Best Midsize Music Venue 2018 | The Van Buren | Nightlife | Phoenix

It's inevitable. At some point, you're going to see a show at The Van Buren. Guaranteed. And it's due in large part to the sheer number of "can't miss" concerts at the 1,800-person downtown Phoenix music venue co-owned by Live Nation and Charlie Levy of Stateside Presents. Since opening in August 2017, The Van Buren has hosted gigs in a wide variety of genres — from hip-hop and heavy metal to reggae, regional Mexican, and (of course) rock 'n' roll — within a stylish milieu that features gorgeous digs, primo acoustics, and excellent sightlines. There's also a gorgeous lobby and ample patio, each with its own bar. Just like Levy's other downtown spots (the equally popular Crescent Ballroom and Valley Bar), there are more than just concerts happening here, as dance parties, beer festivals, comedy nights, and live podcasts have taken place. We can't wait to see what's in store for The Van Buren's second year.

Seeing a show at Ak-Chin Pavilion is something of a rite of passage for Valley residents. Concertgoers have made the trek to this 20,000-person outdoor venue in the West Valley for decades now, dating back to the '90s, when it was known as Blockbuster Desert Sky Pavilion. Any number of recording stars and legendary bands from a wide variety of genres have performed here over the past three decades, including such notable artists as The Moody Blues, Nine Inch Nails, Blake Shelton, Rob Zombie, and KISS. Its ample open-air pavilion roof provides shade to those fortunate enough to possess reserved seating tickets, while general-admission types can kick back on the hilltop lawn area with blankets and still have a great view.

Best Place to See Performers You Loved 40 Years Ago

Musical Instrument Museum

The acoustics are perfect, the seating is comfy, and the lineup of talent is a dream come true for any of us who thought we'd maybe never see our faves perform again. For those of us who came of age listening to singer-songwriters like Rickie Lee Jones, Rita Coolidge, and J. D. Souther, the Musical Instrument Museum's almost nightly concert series is a great place to catch up with our favorites. And no one's shaking a musical stick at the world artists and up-and-comers that MIM books, either. Did we mention how fair ticket prices are? Get your seats early, though, as many MIM shows sell out quickly.

Best Place to See a Band You've Never Heard Of

The Lunchbox

Phoenix has a storied history of DIY venues that rose and fell: Iron Lady, The Manor, Wall Street, ICYC, and many, many more. Sometimes they go into hibernation, throwing open their doors every once in a while for a special show. Most of them just disappear; part of the whole point of having a temporary autonomous zone is that they're, well, temporary. Rarest of all is the DIY spot that goes legit. The Lunchbox (LBX) started as one of those well-kept secrets — the kind of place where you needed to know somebody who knew the address to find it. Fast-forward a few years later, and now it has shows every week, a website, even an active social-media presence. What hasn't changed about LBX, though, is its knack for booking obscure, edgy, and interesting acts. Whether it's the avant-classical metal of Wrekmeister Harmonies, or weird singer-songwriters like Circuit des Yeux, LBX hosts some of the most forward-thinking and uncompromising artists working in the underground.

Jennifer Goldberg

At Yucca Tap Room, you make a decision the moment you arrive — left door or right door. The left door leads to the Whiskey Lounge, where you've got a pool table, some booths, a bar separating patrons from selections of craft beer, and maybe a DJ. But the right door takes you to the original Yucca Tap Room, the well-worn music venue around since the early '70s that has seen many famous local and touring acts in its four decades of operation. And thanks to its short, approachable stage, decent sound, and somewhat of a floor area, some great punk shows have gone down. Agent Orange normally make a stop here, as well as comp punk darlings like Mustard Plug, Guttermouth, No Use for a Name, and Pulley. BroLoaf put on one hell of a show here, too. Heck, the Whiskey Lounge even aired that Fat Wreck Chords documentary that one time.

If the walls of Pub Rock Live could speak, they'd probably offer up many twisted tales of rock 'n' roll exploits that've gone down at this Scottsdale spot during its many iterations over the decades. For a good chunk of the '90s, it was a hard-rock sanctum called The Atomic Cafe. Then, it transformed into Chasers, a dive-y haven for both heavy metal and punk effin' rock. In 2012, it became Pub Rock Live, but has continued its predecessors' predilection for rock and its many different flavors. During any given month, the club's 20-by-26-foot stage hosts all manner of touring acts, particularly those specializing in metal, pop-punk, garage rock, and hardcore. Locals love the place, too, including bands like Doll Skin, Fourbanger, The Beast of Bailey Downs, and Ebinezer. Plus, there's always tons of free parking and the bartending staff is friendly as hell. Rock on.

Why do we keep coming back to The Rhythm Room as our pick for the best blues destination in town? Probably for the same reasons that local blues hounds keep coming back, year after year, to indulge their taste for toe-tappin' and rump-shakin' tunes at this central Phoenix blues institution. The many shades of the genre — from Delta and Chicago to 12-bar and boogie-woogie — are showcased several times a week at this no-frills joint equipped with just a stage, seating area, and bar. There's always room to dance, though, which patrons do with gusto when things get jumping. The Rhythm Room is a longtime favorite of local artists and touring legends alike, and has been since owner Bob Corritore, a veteran harmonica man and longtime host of KJZZ's Those Lowdown Blues, helped open the spot 27 years ago. We sincerely hope The Rhythm Room doesn't stop boppin' for another three decades or more. And that ain't no jive.

Lauren Cusimano

You really can't miss this west Valley honky-tonk. Marked by farm equipment, a giant chicken, and other sun-bleached kitsch, Roman's Oasis has been in place since 1998, when the Alabama-born owner — Roman, obviously — could count just a few houses within sight of the country bar. Now, 30 years later (and one nearby spinoff — Roman's County Line), Roman's Oasis is still packed with a boot-scooting, table-slapping crowd. There are several rooms, meaning several bars and dance floors, and the calendar lists karaoke and dance lessons, as well as tournaments for cards, darts, and shuffleboard. There's also a full kitchen, good people, and lots of what matters: cold beer.

Elbow your way past the college crowds on Mill Avenue, make it past the bouncer, and descend a flight of stairs to enter Low Key Piano Bar. Once inside, you can watch two dueling pianists perform high-octane renditions of pop hits new and old. A rotating crew of genuinely talented musicians go for broke onstage in front of a sea of low tables. Be prepared for the inevitable patron who has one too many syringe Jell-O shots or fishbowls of alcohol, and then jumps onstage to hog the microphone. You can also expect the singers to get more raucous (and sweatier), and the crowd more hyped up, the closer it gets to last call. Low Key stands out among the other varieties of nightlife on Mill Avenue, and is the perfect place to end your evening on a high note.

Opening a dance joint is a risky venture, even in a nightlife-friendly party zone like Mill Avenue. Clubgoers are fickle, tastes and trends are constantly changing, and the competition is always out to eat you alive. Despite these odds, Aura Nightclub has managed to thrive, probably because it's got a lot going for it. The 9,500-square-foot spot, which opened in April, has an excellent pedigree, as owner Narender Raju also runs popular local venue The Pressroom. And just like he transformed a shady downtown Phoenix warehouse venue into the aforementioned concert spot, he renovated and revamped the decrepit two-story space on Mill that formerly housed School of Rock into a high-tech nightlife playground. The main room boasts a 5,000-square-foot dance floor, 14 VIP tables, several 4K high-def screens, intelligent lighting, and a state-of-the-art sound system. There's also a huge stage that hosts DJs and bands brought in by general manager and talent booker Cahleb Branch, a veteran of the local hip-hop scene. An adjacent lounge area contains even more seating, a chill vibe, and enormous windows overlooking the hustle and bustle of Mill that allow you to kick back and check out the line of folks clamoring to get in.

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