On a recent Friday night, I'm sitting poolside on the rooftop of the Hotel San Carlos in downtown Phoenix. I've got an ice cold Kiltlifter in one hand, a Marlboro in the other, and an earful of local prog rockers The Wizards of Time, who are playing live on the pool patio. All around me, young, good-looking hipsters mingle on massive pillows, staring at the stars. Many people have kicked off their shoes to let their feet dangle in the water, myself included. I stare down at my pale feet, wrinkled with impressions from my socks, and space out on the Kryptonite-green glow the pool lights cast around my toes. I try to kick my feet in time with the music.
I look up and see a tale of two cities. Where I'm sitting is a piece of Phoenix past, a rare relic from the city's earliest building boom. The historic hotel was constructed in 1927 on the site of Phoenix's first schoolhouse, and from the '20s through the '60s, it served as the elegant crash pad of some of Hollywood's brightest stars. Mae West slept here. So did Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Jean Harlow, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Gary Cooper, and Humphrey Bogart. With the exception of a disco ball hanging inconspicuously from a metal pole, the décor on the rooftop pool patio is reminiscent of an earlier time, with 18th-century-style streetlamps burning soft blue globe lights and green canopies blowing in the breeze over the bar.
Skyward, I'm surrounded by modern high-rises, casting the corporate neon glow of Ernst & Young, Wells Fargo, and the Monroe Street parking garage down upon us. I'm wondering whether any of the other hundred or so people here feel as anachronistic as I do when a guy with a Mohawk turns to me and says, "Wow, you really feel like you're downtown when you look up, you know?"
Hotel San Carlos
Star Swim, featuring The Necronauts, Dust Jacket, DJ mig50, and more is scheduled to take place Friday, August 22.
Pool parties at downtown hotels have been all the rage this summer, particularly at the San Carlos. The Clarendon Hotel (off Third Avenue) hosts the hugely popular annual IonAZ Splash Bash, but the San Carlos rocks three off-the-hook weeklies: the House Aquatic on Saturdays with House music DJs Sol Martinez and Senbad, Adult Swim on Sundays with DJs William "Fucking" Reed and Jared Alan spinning New Wave, Britpop, and electro, and this new Friday weekly, Star Swim, which has a distinctly indie-rock vibe.
This sweet Friday night soiree comes courtesy of local music promoter Psyko Steve, an affable, 30-something fellow with short-cropped hair and a thin, well-kept mustache who's been booking the cream of the Phoenix music scene for the past decade. His idea for this weekly watery rock bash (which runs through Friday, September 5), was to book three "mostly mellow" bands to play live on the rooftop pool deck, after sets by spinners DJ Jared Alan and DJ The Skinny. Earlier, the DJs were playing a sick mix of America's "Horse with No Name" backed by a steady digital drum beat, and Psyko Steve was walking around snapping pictures of the people here. The patio's teeming with petite women in colorful summer dresses, lanky rocker guys in ripped jeans and funky hats, tattooed dudes in swim shorts, and even some wayward Scottsdale scenesters in shiny shirts, who ditched the trendy bar set for this piece of poolside paradise in the concrete jungle.
In addition to The Wizards of Time, who sound sorta like Radiohead on a bender, tonight's talent includes Valley bands Princess LadyFriend and Black Carl. The latter is one of my favorite local groups — their distinct blend of funk, soul, and rock is both booty-shaking and thought-provoking. Singer Emma Pew's pipes pack a soulful wallop, and the band brims with musicianship, as members switch instruments throughout the band's sets. For Pew, who often performs barefoot and dances while her toe rings shine under the stage lights, an intimate pool party performance is just her style.
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On my way to the pool deck, I found myself sharing an elevator with the members of Black Carl. They helped me to not get lost, as I was heading to the top floor of the hotel (floor 7), thinking that was where the "rooftop pool" was (apparently, a common assumption). The rooftop patio is actually on floor 3. The band members were laughing and teasing each other, debating whether to go to the pool patio to smoke or up to their room first. The band booked the Gary Cooper suite for the night, so there's plenty of time to do whatever. They're not playing until midnight.
By the end of The Wizards of Time's set, the members of Black Carl have donned their swimsuits and are tossing a beach ball around in the pool. There's a line to get out on the small patio, and Psyko Steve is beaming at the crowd. Everybody's friendly and upbeat, greeting each other with hugs and high fives. Some head to the patio deck to dance to Princess LadyFriend's melodic pop rock, others head to the bar for $3 drafts, and a few make the mack rounds. At the south end of the pool, two pretty Asian girls are sitting alone for only a few minutes before a tall blond guy in blue athletic shorts approaches them and offers to buy them a drink.
Later, as I wade through the crowd and back down onto Monroe Street, I pass Leslie Crieger, the promoter for Alice Cooper's downtown restaurant/venue, Cooper'stown. She's heading upstairs with some friends to check out the show. I tell her it's awesome. My buddy B-Boy will show up after I leave, too, and call me with what was still an obviously raging fete in the background.
I could hear the band playing all the way to my truck, parked almost two blocks away. I'm already planning to hit up another Star Swim — with a suit this time.