Best Place to See a Punk Show 2022 | Yucca Tap Room | Nightlife | Phoenix
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Jennifer Goldberg

Tempe's Danelle Plaza is steeped in local punk lore. In the late '70s and early '80s, the now-defunct bar The Star System (later Merlin's) hosted gigs by The Jetzons, Meat Puppets, and other legendary locals, while a skate shop had an empty swimming pool on-site where punks could grind. And from the early 2000s onward, local punk history continued unfolding across the parking lot at Yucca Tap Room, as local and touring acts played the main room regularly. It's still the case today, helping make the venue the best spot for punk shows. Renowned bands like Agent Orange and Mustard Plug frequent the place. Its checkered dance floor is wide enough for circle pits. PBR always seems to be on special during shows. And no matter how much spit and polish is done, there's still enough of a scuzzy, lowbrow vibe. Even better, you can hit up The Ghost of Eastside Records a few doors down and browse for old Circle Jerks or Clash platters before a gig.

Best Place to See a Hip-Hop Show

Aura

Why is Aura getting the nod for the best hip-hop spot two years in a row? Not for any lack of options, as Valley's rap scene has plenty of worthwhile joints. The Tempe club's mix of talented bookers, frequent shows with great lineups, a huge stage, and other amenities have kept its status as the go-to spot for hip-hop secure. Until another spot steps up to take its crown, we'll keep going to Aura. So will hip-hop fans, who fill its 5,000-square-foot main room for shows featuring local and touring artists. Prominent local promoter Respect the Underground throws its events here, including the daylong Tempe Hip-Hop Festival over the summer. Big-time performers like Wifisfuneral, King Lil G, Kamaiyah, Rucci, and Scarface have all brought their game to Aura over the past year. On other weekends, you can catch resident DJs dropping rap, trap, and R&B bangers during club nights and theme parties.

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

The Trunk Space

If you've never visited The Trunk Space before, it might take you a minute to find it. The venue, a longtime refuge for the undercurrents of the Phoenix music scene, is tucked in a wing of the Grace Lutheran Church on Third Street. Small, shabby, and staffed largely by volunteers, the Trunk Space provides a home for the eclectic and the experimental, bringing in both underground local outfits and touring bands from across the country. The venue has helped downtown Phoenix creatives stay afloat for nearly two decades, including at its original spot on Grand Avenue. Any given night at the Trunk Space promises a glimpse at some niche of Phoenix music scene — those up-and-coming bands whose names you don't yet know. And more often than you'd think, those unknown artists put on a great show.

Allison Young

The two locations of 414 Pub Pizza & Karaoke have very different vibes. The original Tempe location is smaller and more of a nightspot where ASU students and others come to eat, drink, and be musically merry. The newer Mesa outpost is larger, with room for pool tables and other games, and more mellow and welcoming to people of all ages — we've seen everyone from grandpas to grade-schoolers get up and sing. What both 414s have in common is nightly karaoke with engaging hosts and supportive bar patrons who cheer for everyone regardless of talent. The songbook has countless options, from showtunes to pop hits to obscure oldies. 414 offers drink specials several nights of the week, plus a solid lineup of bar fare. We love the honey hot wings (boneless or bone-in) and the stuffed breadstick-style Pizza Styx. A couple of appetizers and some strong cocktails never fail to fortify us for an evening of karaoke.

Lauren Cusimano

In a city that keeps getting further from its Old West roots, Buffalo Chip Saloon up in Cave Creek is still an authentic Southwestern watering hole after more than 70 years. Whiskey and beers flow freely seven nights a week, especially during the live bull-riding sessions at the outdoor rodeo arena on Wednesdays and Fridays. You, as a civilian, probably shouldn't try to ride the real bulls, but you can try your hand at staying on the Chip's mechanical version, which is just one of the bar's entertaining features. The event calendar includes music by the house band, Pick o' the Litter, and free dance lessons. The Chip's sprawling compound boasts fire pits, lawn games, an outside stage area, and even a small church on the premises if you feel like your Saturday night fun warrants some Sunday morning repentance. (It's also a Green Bay Packers bar, for you cheeseheads.) Pretty much every honky-tonk has tall beers and twangy tunes, but Buffalo Chip has an authenticity a lively atmosphere that makes the trip to Cave Creek worth the drive.

It's time to have your fruit and smoke it, too. That's right, your hookah expert at i-MAD Bar did, in fact, stick a bowl hewn from a pineapple and packed with shisha atop your water pipe. Or maybe it was made from watermelon or an apple. Regardless, adding the fresh-cut produce helps accentuate any of i-MAD Bar's dozens of flavored tobaccos with a fruity zest. This two-story venue is a casual lounge by day and a bustling nightclub by night. The attentive staff eagerly whisk out aromatic pots of potent Turkish coffee, dishes laden with Middle Eastern cuisine, or a few extra coals for your hookah on weekend nights as a live DJ spins hip-hop and more from the inside balcony. And you don't need to visit either of the two full bars to collect a cocktail — a waitress is always around to bring you a falafel wrap or an Old Fashioned to accompany your nargile. On cool evenings, you'd be remiss to miss the rooftop bar and patio with its panoramic views of Old Town Scottsdale. For special occasions, reserve the VIP salon, filled with plush couches, curved televisions, and Champagne on ice, and enjoy a night of global pop music, bottle service, and the ever-present bubbling of sweet-smelling smoke being huffed.

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.

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