Last month New Times celebrated the city with our 37th annual Best of Phoenix edition. Here are our top picks for the best places to catch live music in Metro Phoenix.
Best Country Bar
Norton's Country Corner
The trek to Queen Creek might be too far for downtown Phoenix types, but if you're looking for a genuine honky-tonk, the drive to Norton's Country Corner is worth it. The saloon is under new ownership, but its Western bona fides remain unassailable, featuring great acts like the Harry Luge Band and Rattlecat Junction on stage and ice-cold domestics behind the bar. Named for Clarence and Willie Mae Norton, who ran a corner store in the 1930s (it sold liquor, of course), the Queen Creek location's sign is classic: a black-and-white rider on a bucking bull. And even if prices have gone up a little since the days of the Nortons, the Country Corner still offers nickel beer nights, a perfect catalyst for dancing in the banquet hall all night long to the twangy bands on stage.
Best Rockabilly Bar
Stumble up to the Blooze Bar on any given night and you're likely to see a vintage roadster parked out front and a band playing revved-up hillbilly blues on stage. Acts such as the Rhythm Dragons, Dirty Dice, Nathan Payne and the Wild Bores, and Tommy Price and the Stilettos represent the venue's Thursday rockabilly bash, where slicked-back pompadours, tattooed women in vintage pinup dresses, and upright basses set the scene for real rave-ups. Housed in a strip mall in North Phoenix, the Blooze Bar hosts local metal bands and sports fans, too, but it's on Thursday nights that the venue really shines, tapping into the thumping, jumping rhythms of plucked bass and reverb-laden, twangy Gretsch guitars.
Best Punk Bar
Rips Ales and Cocktails
It's no secret that Rips Ales & Cocktails is one of the best dive bars in town. But the bar is more than just cheap beer and good people. It hosts live music fairly regularly, and when there's a punk show going down, look out. Tight quarters make for the best crowds, and when you're in a place like Rips, you feel out of place if you're not head-banging and jumping around when there's a band playing. Punk music might not have the same cultural cache as it once did, but catch a punk band at Rips, and it won't matter: You'll be having too good a time to care.
In Old Town Scottsdale, clubs come and go so quickly that it's hard to pick a favorite, as there's a good chance it'll be gone in five years. BLUR, for example, is less than a year old, taking the place of Smashboxx, which itself had a shelf life of less than one presidential term. But for now, we'll enjoy BLUR, which has the best atmosphere around. It's got a big old dance floor, carefully lit with colorful lights, VIP tables galore, and a patio filled with comfortable couches for when you need a break from the tasteful EDM playing inside.
Best New Nightclub
Scottsdale's Livewire is a spectacular place. As Tempe lost numerous music venues and bars in 2014, Scottsdale gained Livewire. The club is in the heart of Old Town, where live entertainment usually means a top-shelf DJ or a cover band. But Livewire is different. The 11,000-square-foot club boasts a top-notch stage and brings in high-quality touring bands, a rarity for Scottsdale's entertainment district. Everything about the club screams class that doesn't take itself too seriously. There are pictures of famous musicians on the walls, sure, but the frames are digital, meaning that they change and occasionally display video throughout the night. The bars (there are multiple, as the venue is two stories) are sleek and beautiful. And then there's the crowning jewel of the venue: A giant wooden eagle, with a wingspan that must be 25 feet long, towers above the stage, wings spread valiantly to each side. Instead of feathers, there are guitars and speakers. Could a piece of art be more rock 'n' roll?
Best New Venue
You could shorthand Valley Bar as Crescent Ballroom's little sister, and though you'd mostly be correct, it doesn't quite capture the vibe of Charlie Levy's new subterranean venue. Getting in has a wonderfully speakeasy aura: down an alley and then down a flight of stairs, where the club is divided into the music hall, where bands like Tanlines and Screaming Females play and local DJs provide themed nights, and the Rose Room, a lounge named for Arizona's first female governor, Rose Mofford, with games, beautiful pool tables, and a selection of cocktails named for Arizona's political elite (don't worry, the McCain is much smoother than its namesake). One of our favorite activities? New Times' monthly Bar Flies, in which Phoenicians share hilarious and touching anecdotes (we admit — we're biased). With food from Short Leash Hot Dogs, Valley Bar is another winner, and much like its big sister down the road, it's quickly become a go-to hangout for locals of all stripes.
Best Rebooted Venue
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It is 100 percent accurate to call promoter Steve Chilton's Rebel Lounge a new music venue. The space opened in 2015, after all, and before Chilton bought the place, it had been two different gay bars for more than a decade. But we're calling this a "reboot venue" because of the history of the building where the Rebel Lounge resides. From 1979 to 2004, the building housed the Mason Jar. Any old-school music fan's ears will perk up at the mention of the storied venue, where bands like Tool, Nirvana, and others reportedly played shows early in their respective careers. But the Rebel Lounge is more than its history. With a brand-new sound system, stage, lights, and bar, the venue is primed to start its own chapter in Phoenix music history.
Best Venue For Local Acts
Yucca Tap Room
Yucca Tap Room is one of the best rock bars in the Valley, period. Featuring the perfect combination of quality food and drink and divey atmosphere, Yucca has stalwartly maintained its presence as an oasis for live music in Tempe as surrounding venues have dropped like beats at a dubstep show. Yucca has anchored itself as both a destination for underground touring bands and locals who have gained somewhat of a following. And don't forget one of the best bonuses of playing at Yucca: Double Nickel Collective, a kickass record store, is just next door. So, if the music gets too loud or stops matching your taste, you can pop over and flip through records more to your liking.
Best Venue For National Acts
There are a number of reasons Crescent Ballroom is the first venue Phoenix residents mention to their music-loving friends when they come for a visit. First, the venue is so cool that beautiful people go there to eat and hang when there's not even a show happening, because the cocktails and food are both simple, delicious, and reasonably priced. Then, inside the ballroom, there's great sound, bleachers in the back for tired legs, and two bars, perfect for the 550-capacity venue, so there's rarely a wait for drinks. It's a wonderful spot to catch an intimate show, as well as a great place to cut loose when the situation demands.
Best Rock Club
Lost Leaf is a bar/music venue that offers live music seven nights a week on Roosevelt Row's vibrant Fifth Street. It's a fine example of the adaptive reuse that gives the downtown arts district its character — Lost Leaf resides in an old home that at one point housed a Max's Sausage store. This means the interior of Lost Leaf doesn't feel anything like a modern venue; you wend your way around the bar and past walls adorned with painting by local artists to get to where the bands perform. But you can't really call it a stage at Lost Leaf. It's more of a nook, a rectangular recess that squeezes the band into close quarters and shoehorns spectators into a similar area just out in front, wedged between the band, the bathrooms, the exit to the smoking area, and the bar. The result is perfect for rock. The small area creates density, feeding musicians the energy of a packed house, which the band in turn unleashes on the audience. It's rock 'n' roll paradise.
Best Blues Club
This year, B.B. King, one of the last true blues superstars, passed away. It's fitting that his visage is now painted on the side of the Rhythm Room, Phoenix's premier blues club, alongside roots icons like Little Walter, Big Mama Thornton, Memphis Minnie, Howlin' Wolf, and Muddy Waters. Painted by local artist Curt Condrat, the mural represents the aims of Bob Corritore: preserving and celebrating the blues. Host of Those Lowdown Blues radio program Sunday nights on KJZZ 91.5 for the past 30 years, Corritore is no slouch on the harmonica himself, and in addition to performing around the world, he opened the Rhythm Room in 1991 and has maintained it as a destination for local blues bands like the Sugar Thieves, the Rocket 88s, and Cold Shott & the Hurricane Horns, as well as a stop for touring acts like Janiva Magness, Rick Estrin and the Nightcats, and Joe Louis Walker. Twenty-four years on, the Rhythm Room remains the Valley's most storied juke joint.