Best Jukebox 2023 | Gracie's Tax Bar | Nightlife | Phoenix
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.

The Rhythm Room has been the first and last word in blues music in Phoenix for much of its 32-year history. Open since 1991, it's become a local institution and Valley treasure to aficionados of the genre. A nonstop parade of blues and R&B greats have graced the joint over the decades, from world-renowned artists like the late Bo Diddley and R.L. Burnside to local legends like Hans Olson and Bill Tarsha. Admittedly, the setup hasn't changed much at the no-frills venue, as longtime owner Bob Corritore, a veteran harmonica player and host of KJZZ's "Those Lowdown Blues," has kept things straightforward with a stage, seating area, bar, dance floor and not much else. The focus has always been on the music and the people playing it, Corritore tells Phoenix New Times. As singer-songwriter Whitey Morgan, who performed at The Rhythm Room in 2015, once sang, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." We certainly wouldn't and neither would any of The Rhythm Room's regulars.

Jennifer Goldberg

The DIY dive bar concept has been done to death. Still, Yucca Tap Room has flourished for perpetuating that model with ample heart and a little twist. On the surface, it's an average-sized bar run by great people slinging a bevy of beers and cocktails. But there's something about the spacing of the bar in relation to the stage that readily transforms most concerts into sweat-soaked extravaganzas from the tiniest basement imaginable. (Which means when you're done rocking out atop your friends and neighbors, enjoy a little leg room at the rest of the bar.) By fostering that specific mood or aesthetic, the venue's become a haven for punk fans. Nearly every local band and regional act have made their way to Yucca, and that deep reputation and sense of history is infused into the very walls. It's why you know whatever the day and whichever band is headlining, it's going to be some act with heart-on-their sleeve authenticity and angst galore. So come for the experience of a proper punk show and then stay for the powerful sense of community afterward (and maybe a few drinks).

Roosters Country

Despite being the fifth-largest city in the U.S., Phoenix has never really stopped being cowboy country. Country music is wildly popular here, and there are plenty of joints where you can stop in and hear a twang or two. But mostly, we find ourselves making the trek to East Mesa for a night at Roosters Country. Roosters is where you can go to hear both kinds of music — country and Western — made by local musicians and touring artists. There's a big dance floor for swinging your partner around, and in between sets you can grab a drink at the bar or catch a game of pool. The crowd is down-to-earth and so friendly that at Roosters Country, we always feel right at home.

It's hard to imagine the Valley's jazz scene before The Nash arrived on Roosevelt Row in 2012 and bopped its way into the hearts and souls of local aficionados of the genre. Since then, the namesake of legendary Phoenix-born drummer Lewis Nash has become the quintessential jazz spot in town and has filled a variety of roles over the past 11 years. It's been a headquarters for local nonprofit Jazz in Arizona, an incubator for student musicians and a speakeasy-style venue showcasing the area's best jazz artists across a variety of traditional, contemporary and experimental styles. We're not the only ones singing the praises of The Nash. DownBeat magazine regularly cites it as one of the "great jazz venues in the world" while iconic trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis swears by the place. Other giants of the genre who have also gigged here include pianist Kenny Barron and vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant. Put simply, Phoenix's jazz landscape is all the more vibrant because of The Nash.

Where's the Valley's best haven for heshers? Spoiler alert: It's not found in live music hotspots like Tempe or downtown Phoenix, nor is it located anywhere east of Central Avenue, period. Instead, follow the sound of heavy-duty riffs, sweet licks and guttural wailings over to the main room of The 44 Sports Grill & Nightlife in Glendale, a ground zero for metal maniacs in recent years. Armed with an enormous stage, a top-of-the-line sound system and a dance floor large enough for headbanging or moshing, it offers long-haired metal fanatics an ideal space to rock out. Bands from across the subgenres of the metal multiverse have invaded The 44, ranging from such nationally known groups as Tantric and Green Jellÿ to tributes like Iron Ozzy or the Maynard James Keenan-centric A Perfect Tool. The venue also has supported the local scene by showcasing the next generation of musicians from the School of Rock and hosting a benefit show by Hollywood Gods N' Monsters for a dearly departed metalhead. Those are both causes that would make even the blackest of hearts grow three sizes.

Katie Walter

Karaoke crowds are among the most supportive people on earth. Whatever your song choice, whatever your musical talent, if you get up there and sing "Don't Stop Believing" with all your heart, you'll get cheers, applause and possibly a bunch of people singing along with you. At least, that's the vibe whenever we go to The Grapevine, an Old Town Scottsdale hotspot, for karaoke. The two-story space is always busy on the weekends, but the most crowded part of the bar is the karaoke room, where patrons pack in to sing and be serenaded in turn. The karaoke hosts are good about keeping the action moving, and the songbook is extensive — you're sure to find something you want to sing. Just remember to cheer for your fellow crooners when it's your turn to listen.

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