In July, sports-media supervillain Dave Portnoy posted a video online in which he sat atop a unicorn statue on the campus of the University of Arizona and announced that the company he founded, Barstool Sports, had not only secured the naming rights for the Arizona Bowl but also would be broadcasting the 2021 college bowl game through its app, website, and social media channels. Given Barstool's profile — the site is often criticized for its misogynistic worldview — it was only a matter of time before controversy erupted. It did. The Pima County Board of Supervisors yanked $40K in funding for the bowl game, citing Portnoy's past toxic comments. "This is not who Pima County is," said Supervisor Sharon Bronson. Barring a larger financial or political blow, though, the Barstool Bowl will take place as planned on December 31. Portnoy has promised an entire week of local festivities leading up to the event. We're not endorsing any of it. But we know a good story when we see one. We'll be watching.
Madison Bumgarner threw a seven-inning no-hitter in Atlanta against the Braves on April 25, bringing the D-backs to an even 11-11 record. At that point, it seemed, the season could go in any direction. It went in a bad direction. In fact, it would be 62 days before the D-backs won another game on the road. The team lost 24 straight road games in all, breaking a record that dated back to 1963 before finally snapping the losing streak in San Diego on June 27. As we write this, the D-backs are tied for the worst record in Major League Baseball. But since Best of Phoenix is meant to be a celebration, we'll note that the team with the worst record gets the top pick in the following year's draft. Here's hoping we can pluck a Bumgarner out of the 2022 class.
The rivalry between Arizona State University and the University of Arizona is one of the oldest in college sports, dating back to 1899. Over the years, the schools have engaged in all kinds of rivalrous chicanery, such as painting the A on Sentinel Peak Sun Devil gold or the A on Tempe Butte in Wildcat blue and red. (There was even, many decades ago, a kidnapping.) This year, the Sun Devil Source community put some money together and purchased a billboard along Interstate 10 as a reminder of the absolute thrashing ASU gave the U of A in its December matchup. "NO PITY FOR THE KITTY," the maroon-and-gold billboard shouted, bracketed by "70-7," the final score of that game. ASU fans called the billboard payback for when U of A put up billboards around Phoenix trumpeting the hire of head coach Kevin Sumlin in 2018. That honeymoon didn't last too long, though: The day after that 70-7 loss, Sumlin was fired by U of A.
When the character Annie sang about the sun coming out tomorrow in the classic musical, she imagined better days coming. This year, people imagined a better life beyond the pandemic, which made it nearly impossible to gather for shared creative experiences like crafting. Turns out, the sun never stopped shining at Sunshine Craft Co, because the craft boutique gave people so many options for keeping that maker impulse going. The shop offered in-person and online classes, but also sold kits so people would have the materials and instructions they needed to make fabulous items at home. Founder Amy Guerrero was right on trend, offering classes in macrame wall hangings while every home design show was putting the offbeat wall art front and center. People could make things just for fun, or work on projects that would actually enhance their living or work spaces. With numerous projects suited to beginners, the shop offers everyone a way to bring a bit of therapeutic crafting into their lives during a time when so many need it. With Sunshine Craft Co, the sun never stopped coming out.
Local artist Rachel Bess has a passion for pinball, spooky things, and tiki bar culture, and at Electric Bat, her arcade next to Tempe's Yucca Tap Room, all three interests intertwine to create a place that oozes more cool than other joystick joints. Inside, the lighting is kept low and the rotating selection of 29 pinball machines (including old favorites and new releases) are kept in top shape by Bess and her husband, Cale Hernandez. Classics like Magic Sword and a few Japanese import games are also available for play, while one corner hosts the tiki-themed "Electric Bar" with cocktails inspired by horror films. Pinball wizards who win the monthly high score contest can get their names etched on a tally board, and players who accumulate the most points each year are awarded a championship belt. Those who aren't Tommy-esque silver ball savants can still score, as the token machine occasionally dispenses "free beer" coins. It's one of the many reasons we'll keep coming back to roost at Electric Bat.
After La Gattara left its Tempe location last year, the popular cat lounge landed on its feet at a new space in downtown Phoenix this past spring with three times as much room for kitties and the humans who love them. Also new: a coffee bar stocked by Scottsdale's Passport Coffee and Tea, a boutique room, and an outdoor patio and parking lot. The real reason to visit La Gattara, though, is for its playroom and crew of resident felines. Colorfully decorated by Hauspanther artist Kate Benjamin and furnished with bean bag chairs and other comfortable seating, it's where some 40 adoptable rescue cats frolic and interact with patrons in search of pets, warm laps, and maybe even a new owner. Right now, La Gattara is only open for First Fridays and special pop-up events while it resolves permit issues with the city of Phoenix over having cats living there full time. Co-owners Missy Pruitt and Carrie Seay expect to resume normal hours later this fall, so it won't be long until you can spend quality time making some new feline friends.
This waterworld is a kid's dream come true and as a bonus, no one will get seasick. (But beware, if you stay a couple of nights, it might cost just about as much as a low-end cruise.) We found the place super-clean, super-big, and super-fun for fans of water slides, and day passes to the main water attractions are included in the room rate. There are rides for all ages and levels of terror-seeking. We especially loved the adrenaline-spiking Wolf Tail, which drops guests into a vertical water slide via a trap door. (We decompressed afterward on the Crooked Creek lazy river. ) There's also a beautiful pool with shade, lounge chairs, and poolside cocktail service for the members of your party who prefer rosé to rides. The rooms are new and huge. There's a climbing wall, a bowling alley, and even a Dunkin' Donuts. You might feel like you're hemorrhaging money over a long weekend at Great Wolf Lodge, but can you really put a price on family memories?
Want to race go-karts indoors or outdoors? At Octane Raceway, you need not choose. The 1/3-mile track starts indoors, winds around into the sunshine outside, and then heads back indoors so drivers can cool off from the hot race. Octane's race track is the only one of its kind in the U.S., and drivers can take its curves quickly since the karts can go as fast as 45 miles per hour. The European go-karts alone put Octane miles ahead of the competition — its 32 electric Sodi RTX racing carts feature center-mounted motors for better balance, sleek and strong ENGEC engines, and even LED brake lights. And once you've satisfied your need for speed, there's still plenty of fun to be had; Octane's got a full food and drink menu, plus more than a dozen arcade games and an outdoor area with table tennis, cornhole, and more.
Bowling takes on cosmic significance at Let It Roll Bowl, not just because of its blacklight bowling nights, but because it's such a tried-and-true place for friends and family to gather. During a year when we all craved more community, the city's oldest independently owned bowling alley continued to deliver, taking steps to assure people felt safe amid COVID-19 concerns while still being comfortable going out for some good, clean fun. The casual, friendly environment filled with geometric art is unparalleled, and you don't have to pay big bucks to bowl here. The alley is also home to an amazing cocktail lounge, so you can lean into the casual glam of swirling your fancy drink between attempts to take out all those pins that stand between you and being a local legend.
You can't watch pro hockey all year long, but that's no reason ice skating can't be a permanent fixture in your otherwise heat-filled desert existence. Sometimes you'll catch a glimpse of the Arizona Coyotes practicing at the Ice Den, but other times it's plenty enjoyable just to join your friends and family for a bit of sliding and gliding along without a care in the world. This is the place to do it, because Ice Den has public skates on the weekend (as COVID-19 health regulations allow), special events, and affordable skating classes so all ages can get into the spirit of things no matter your skill level. There's even a cafe that serves snacks and concessions, and a bar and grill where the lineup includes lunch, dinner, happy hour, late-night, and carryout options. You can get a shopping fix too, with the pro shop and a store that carries women's fashion and accessories. When you're ready to feel the chill of the air and the rink under your skates, the Ice Den is there for you.