Brandon Decker, who records and tours as decker., moved to the San Francisco Bay Area last year. Judging from his tour schedule, you would had never known he left. The songwriter, who now has moved back to Sedona, returned on numerous occasions with his band to play his heart out, including a compelling performance at Last Exit Live in May for a forthcoming live album (his cover of Leonard Cohen's "Famous Blue Raincoat" brought some members of the audience to tears). The music scene felt a little emptier without him, which is why we were ecstatic that the rumors that he was coming back for good were true. Welcome home.

Crescent Ballroom

Crescent Ballroom may be first thought of as Charlie Levy's intimate music venue, but the front lounge, patio, and balcony operate as its own bar and eatery. The restaurant, otherwise known as Cocina 10, serves burritos, tacos, and other Arizona road food, while the full bar kicks out beer and wine (spot the Arizona brands by the cactus icon next to the menu item), as well as specialty cocktails. Try house drinks like the Rest Stop, La Ultima Palabra, or the beloved Honey Badger. During happy hour — 3 to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday — that Honey Badger is on special. Crescent Ballroom's location is ideal as well. It's found downtown, within walking distance of Arizona State University, other bars, and many an office building, but just far enough away from the high-rises to provide a stunning view of the skyline from the second-floor balcony.

Thunderbird Lounge
Charles Barth

Since April, Thunderbird Lounge has operated in the last slot of the Melrose District's historic Wagon Wheel Building. The new neighborhood bar shoots for a 1970s Midwestern tavern vibe, and its three owners/friends seem to have accomplished this. The amenities are the best part: The ATM dispenses singles and fives for the jukebox and cigarette machine, and there's wood-fired pizza made in the backyard-style patio by Dino's Napoletana (part of the neighboring Restaurant Progress team). The arcade machines are set to free play all day, and there are endless supplies of Montucky Cold Snacks, RC Cola, Jay's Potato Chips, and O-Ke-Doke popcorn. Guests also can expect happy hour specials and themed evenings.

Typically, nightclubs come and go as times, tastes, and trends change. Monarch Theatre, however, has not only survived the past seven years, but thrived, becoming the reigning king of downtown Phoenix's dance-club scene. And it's done so by constantly evolving over time, whether it's adding new amenities like its popular upstairs Scarlet Lounge in 2016, appealing to a wide cross-section of clubgoers with a variety of genres (from bass-heavy EDM and deep house to Latin sounds), or featuring high-energy club nights like the weekly Ikonik Fridays and Saturnalia seshes. Monarch's owners (the trio of local entrepreneur Edson Madrigal and local DJs Peter Salaz and Senbad) sprang for a major remodel, adding high-style amenities to the 7,000-square-foot main room and other parts of the two-story property. There are always challengers to the throne, especially in an often cutthroat scene, but for the moment, it's good to be the kings.

The Hot Chick
Steve Lueder

It's the eternal struggle for any new bar, restaurant, or nightspot: How do you find a hook that grabs people's attention and — more importantly — gets them in the door? The people behind Scottsdale nightspot The Hot Chick believe the way to do it is with a cute name, some retro flair, classic arcade games, and plenty of fun. And so far, they haven't been wrong. Since opening over the summer, the joint has been packed with people who have come to drop tokens into games like Frogger, Donkey Kong, and Galaga while soaking up the late '70s/early '80s vibe (think Dazed and Confused meets Boogie Nights). They've also come to dance, as The Hot Chick's rotating lineup of DJs has been getting bodies moving with an array of classic rock, disco, Motown, glam, and old-school hip-hop songs mixed in with more modern tracks. We've even seen The Hot Chick go wild when DJs have played "YMCA" by the Village People, including patrons spelling out the letters during the chorus, just like dancers have done for ages. It's nice to know that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Bar Smith

To most people, the term "BFF" stands for "best friends forever." At Sean Watson's Friday night dance affair, BFF, the acronym could mean anything, depending on the whims of its DJs. "We've had all these different names for it," Watson says, laughing. "It's been Big Fun Fridays, Best Friends Forever, or even Big Fucking Fantastic. We've changed it up a bunch of times." The name isn't the only thing that's changed at the event, which has gone down at Bar Smith almost every weekend for six years. BFF's soundtrack, setting, and DJ lineup constantly have evolved, going from a house and techno night on the venue's rooftop to a diverse dance party on both floors of the club with a mix of local DJs. (Watson, Cormac, and Klu are its current residents.) "We started getting into deeper stuff, indie dance, and future bass," Watson says. "And then downstairs has everything now: trance nights, bass nights, underground stuff ... all these different genres." One constant, though, has been the vibe. "It's always been this intimate experience where you're always close with other people, everyone knows your name, and everyone's dancing together and having a good time," Watson says. You know, just like some BFFs.

For nocturnal dance fiends looking to sink their fangs into a dark groove on a weekly basis, LILITH is the place to be. Over the last few years, DJ Tristan Iseult has hosted a no-cover goth night at Stacy's @ Melrose. The event, like the venue itself (formerly known as Sanctum), has gone through name changes over the years. It was called Sour Times, but Iseult has rechristened his dance party with the name of the great-great-great-great-great-grandmother of goth: Lillith, first wife of Adam, and mother of all things that go bump in the night. Going to a LILITH night, it's plain to see why this Wednesday show has been a late-night Valley staple for so long. The place is regularly packed, the venue's general decor and ambience fit the music perfectly, and DJ Tristan brings the jams. His sets run the gamut of dark music, going from the early post-punk days to modern acts like Cold Cave and Tamaryn. And while you can expect to hear a few familiar gems each time, Iseult varies his music constantly, so you can always expect to get a few new earworms stuck in your head after a night of getting your goth-stomp on at LILITH.

Let's set the scene here — paint a picture, if you will. You walk up to the bouncer; he checks your ID. It's a fake — oh no, the cops are called. Just kidding. (That's probably been the experience of plenty of people, though.) After you get the go-ahead from the bouncer, you walk in, see the intimate (code for tiny) space filled with couples of all ages grinding. Okay, the usual, besides some questionable age gaps. You push through the crowd. Oh, there's a dance circle? Oh, no. You see a couple awfully close, too close. Are they allowed to be doing that? Are his pants down? Is she ...? Time to move on. You've been out for a minute, so it's time to check out the facilities. Not your usual restroom, or your average restroom attendant. We'll leave it to you to check out what they're selling. Time for a drink that takes a little too long to make. You spot an open seat at a booth toward the back. Finally, a minute to relax, sip on your drink, and process what you've seen (or watch The Green Mile on the TV above the bar — true story).

The beauty of 12 West is part beer — an array that can satisfy both the craft newbie and wonk — and part location. Inside, at the 12 West bar, you have a view across the room at the wood-fueled Fire and Brimstone Pizza oven; a baked potato pizza is never more than a few steps away. Out on the patio, you can soak up rays and admire Barnone, the complex housing the brewery. Beers have enough range to keep you drinking. Co-founder and head brewer Noel Garcia can nail crushable classics, like pilsner (see Zona Pils). His standby New England-style IPA is lush and dank, with some tropicality. Lately, too, the brewery has ventured into experimental territory: a line of mixed-culture sours. Like a long day filled with all kinds of wild beers, this brewery just keeps getting better with age.

Best Place to Have a Drink and Watch the Sunset

Orange Sky

Orange Sky at Talking Stick Resort

If you are looking for a place to treat yourself and feel fancy AF, go to Orange Sky at Talking Stick Resort and knock back a few pricey but delicious cocktails while watching the sun set over some of the beautiful mountains that surround the Valley. Orange Sky is a great place to go if you have something to celebrate, want to impress friends or family from out of town, or are just having the worst week ever and prefer to lick your wounds by dropping a bunch of money like you actually have it. The service is great, the view is unbeatable, and the food is incredible. Unlike many high-end restaurants, the portion sizes at Orange Sky match the price, and it feels pretty cool to be literally guided behind a velvet rope to the outside portion of the restaurant and seated near a shallow reflection pool. Space is limited outside, so if you'd like to get a sunset view, be sure to make a reservation. And bring a sweater for when the sun sets — it's windy all the way up there.

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