Ticker Tape Parade is bashing away on the main stage inside the cavernous Nita's, and you're by the big bar, hanging with Valley scenesters, buying each other beers. Five songs into the set, you get that itch in your back, and the spigots prepare to open. It's pissing time. Buzzing as you are from all the Red Stripe, you stumble into the john and start your routine. Looking down, the message hits you in white lettering: "Say No to Drugs." Good Lord. God is speaking to you through a red urinal cake. The Big Man is making his pitch for clean living, even in one of the most energetic live spots in town. You have your little moment of clarity, zip up your pants and stumble back out onto the floor.

This is the Valley's most oddly inspirational rest-room break.

It never fails. You're at Club Freedom, and your girlfriend has exceeded her drink limit and excuses herself to throw up. You get worried about her and stand by the ladies' room. Inevitably, you'll find a girl crying in her cell phone trying to secure a ride home after a dance floor argument with a brutish boyfriend -- Victor, Tommy and Bennie seem to be names the caddish set prefer these days. Or you'll find two girls in spangly dresses with matching boobs, one consoling the other that the guy she just broke up with the month before is dancing with someone else. It's like a Dr. Phil audition. From our eavesdropping, we found one Eve complaining about her soon-to-be ex for staring at the DJ's crate of vinyl instead of marveling how wonderful she looked. Admittedly, the view from the ladies' room is terribly one-sided, but so are most breakups, and, let's face it, no one's venting anything but bravado at the men's room.

But why break up at Freedom? Maybe because its very name suggests to people it's a great place for declaring independence, whether it's from Tempe's predictable music scene or from the predictable mate they came to hear it with. Maybe it's the club's proximity to ASU and the Holiday Inn that makes for a volatile mix of patrons. The indoor fireworks seem especially incendiary on the club's hottest night, Kind Fridays, which winds from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m., leaving plenty of time for those who haven't quite found the time to call it quits in public.

Looking good is only the half of it. You also need to be seen by other good-looking people to truly pull off an ensemble. SIX is the place to be seen in the Valley. This über-chic lounge with its mood lighting and modern decor is the place to flaunt your style. Each night of the week there is a different theme to tantalize your senses. The bar is backed by lights that change color with the music and is lined with an ice strip to keep those drinks cold. DJs spin mellow mixes as background music. This way, you're still able to mingle and network without having to scream, which never looks attractive anyway. SIX brings together professionals who are not only fashionable but are cool and confident.

Just a tip: When using the rest rooms, remember to lock the door (they'll fog up). Otherwise, the entire bar will get a free peep show. And that's something you don't want to be seen.

Readers' Choice: SIX

Sure, breaking up is hard to do. Especially when it comes to gauging the reaction of the one being dumped. Will they cry? Will they come out swingin'? Will they scream at you like Bobby Knight? It is really hard to make that call. We suggest you take them some place . . . different to cut them loose. At TT Roadhouse, the parting of ways will fly well below radar. If the distraught individual starts to cry, the place is dark enough so no one will see. Let's say that the person is a feisty one and comes at you like Mike Tyson; the aptly trained bouncers will be there quicker than Carl Lewis. The screams will be drowned out by a rockin' jukebox crankin' out punk anthems and hard guitar riffs. Besides, the regulars -- consisting of punks, bikers and other ruffians -- are used to volatile outbreaks. But, best of all, the Roadhouse is close enough to the Scottsdale club cluster that you can find a new squeeze before sunrise.

These bar snacks are so flat-out tasty we'd stuff ourselves even if we'd just finished dinner. There is a big, beautiful selection of eclectic savories like sumac grilled lamb chops with mint hummus, spaghettini egg rolls with a spicy peanut dipping sauce, horseradish mashed potato stuffed shrimp with cactus pear and five-peppercorn ranch, and ahi with watercress cucumber salad over won ton chips. More traditional bar fare gets the Eddie's touch: chicken tenders encrusted with tortilla chips, dunked in green chile ketchup; shrimp slathered in Moroccan spices alongside honey dough balls; and toasted seafood ravioli with a gripping apricot-voodoo dip. The lounge features a Mediterranean theme, stocked with Turkish-style chaises and decorated in vibrantly colored fabrics. Sometimes there's live music, but there's always a bartender with an easy hand pouring our favorite cocktails.

Readers' Choice for Best Bar Food: Bar Nun

If you're really a Guinness drinker, then you know how hard it is to find Guinness in this town, poured like it was meant to be served: warm, in a pint glass, by someone who knows what they're doing. You know how to wait for it, mouth watering, watching until the slow fizzle of the light brown bubbles clears to the top and leaves the body dark, thick and pitch black. Ah . . . Guinness. The beer that eats like a meal.

Unfortunately, most bars around here serve it cold, in a frosty glass, with no head. But we stumbled upon the Friendly Irish Pub quite by accident -- and much to our delight. Not only are the people quite friendly at the Friendly, but they know how to pour and serve the nectar of the white and pasty, for a shocking $2 a pint.

No, we're not kidding. Sit down at the long oak bar, light up a cigarette (one of the few smoker-friendly establishments in Mesa) and imbibe the dark liquid, or order anything from the staggeringly complete selection of libations. The pub has more cowboy hats than any Irish bar in the universe, but the happy hour is hopping, the beer is perfect, the food is good, and the pool sharks are ready to take your money after you drink too much.

Crowded on Friday and Saturday nights, as you push your way through the Bikini Lounge toward the bar, you'll find a mix of pseudo-intellectual artists, wanna-be underground college students and hooker-chic women and men who look like truck drivers. Tiki torches line the back walls around the deep-seated booths and the pool table in the back while the jukebox roars anything from '50s doo-wop to early '90s hip-hop -- it's all smooth, and it's all good for the hook-up train. The place is noisy and loud, so most of the "picking up" here goes on in the parking lot or out on the street in front of the bar, but the "come hither" looks from the lip-glossed, doe-eyed chicks remain inside.

Readers' Choice for Best Bar for Conversation: Copper Canyon Brewing & Ale House

It takes more than scantily clad gyrating women to make a good strip club. Try finding one with a variety of great music, a low cover charge and good drink specials. Add friendly waitresses, clean rest rooms and, oh yeah, beautiful dancers and the list gets pretty short. The Bourbon Street Circus has all of this and more, which puts it at the top of the list for local gentlemen's clubs. Have a cold drink and admire the scenery while you're seated in the dimly lighted background near one of the two stages or, if you have the cash, in the champagne room. Lovely ladies will politely ask if you'd like a dance, and if you have the interest (and money: $8 before 7 p.m., $10 after) your senses will be in for a treat.

Call it novel inspiration: On many a sweltering Havana day, Ernest Hemingway kept cool at his favorite watering hole, La Bodeguita, with a steady supply of ice-cold mojitos. Not surprisingly, the famous Cuban concoction helps beat the heat here as well -- if it's good enough for the literary legend, it's good enough for the parched souls of Phoenix. A tall, refreshing glass of rum, fresh mint, sugar, lime juice and soda, the mojito's been popping up on drink menus around town. But let the drinker beware. While it's hard to screw up cocktails such as gin and tonic or whiskey sours, there is absolutely a right way and a wrong way to make a mojito. And Merc Bar -- a dimly lighted, low-key-chic lounge discreetly located in the Camelback Esplanade -- does the drink justice, keeping it tart but sweet, strong but slurpable.

Readers' Choice for Best Happy Hour: Applebee's Neighborhood Grill & Bar

Feel the passion, dust off those dance shoes and drop into the hottest gay Latin club in the Valley. Whether you are looking to cha-cha or for muchachos, this club spins dance hits that are en fuego. The mostly male patrons (although there are a number of trannies that work and hang out here) are hot, hot, hot! If you're seeking Ricky Martin or Ricky Ricardo, this is where he'll be. Paco's also features weekly drink specials, Thursday night CD release parties and drag shows that keep the music going until the break of dawn (well, 1 a.m. anyway). Find that hot Latin lover and then hit the mirrored dance floor for some salsa or merengue. Maybe you'll want to stay by the bar and do some body shots; whatever gets your blood boiling goes here. All we can say is that Paco Paco is muuuuuy rico!

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