Best Pool Hall 2017 | Hambone Sports Bar | Nightlife | Phoenix
Benjamin Leatherman

It's safe to say pool halls were once a hazy place where cigarette-smoking players were only cautious about not getting ash on the table's felt. That scene is part of a bygone era — in fact, if you ask us, there are far too few old-school pool halls in the Valley — except when it comes to the Hambone Sports Bar. This Mesa pool bar is technically a patio, so dress accordingly, and smoke 'em if you got 'em. Hambone doesn't have as many tables or rules as a full-on hall, but it makes up for it in character. Marked by the classic neon sign featuring a bow-tied laughing pig and promising dancing and cocktails (don't be fooled by the "grill" part of the sign, there isn't a menu), Hambone is said to date back to 1958. It currently holds five or more pool tables and features a jukebox, an X-rated claw machine, dancing, darts, arcade games, and of course, drinking and smoking.

Founded by local pool businessman Thomas Lopez, Slope Records has an old-school punk sensibility. You won't find modern indie rock or electronic pop — it's strictly raw, aggressive punk. Lopez grew up here, in west Phoenix, and his love of punk flourished here. The label is home to some modern bands, including scuzzy rockers Scorpion Vs. Tarantula, the garage gospel of The Christian Family, and the post-skate punk of The Father Figures, but it's big into the classic punk game, issuing records by Phoenix hardcore legend Exterminators, The Mighty Sphincter, and The Feederz, whose WWHD: What Would Hitler Do channels Trump-era paranoia via vintage punk rage.

The seminal shoegaze act Alison's Halo was founded in Tempe by couple Adam and Catharine Cooper and Lynn Anderson. (Alison was the name of the band's drum machine.) Though the group only released one 7-inch before moving on to other projects, a collection of Alison's Halo's recordings was released in 1998 and found tastemakers across the nation who've championed them as pioneers whom indie snobs oughta know. In 2017, Manufactured Recordings reissued that compilation, titled Eyedazzler, with a limited-edition CD, in digital form, and — for the first time ever — on vinyl. It's a spacey, noisy must-have, snob status notwithstanding.

Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra's lead singer, Camille Sledge, pulls off one helluva job. She's the vocalist and "leader of rituals" for the Valley band that's most likely to make you think — and make you shake it. No small feat, and one that's more awe-inducing still when a quick headcount reveals that the band she helms features a whopping 16 members. But commanding an audience's attention with her voice kinda runs in the fam. You might've heard of Sister Sledge? Yeah, that essential Philly soul trio comprised her mom, Debbie, and aunts.

Ali Tomineek has no apologies. He made that clear on his 2016 mixtape I Ain't Sorry. What the Arizona-born independent rapper does have? A cool 100,000 YouTube followers who keep tabs on the speed demon's latest flows. He first found an audience while attending Peoria High School, rapping curse-free verses during the school's video announcements. He's taken that vibe worldwide to a massive audience (Tomineek says one of his videos hit a million views before it was hacked) he's dubbed the 31 Squad. In May 2017, Tomineek released his debut full-length record, #FridayFlow, snagged a top spot on Billboard's Heatseekers Mountain chart, and made an appearance on local hip-hop radio haven The Beatlocker.

Let's get to the point, shall we? The Darts fucking rock — and deliver on the promise to "make your head slam and your feet shake." The garage-psych band of badass women have the albums to prove it. That's two EPs, to be exact, and one LP. Nicole Laurenne (formerly of Love Me Nots and Motobunny), Michelle Balderrama (Brainspoon), Christina Nunez (Love Me Nots), and Rikki Styxx (Dollyrots) took the band's noisy, sexy songs on tour for the summer — and through Europe. But the girls are back in town, and recently dropped Me.Ow, a full-length debut that was recorded by Bob Hoag and pressed on pink vinyl.

Hometown folk-punk heroes AJJ have been at it for years now. To celebrate a decade of the band's seminal record, People Who Eat People Are the Luckiest People in the World, founding members Ben Gallaty and Sean Bonnette played not one, but five sold-out concerts at downtown DIY venue The Trunk Space. Besides a sweaty good time, the duo formerly known as Andrew Jackson Jihad played the album front to back — and tossed in requests from the audience, who knew every single word. A testament to both the venue and hardworking rockers (who tour relentlessly and are now signed to Asian Man Records), the packed shows are proof that people in Phoenix love their local bands. The feeling's mutual.

The 2017 Arizona Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame induction ceremony was a star-studded event for fans of jangle-pop, grunge, and The Boss. Valley bands and musicians including The Gin Blossoms and Nils Lofgren (the guitarist and longtime Springsteen sideman) rocked the stage at Celebrity Theatre, which was also being welcomed into the hall of fame that late August night. But perhaps most notable was the reforming of Meat Puppets' O.G. lineup: Cris and Curt Kirkwood, along with drummer Derrick Bostrom. It was the first time the three founding Puppets had performed together since New Year's Eve in 1995. And it was fucking righteous.

When a dive bar gets a makeover, the neighborhood draws its collective breath. Will they still have darts? What's going to happen to all that wood paneling? Can I still order three SoCo limes for a party of one without being judged? Luckily, the crew behind Dilly Dally's remodel a couple of years ago made all the right moves. While slightly spiffier than it was in 2015, the Dillz has maintained that perfect blend of cheap beer, questionable music, and lights low enough for you to make some bad decisions. Diehards might lament the "Arcadiazation" of this pub, but we don't mind the bar keeping up with its increasingly fancy neighbors in Gaslight Square, especially when that means a huge new window. Keep the cheap beer flowing.

Lauren Cusimano

Though this local hangout is hard to find behind a bustling Starbucks, the Swizzle Inn draws more than its fair share of customers. Weekend patrons and Thursday night stool-warmers are not hard to come by, but the real charm is found in the day-drinking crowd. It's dark, of course, with the only light coming from the decorated atrium (there's usually a holiday theme of whatever sort), and the occasional swinging open of the heavy front door. Pro tip: Come here during the holidays to see every square inch of this place covered in twinkle lights. Around since 1996, and previously the Starlight Lounge, the Swizz has daily specials, a pool table, plenty of seating, silly signs on the wall, a decent selection of '80s and country on the jukebox, and more important in these kinds of places, clean bathrooms. And you can tell who's in for the long haul when someone pays with plastic, because there's a $10 card minimum.

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