Best Music Festival 2023 | Zona Music Festival | Nightlife | Phoenix

We're thinking of making T-shirts that read, "I survived Day 1 of Zona Music Festival." The inaugural event, held last December, had already faced setbacks before it even began: Headliners Tegan and Sara had to drop out nearly at the last minute when Sara Quin tested positive for COVID-19. Then, on the first day of the festival, Phoenix got three-quarters of an inch of rain, breaking a record for precipitation for Dec. 3. It turned Margaret T. Hance Park into a swamp and kept away a number of ticketholders. But despite all that, Zona was the best music festival of the year. Organizer Stephen Chilton of Pskyo Steve Presents put together an excellent lineup that was extremely heavy on both established and up-and-coming local acts, and included national indie favorites such as Japanese Breakfast, Portugal. The Man, Beach House and others. The fest had great food options, cool merch, an arcade area presented by Cobra Arcade Bar and four stages that kept concertgoers busy all day and night. Did everything go perfectly? No festival is ever perfect, especially not in its first year. But we tip our hat to Chilton and his team for their vision and execution under trying circumstances. There's been no official word about future installments of Zona, but we dearly hope that it's not a one-and-done.

Arizona music has a grand tradition of local compilation albums. Hit up the right garage sale or secondhand store and you could find examples curated by rock radio station KDKB or local record store chain Zia Records. Author Ryan Clark took his love of local music and turned it into a record label, Hookworm Records, whose first compilation, "Hookworm ONE," came out in early 2022. Now, Clark and Hookworm are back with the aptly titled "Hookworm TWO." This installment boasts six original songs by six Arizona indie rock bands: local outfits Chrome Rhino, Daphne + The Glitches, Fairy Bones, Sliced Limes and Weekend Lovers, and Tucson group Birds and Arrows. The new record is another testament to Clark's dedication to the scene and to the depth of Arizona's musical talent.

It seems like there's an Arizona specialty license plate for every interest, from veterans and Cardinals fans to hunger relief and cancer awareness. But we haven't been tempted to get one until this summer, when the Arizona Department of Transportation unveiled a new Alice Cooper license plate showing the legendary shock rocker on a red background. The plate, which is available for cars, motorcycles and even golf carts, doesn't just help drivers show off their love of rock 'n' roll. Proceeds from sales of the license plate ($17 of the $25 fee) go to support the work of Cooper's Solid Rock Teen Centers, his long-running nonprofit that gives young people a safe place to hang out and learn skills relating to music, art and performing arts. Solid Rock recently announced it would open a third center in the West Valley in 2024, so now's the time to give the organization a little boost by ordering yourself a cool new plate.

One of the things we actually like about Las Vegas is the ability to carry our adult beverage with us wherever we go. That's never been a thing in Phoenix — until now. Under a law that took effect in January, Tempe Marketplace and Desert Ridge Marketplace now have a program called Sip & Stroll. Here's how it works: People of legal drinking age can order a drink from a participating bar. Drinkers get a wristband and their drink of choice, at which point they can take the drink out of the bar and walk around designated areas of the shopping center. You can't take your drink into any stores, and heaven help you if you're caught giving any alcohol to someone who's underage. But responsible adults willing to follow the rules can now have a glass of wine while watching an outdoor concert or sip a beer during a game of cornhole. It's pretty darn cool.

Jennifer Goldberg

Casey Moore's Oyster House has everything we need in a bar. A cool space? It's located in the 113-year-old W.A. Moeur House, one of the oldest buildings in Tempe. A great patio? The outdoor area, strung with lights and dotted with picnic tables, wraps around two sides of the building. Food and drink? Casey's does bar food well (we love the spicy cauliflower bites and golden wings) and seafood very well, and the indoor and outdoor bars have everything you need to achieve a pleasant buzz. A wild lineup of colorful regulars? You can hardly avoid them (nor would you want to, for the most part). There's a reason that generations of locals have called Casey Moore's their home bar: It welcomes all through its doors for a meal, a drink or simply a moment of human connection.


In today's age of experiential and immersive cocktail experiences, bars and bartenders are being asked to do a lot more than mix a satisfying drink. And while those experiences can be captivating in their own right, there's something to be said for subtlety. Downtown bar Coabana has that in spades. The details in the breezy blush-pink space — gold palm fronds shading the bar and painted tiles forming jungle murals above cozy booths — point to its inspiration from Cuba and Miami but aren't distracting. The drink menu is easy to approach and celebrates the complexity of rum through cocktails that are familiar (craft your own mojito) or brand-new (try the tropical fruit-forward Angelina). The food options are minimal but welcome Cuban-inspired fare. The staff is knowledgeable and ready to share insights about the drinks or the spirits they use. It's another knockout from the team that brought Valley drinkers Pigtails and Rough Rider — and there's now more time to savor the experience at Coabana with the recent addition of lunch service.

Tirion Boan

When visiting Garden Bar, one of downtown Phoenix's most picturesque and pleasant spots to grab a cocktail, you'll often find Aspen Bingham behind the bar. As she shakes and stirs drinks and chats to customers, her deep level of expertise could be easy to overlook. But a quiet confidence hints that she is quite comfortable at crafting complex cocktails. In February, she was a top 10 finalist for Bombay Sapphire's Most Imaginative Bartender competition, presented by the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation. The contest included 250 bartenders from the U.S. and Canada. For her entry, Bingham married her two passions, mixology and sustainability, to create a drink that represented the heat island effect that traps hot air in large cities like Phoenix. She also spoke on a panel at Tales of the Cocktail discussing food sovereignty and has created cocktails for benefit events such as one that protects bees. Her level of thoughtfulness certainly affects her bartending, where she takes mixology from the art of drink-making to something that is intentional and pushes boundaries, inspiring people to think as they sip.

There's something cool at The Pemberton around every corner. The historic home turned gathering place in Downtown Phoenix has a wealth of bars in trailers, shops in trailers and food stands scattered on the property, plus a few boutiques inside the house. You can shop for crystals at Black Amethyst, sip a cocktail from Baby Boy and grab a slice at Pie-Curious Pizza in one evening. There's plenty of art to look at on the grounds and lots of places to sit. Whether it's our destination for the night or just a good place to start, we always make time for The Pemberton.

Luigi Richie

Growing up in the Midwest, we spent a fair amount of our childhood hanging out in someone's basement. When the nostalgia hits too hard and we need to recapture the feeling of being up to no good in a subterranean rec room, we make a beeline for Arcadia's The Little Woody. The main room of the bar is dark but fairly chic (we love the lit-up bar), but when you explore further, that's when you go back in time. Wood paneling, beer mirrors, velvet paintings of sad clowns, trophies, the exact same floral-print armchair your grandparents had back in 1985 — it's all at The Little Woody, plus games like billiards and Skee-Ball, tasty bar eats and a convivial atmosphere.

It may be the only full-service official bar on a higher education campus in the Valley, but The Pub at Thunderbird still has a lot going on to win this category. For starters, there's no signage in the building's lobby nor in the elevator telling you to go to the fifth floor. And when the doors open, the sounds of enthusiastic mingling and laughter serve as the only directions to this downtown Phoenix watering hole. All of this gives off an unexpected speakeasy vibe. Inside, there's something for everyone with a full bar that features libations from alumni, an impressive food menu that reflects international flair, shuffleboard and a bevy of flatscreens to catch every game. A rooftop bar flaunts the city skyline and the weekly Pub Night on Thursdays is where you can see students and professors hanging out over sips, bites and live music long after the sun goes down. The pub is closed on the weekends but is open to the public — a fact that flies under the radar beyond the boundaries of this campus and neighboring ASU Law School.

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