-together year after year.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of