Best Open Mic 2022 | El Charro Hipster Bar and Cafe | Nightlife | Phoenix
Lauren Cusimano

If you want to try your hand at an El Charro Hipster Bar and Cafe open mic, get there early. El Charro Hipster, a family-owned cafe and restaurant on Grand Avenue, holds the event on Thursday nights, and the line to get a slot sometimes stretches all the way back to the bar. For good reason: As it's been serving handcrafted paella and artisanal mezcal cocktails, El Charro has cultivated a real arts community. On Thursday evenings, everyone from aspiring singers to established talents feels emboldened to take the microphone for a few minutes. And the audience, perhaps charmed by El Charro's mole appetizers and eclectic decor, is always welcoming, even for those who are out of tune.

Head over to Crescent Ballroom in downtown Phoenix on select Saturdays and you'll find the Groove Theory, an hours-long, live jam session full — as its name promises — of straight grooves. Groove Theory is the creation of local musicians Zeedubb and Lord Kash of The Stakes, a seven-member hip-hop outfit known for grandiose live performances. Since 2019, the two musicians have hosted Groove Theory on Crescent's patio. Throughout the night, local musicians circle through, stopping by a microphone to rap a few bars or bust out some crazy jazz licks on a sax. Zeedubb and Lord Kash are experts at holding a groove, and are truly skilled at improv. Groove Theory masterfully avoids the easy pitfalls of jam sessions — which are sometimes overcrowded, discordant, full of clashing egos — and instead brings together a hodgepodge of brilliant jazz, funk, and hip-hop artists, allowing them a space to create grooves unplanned, out of thin air. The result is captivating.

With its faux Gothic windows and medieval-looking chandeliers, Stacy's @ Melrose is designed to look like a cathedral. But we're guessing most churches don't have signs posted in the restroom reminding the patrons that there should only be one person per bathroom stall. No, Stacy's is a place to worship at the altars of friendliness, inclusivity, and entertainment. The bar has stuff going on nearly every night of the week, from DJ nights to drag shows, and the vibe is what you make it. Whether you want to hang with the friends you came with, or branch out and meet new people, it can happen at Stacy's. We like to hang out there on Thursdays for all-night happy hour — $4 pineapple mimosas are enough to make us say "amen."

Matt Hennie

On any given night in the Valley, the answer to the question, "Where's the party?" is usually "Charlie's Phoenix." The venerable nightspot has been open since 1984, and we have a crazy fun night every time we go. The expansive property has plenty of space inside and outside for drinking, dancing, and making new friends. Feeling shy? Charlie's is often packed, so gently bump into someone, apologize, and strike up a conversation. If you prefer to watch other people dance, Charlie's has free steamy shows featuring their legendary go-go boys on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Fridays. Add in bingo, karaoke, line dancing lessons, and drink specials on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Charlie's is a guaranteed good time any day of the week.

Benjamin Leatherman

The decline of lesbian bars in the U.S. is noticeable enough that there's a docuseries on the subject coming to The Roku Channel this fall. That's a loss, in our book, because we need more bars like Boycott Bar. Boycott, located in the Melrose District, is featured in the series, which means that anyone with a Roku will get to see the unfussy interior decorated with images of classic movie stars like Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe. Everyone is friendly at Boycott, from the guy at the door to the bartenders to the crowd. We love the mostly enclosed patio accessible by a sliding door, where you can play some free pool or even a couple of rounds of Super Mario Bros. 3 on an original NES. Show up on Thursdays for some spirited karaoke, and enjoy Boycott's welcoming vibe.

Lauren Cusimano

Right in the heart of central Phoenix is Kobalt, a gay bar whose weekly 4Some Revue drag show is one of our favorite ways to spend a Friday night. You should probably know that "4Some" is a misnomer. On any given Friday, you'll probably get to see more than four performers — the core cast is composed of queens Toothpick, Gigi, Mynx, Salem, and Ru Paul's Drag Race Season 13 alum Joey Jay, plus there are special guests nearly every week. You should also probably know that tables for the popular weekly event are the best way to enjoy the show and sell out fast, so you may want to make a reservation. And you should definitely know that 4Some Revue, like all the other events at Kobalt, such as Monday Naughty & Nice Drag Bingo and Sunday karaoke, offer both wild fun and a welcoming inclusive atmosphere. Any more questions?

How small is the performance space at Old Town Tavern? On one Friday this summer, Honeygirl bassist Jeff Hecht actually had to play standing outside with the door to the bar open. But what OTT lacks in size, it makes up in the artists they showcase and the fun to be had. For most of the year, OTT hosts at least one artist per day, including Pistoleros veteran Mark Zubia, party favorites Elvis Before Noon, and Wyves frontman Corey Gloden. Everyone seems to pass through OTT at some point, including the many regulars, folks in town for business or pleasure, packs of bachelorettes, and random Old Town Scottsdale partiers drawn in by the sound of music. They all find the same thing: affordable drinks, a convivial atmosphere, and live performances by some of the Valley's best-known musicians.

Benjamin Leatherman

Due to the ongoing Valley Metro Rail construction happening on Central Avenue, it can be kind of an ordeal getting to a concert at Last Exit Live. But trust us, it's worth it. The spare interior leaves plenty of room for patrons to pack in and see local, regional, and national acts like KONGOS, Gang of Four, The Woodworks, and so many more. The sound quality is excellent, and the indoor/outdoor setup (big rollup doors open during nice weather) means that you can hear the show even if you're taking a breather at one of the picnic tables on the patio. And you'll have to take our word for it, but Last Exit has one of the coolest green rooms in town, with a massive gallery wall put together by local designer Sid Rhea.

The Van Buren hits the sweet spot for music venues: small enough that you can actually see the action on stage, but large enough that the many concerts that happen there feel like big events. We love the fact that the venue is housed in a midcentury car dealership, because it makes The Van Buren feel deeply connected to Arizona, as do the desert-themed murals next to the stage. Just in the past year, The Van Buren has hosted Mongolian folk metal outfit The Hu, alt-country crooner Orville Peck, indie rock darlings Wet Leg, '90s heartthrobs Hanson, and so many more. We like to head downtown early and kill some time before the show by playing pinball at the adjoining Stardust Pinbar before heading inside to hear some of today's most exciting musical acts up close and in person.

Live Nation

Just to be clear: We mean the performance space formerly known as Arizona Federal Theatre. The downtown Phoenix venue got its fourth name in 20 years a few months ago, but our enjoyment of the concert experience hasn't changed. The 5,000-seat theater always provides top-quality sound whether we're watching Maynard James Keenan's Puscifer project get weird or listening to Olivia Rodrigo enchant thousands of teenagers (and their parents). One thing we love about Arizona Financial: The location of the merch booth allows the line to wrap up the staircase to the second floor, keeping those attendees out of the way of those of us who are just trying to get a drink or reach out seats. Add in plenty of parking, light rail access, and lots of dining and nightlife options before and after shows, and it's clear why Arizona Financial Theatre is our pick.

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