Best Drag Show 2023 | 4Some Revue | Nightlife | Phoenix
Lauren Cusimano

Right-wing lawmakers at the Arizona State Capitol spent much of their 2023 session attacking drag queens. Thankfully, Phoenix's vibrant drag scene didn't miss a beat, entertaining us despite the truckload of hate dumped on them. That perseverance to perform is best seen on Fridays at 10 p.m. with 4Some Revue and its cast of queens Gia, Joey, Toothpick, Salem and Mynx. Kobalt, which opened in 2006, is popular for its karaoke. But the show lineup stretches across four nights and 4Some Revue is the highlight. Special guests often join the local performers to spice up the weekly show. The patio offers open seating, but snag a reservation online for seats inside near the stage. It's the perfect way to start your weekend.

Benjamin Leatherman

The oldest gay bar in Phoenix (est. 1971) has the kind of decor that makes it look like a hybrid pop culture curio shop and an antique store. There are old gas pumps and vintage signs, a chandelier made of plastic penises and dripping with naked Ken dolls, stuffed animals, various lights and sirens, an old Coke machine and much more — way more than a few sweeps through this dark and lively bar could ever reveal. We recommend stopping by for a cocktail from the full bar or a game of pool, but make sure to look around when you do. You're bound to stumble upon something you haven't seen before.

Benjamin Leatherman

What Last Exit Live may lack in size, it more than makes up for in reputation. Brannon Kleinlein's South Phoenix venue is known around town for being a great place for musicians and fans. A peek at the calendar shows an eclectic lineup of local, regional and national acts most nights of the week. The audio engineers make sure the acts onstage always sound great and the friendly bartenders keep the drinks flowing. Last Exit Live's impact doesn't stop at the parking lot, either. It's one of the organizers of this fall's inaugural Luna Del Lago Festival, a three-day event happening at Pleasant Harbor at Lake Pleasant. If it's as good as everything else Last Exit does, it'll be a must-see.

Why does The Van Buren deserve to be tops in this category yet again? Simple. The 1,800-capacity live music hub in downtown Phoenix is the gold standard for local midsize music venues with amenities geared toward the concertgoing experience and ambiance to spare. Excellent sightlines, great acoustics and an even better sound system mean you'll see and hear everything perfectly. Classy and historic touches throughout the circa-1930 building, like its glass chandeliers, desert murals and exposed rafters, add to the vibe. The adjacent Ziggy's Magic Pizza Shop and Stardust Pinbar allow both preshow bites and post-show drinks. Even the venue's status as part of Live Nation's empire of owned and operated concert spots could be considered a plus, as it helps populate The Van Buren's varied calendar with a parade of big-time artists and acts — including such names as Bebe Rexha, Killer Mike, Tove Lo, The Drums and Crumb. For this and every other year, The Van Buren deserves the nod as the best in town.

Live Nation

When referring to this beloved downtown venue, it might take a minute to recall its current moniker. Now on its fourth name since opening in 2002, it has formerly been Comerica Theatre, Dodge Theatre and the Arizona Federal Theatre. Despite the multiple name changes, the downtown venue has made quality a consistent component of its operation. A top-notch place to catch touring — and some local — acts, the theater seats 5,000 attendees but maintains an intimate vibe, great acoustics and a convenient location within walking distance of a number of the city's best restaurants and bars. The programming is loaded with a broad mix of musical acts from different genres and comedians, theater show, and circus performers each year.

Massive events require a suitably massive venue, and State Farm Stadium in Glendale not only has the requisite space but a track record for hosting larger-than-life spectacles. Since its debut in 2006, the 64,000-person facility and home to the Arizona Cardinals has been the site of three Super Bowls, a Final Four and even a WrestleMania. But where it really shines is when superstar recording artists bring their stadium-sized concert tours to the venue. Guns 'N Roses, Garth Brooks and Kenny Chesney have all staged super-sized shows here; U2, Metallica and the Rolling Stones have each done it twice. In the last year alone, Taylor Swift kicked off her record-breaking Eras tour with two showstopping concerts in March at the stadium while Beyoncé put on a memorable (though glitchy) performance during a stop on her Renaissance tour in August. The enormous size of State Farm Stadium adds to the over-the-top atmosphere of such shows, helping them feel all the more epic for those in attendance.

Charles Barth

The jukebox at Gracie's Tax Bar is a true local legend. It's won this award already on a handful of occasions, and rightfully so. Not only is it cheap — $1 for three plays, 20 songs for $5 — but it's filled with old-school faves in an ever-changing lineup. (At one time, you could play both Prince and Television.) What makes this jukebox a proper institution isn't just the song choices or prices, but what it represents. Owner Grace Perry used to front the local metal outfit Landmine Marathon, and as such a jukebox isn't just another amenity like half-off well drink specials but an integral part of the bar's DNA. It's like an old regular you'd see every time you walk in the door, and that glowing presence reminds you of why you've come here every single time. It's the jukebox that sets the mood and tone for Gracie's, and whatever old-school classic is playing, you can be sure that it fosters an unassuming good time with friends and neighbors alike. So when you're there, drop in at least a $5 bill and you won't just enjoy some tunes, but the very sound of life and art and culture coming together as one.

The basement space at the corner of Fifth Street and Mill Avenue in Tempe has been a piano bar since time immemorial (or at least the last couple of decades). But Beeloe's and The Big Bang have passed off the scene, and Low Key Piano Bar has been occupying the space for nearly a decade. If you're not familiar with the piano bar concept, it's where a small group of musicians perform covers of popular songs on the piano and other instruments. The crowd can make requests and sing along, and the whole vibe is one of pleasant banter and good cheer. It's fun for pretty much everyone, which is why on any given evening you may see a pack of ASU students, some out-of-town businessmen and a 60th birthday party singing along to everything from Cardi B to Elton John. Just remember to tip the musicians.

The '80s retro nights don't happen all the time, especially considering the number of other such nights at clubs elsewhere. But they're extra special at Stacy's @ Melrose — and not just because they've always got some decent music choices. No, what makes these themed events, and really any other such festive outings, so effective is that Stacy's itself is so steeped in history that it exudes that mix of nostalgia and connection to the past in a way that other clubs could never fully muster. That rich sense of history is adorned across every part of Stacy's, from the unabashedly Gothic design choices (true style and coolness will never fade) to the line of signature cocktails (having both a caipirinha and basically a Long Island iced tea on the menu just screams "deeply '80s" in the best way possible). It's an attitude and a commitment to this long-standing community that informs the kind of joy and celebration that might be delightfully kitschy but will also never truly go out of style. Plus, where else can you sing Madonna karaoke and have it be fully appreciated as a proper art form?

It's hard to decide what's most important and charming about The Trunk Space. It could be that it's been a part of the local landscape for so many years, and as such has helped define the arts scene in downtown Phoenix. Or, that it's a haven for truly weird and progressive music both from our own city and from touring artists seeking a place to show off. It may also be that it's housed in Grace Lutheran Church, which adds a certain endearing charm and significance to the already weird space. But one of the biggest reasons it's so important to this city, and to the very fabric of local arts and culture, is the people. Trunk Space is run entirely by a board of dedicated volunteers, and they work together with meager budgets to book the best events and lineups possible. In that way, you can meet and engage one-on-one with the people who are working tirelessly to both entertain the masses while uplifting our city as a haven for deeply important music and performance art. There's lots of charm and heart across the foundation of The Trunk Space, but it's the people who remind us of why this venue will always matter.

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