Pool tables, beer bottles and mullets.

Individually, not much. But toss them together in a storefront cocktail lounge and you've got sapphic synergy that just won't quit.

Taking its name from a Billie Holiday lyric, Ain't Nobody's Bizness has been the Valley's premier women's bar since long before anyone heard of lesbian-come-lately Anne Heche. And if history is any indication, Biz will be popular long after that dizzy fence-straddler has publicly exploited yet another alternative lifestyle.

Readers' Choice: Ain't Nobody's Bizness

Say, isn't that Enrique Iglesias? No, but if you manage to squeeze through the crowded, man-packed dance floor for a closer look, he'll probably be flattered to know that you thought so. Looking for the gay Mexican cowboy of your dreams? No? Well, Paco Paco dance club is probably the best place to start looking, anyway.

The cramped, strobe-lighted dance floor is always well-stocked with buff, sweaty bodies pulsating to Latin techno music. A full-length mirror runs the length of one wall for those narcissistic dancers who like to watch. It's a cozy, dark venue, mostly Latino, with a smattering of white boys for you closet Anglo lovers.

The music is popular dance remix, plenty of Jennifer Lopez and Ricky Martin, with some salsa and merengue thrown in for tradition. Paco Paco is the best the Valley has to offer in gay Latino culture, and also a great place for women who like to dance and be left alone.

What makes a superlative bartender? Good conversation? Nah, anything that delays putting a drink in your gullet is about as welcome as a speed bump. But in dealing with teeming masses of demanding patrons and egotistical musicians, it does help to have a seasoned grasp of the English language and a penchant for caustic rejoinders. One person blessed with both is Nita's Hideaway barman Ridgely Fitzsimmons, or Ridgely, as he's known to all who love and fear his acerbic tongue.

Ridgely's garnered something close to legend status among East Valley barflies for serving searing barbs in equal proportion to booze. One infamous tale even has him shooting down the free-drink requests of a couple local "rock star" girlfriends with the admonition that performing oral favors on the talent didn't entitle them to complimentary libations.

Ah, yes, Oscar Wilde couldn't have said it any better himself!

As someone (and no, it wasn't President Clinton) once remarked, "A woman is just a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke."

What he meant is anyone's guess, but it's a cinch that had he lived in Phoenix, he'd have been a regular at the Ritz-Carlton's cigar lounge. Appropriately called The Club, the darkly masculine room is, well, clubby -- with oak-paneled walls, hunting prints and a selection of high-end smokes that might tempt the surgeon general to light up.

If you're really serious about your tobacco, inquire about the club's private humidors -- climate-controlled stashes that rent for $1,000 a year. So much for the proverbial "good five-cent cigar."

Readers' Choice: The Famous Door

If you like sports, but are turned off by macho beer guzzlers talking about chicks, Roscoes dishes up a welcome curve ball. Billed as an "alternative lifestyle sports bar," Roscoes is that perfect postmodern cultural hybrid: a sports bar where macho beer guzzlers talk about guys.

Roscoes has the usual sports-bar amenities: big-screen TVs tuned to various games, pool tables, and a diverse beverage list. But, more important, it's also the only local sports bar where an end-around isn't necessarily a football play, and hitting the rim isn't limited to basketball. And rest assured, at Roscoes, no one will penalize you if your backfield's in motion.

Score!

Readers' Choice for Best Bar to Watch the Game: McDuffy's

Call us purists, but a CD jukebox is about as sterile as the jewel case the CDs come in. Who wants the same sound you can get in your car stereo or home entertainment center when you're in a bar? No, you want a layer of grime and filth on your music to go with the beer and cigarette surroundings.

And that's just what the Emerald Lounge's old war-horse provides: old, battered 45s teeming with distortion and surface noise. Even rappers factor in vinyl pops and clicks -- crackles spell comfort. While a 45 jukebox has fewer selections than a CD, you still can't beat a machine that has Aretha, George Jones and Tommy James and the Shondells all jamming its gears.

Worried that someone from your Gamblers Anonymous group might catch you at Greyhound Park? Then Horse & Hound is the bar for you -- the OTB parlor regularly features simulcasts of some of the biggest races around.

The H&H is also the place for enthusiasts of the wildly popular Golden Tee golf video games -- the Hound features Golden Tee 2000 on a big-screen monitor, as well as the brand-new Golden Tee Fore!, which contains some amazing 3-D action. Be the ball.

The Hound's got a great selection of other options for those of us who like to play while imbibing: pool tables, car-racing video games and even shuffleboard (of the tabletop variety, not The Love Boat kind).

Readers' Choice for Best Pool Hall: Pink E's

Inside the cozy Emerald Lounge you'll find no oversize TVs belching out jock-o fare, no smug bartenders, and no barmaids whose hopped-up attitudes are in direct proportion to their surgically augmented breasts. Hell, the Emerald doesn't even employ a barmaid.

What the lounge does offer is cheap booze served up by genial drink-slingers in an unaffected atmosphere that's equal parts Bukowskian watering hole and trendy Silverlake lounge. On any given night, a live rock band or DJ booms the gamut of punk rock to hip-hop for an unusual mix of off-duty strippers, hot rodders, professional drunks, working-class stiffs, and the usual cadre of artists, writers and musicians. One of the lounge's bartenders -- the ever-charming Miss Cary -- is a woman who's been pouring drinks in the Phoenix underbelly for the past 50 years and still takes to using words like "baby" when greeting you.

With its smoke-stained, Prussian red and black interior, Mondrian motifs and pool tables, this dingy den is a hip hellhole to some and a glorious old-man bar to others. But no matter how it's perceived, Phoenix's sole bastion of boho can never be accused of taking itself too seriously.

Sure, Bailey's is sated with archetypal showboaters in French maid outfits and Britney-ready schoolgirl garb who slither and spin to rock riffage like AC/DC and Buckcherry. But the scene is hardly reminiscent of the classic strip bar milieu portrayed accurately in the Crüe video for its song "Girls, Girls, Girls."

Darkly lighted with gilded walls, ersatz foliage and inconspicuous patrons who strangely keep to themselves while focusing scrupulously on the sinewy and zaftig dancers, Bailey's has a subtle feel that's straight off the pages of a John O'Brien novel. It's an ambiance dissimilar to any other "cabaret" in town. It's at once strident and discreet, a contradiction that makes it the city's optimal spot for stripper buffs to consort discreetly.

"The Martini is to middle- and upper-class American society," says martini maven Barnaby Conrad III, "what peyote is to the Yaqui Indians: a sacred rite that affirms tribal identity, encourages fanciful thought and -- let's be honest here -- delivers a whoppingly nice high."

We'll drink to that.

And given our druthers, we'll be doing it in the understated elegance (Southwestern chandeliers, ornate wooden columns, a tuxedoed jazz pianist) of the cocktail lounge at Harris' Restaurant, where martini protocol amounts to religious ceremony -- right down to a signature crystal carafe nestled in an ice-filled mini-barrel. God forbid that one's last drop of martini be anything but properly chilled.

Readers' Choice: Martini Ranch

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