BS West
Benjamin Leatherman

Every Friday at 10:30 p.m., you can stop by BS West for its Elements drag show to watch a handful of beautiful queens in elaborate costumes strut their stuff to the likes of Beyoncé, Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, and Rihanna. The heels and the kicks are both probably higher than you could ever go, making Elements one of the most popular drag shows in the Valley. The regularly featured queens include Mya McKenzie, Eva Angelica Stratton, Desiree Demornay, Adriana Galliano, and Savannah Stevens, all of whom have won pageants across the country or in the Valley. The drinks are cheap and the staff are friendly, though you may want to reserve a table if you plan to see the show.

Boycott Bar
Benjamin Leatherman

This Melrose District hangout is an LGBTQ nightlife spot, as well as an ultra-welcoming neighborhood bar offering cold beers, well-mixed cocktails, games, dancing, and an overall good vibe. Boycott Bar features some solid events, including Frugal Fridays, Matchmaking Saturdays with rotating DJs, and karaoke on Sunday nights. Patrons can also expect drink specials, pool tables, VIP areas, drag shows, Latin dance nights, and way more. Neighboring other nightspots along the Melrose Curve, including Stacy's @ Melrose and Thunderbird Lounge, Boycott Bar can be part of your bar-hopping route, or easily can stand alone as where you'll be posted for the entirety of the night.

Novel ideas are hard to come by in a local music scene where repetition and imitation are the norm. One of the exceptions is the annual Vanishing Show, a unique live music experience unlike your typical bar gig, concert, or festival. The DIY music event put on by DJ and community organizer A Claire Slattery is a mobile party and movable indie rock feast that roams Tempe's Maple-Ash-Farmer-Wilson neighborhood one night every spring since 2015. Here's the setup: Slattery will post a starting location online (typically a house) where attendees can gather. A local band will perform a 20- to 30-minute set; then, the next location is announced just before they wrap up. The crowd then "vanishes" and heads over to the new spot by cycling or walking to catch the next band. Operating on a shoestring budget with nary a permit, the Vanishing Show and its audiences often play a cat-and-mouse game with Tempe cops, who have shut down the event a few times in the past after noise complaints. Their party-pooping isn't going to stop Slattery, who's already planning next year's Vanishing Show.

The Lunchbox

Back in July, things were looking mighty grim for The Lunchbox after owner Danny Levie announced he was pulling the plug on the scrappy underground music venue. The news caused shock and sorrow among patrons of boundary-pushing shows. Weeks later, fate, and some sympathetic fans of the venue, intervened. Local experimental electronic musician and audio engineer Scot McKenzie and a few friends stepped in to help out The Lunchbox during its hour of need. They not only gave the ailing venue an injection of much-needed cash, which gave it a reprieve from its impending death sentence, they installed a new sound system. Plus, McKenzie announced plans to bring Der Bunker Teknobar, an experimental electronica music night he promotes, to The Lunchbox in the near future. It should fit in nicely with the sort of gigs The Lunchbox has done in the past and will continue to do in the future, thanks to McKenzie and his pals.

Valley Bar
Benjamin Leatherman

If your Uber driver isn't familiar with downtown music venues, chances are it's going to be difficult for him to find Valley Bar. The entrance is in an alley, which gives the establishment a speakeasy vibe. There is a sense of the unknown as you walk down the stairs and head inside, so don't be surprised if your driver raises an eyebrow of concern like an overprotective parent. But any sense of danger washes away once you enter the intimate venue, which is the perfect place to attend an acoustic show by an up-and-coming indie artist or a comedy show.

The Van Buren

Whether you're feeling like smoking some weed with Machine Gun Kelly, watching the world burn with Ilana Glazer, or reliving some '80s bops at a Stranger Things-themed party, you can do it all at The Van Buren. The venue's expansive calendar has concerts slated from the likes of Thievery Corporation, Chvrches, and Common, but the space is also used for performances by comedians and storytellers, and for music nights with themes as broad as Miami or '90s Night. The 1,800-capacity concert hall makes great use of what used to be an auto dealership, with enough bar space that you won't spend the entire concert waiting for a drink, and enough standing room that you won't be close enough to smell your fellow concertgoers' hair. On a busy night, the line may wrap around outside, but security is quick and efficient, and they'll have you inside with a drink or a jackfruit slider in your hand in a matter of minutes.

Phoenix Suns Arena

Sure, it may be a struggle to find parking if you're heading in from the 'burbs, but for Phoenicians living in downtown and midtown, there's no better place for a massive concert than Talking Stick Resort Arena. Whether you're there for Travis Scott's mind-blowing ASTROWORLD Tour or a fantastic evening with Paul McCartney, the arena that forms the backbone of a downtown sports and entertainment complex along with Chase Field is just a rideshare or (even better, since the station is right next to the entrance) a light rail ride away. Now, if only we could get people to show up for basketball games.

The Trunk Space

The Trunk Space stands apart from every other music venue in the Valley. First, the DIY spot is purely a nonprofit venture run by volunteers, overseen by a seven-person board, and largely features shows by local indie promoters. It's also located on the grounds of a historic house of worship (specifically, Grace Lutheran Church) whose staff and clergy are cool enough to let it do its own thing. And at The Trunk Space, that thing is usually a bit unusual. Since debuting in 2004, the venue has fostered the sort of outsider art, experimental performances, noise artistry, and musical oddities that can't be seen elsewhere. "We enjoy things that are definitely strange and outsider," says Trunk Space co-founder Steph Carrico. "There are plenty of places to play if you're a rock band, but not that many places to play if you tape contact mics onto a table and drag it around on a floor." In addition to all the weirdness, the Trunk Space also hosts gigs by local and touring indie acts on the regular. In an age when DIY venues frequently go defunct, the Trunk Space has survived for 15-plus years. Here's hoping it sticks around for decades to come.

The Nile Theater

There's a lot of diversity among the Valley's concert venues: large-scale clubs, huge stadiums, outdoor amphitheaters, ample dive bars, and even a church rec room. But there are few like The Underground at The Nile Theater, likely the closest thing to a CBGB or Club 82 as Phoenix has ever had. The Nile itself has a history of holding raucous punk and metal shows, and The Underground takes those same madcap events and drops the square footage by a country mile. With exposed pipes and bare concrete floors, The Underground is more akin to a bomb shelter or a fetish dungeon than most rock clubs. But that slightly oppressive, moderately intimidating vibe works wonders, and the best artists are able to fill the space with noise and an air of creative confrontation. It's easy to get lost in the Underground — not, like, physically — forgoing the inherent claustrophobia for primal levels of camaraderie and moshing. Just remember to always stretch and hydrate before any Underground show.

Celebrity Theatre

This historic venue has seen generations of musicians pass over its circular stage, and if you have attended a show at Celebrity Theatre, you know how intimate a 2,650-seat venue can feel when the stage is in the center of the room. There is something about a theater in the round that is especially conducive to a hip-hop show. This is a feature mostly afforded to rap artists who are fortunate enough to fill stadium-size venues, because most clubs and smaller venues have the stage situated at the end of the floor. The freedom for the performer of having a 360-degree vantage point allows for innumerable unique moments they can share with the audience.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of