Full Downtown Phoenix Experience: Not a Lonely Island Anymore | Phoenix New Times


The Full Phoenix: Downtown Is No Longer My Own Private Island

I could have investigated any number of important topics this past weekend for today’s column. Instead, I opted to spend Saturday night researching the quintessential downtown Phoenix experience
West Coast Cool Octet at the Nash on Saturday night
West Coast Cool Octet at the Nash on Saturday night Stuart Warner
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So much to write about from the past week.

Who could have guessed that two of the biggest Donald Trump bandwagon-jumpers would make major headlines within minutes of each other on Monday? Before noon Phoenix time, Sheriff Joe Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt of court and the Scary Mooch was fired/forced to resign as White House communications director.

And you question the existence of a God.

Then Tuesday, Arizona Senator Jeff Flake released his new book, Conscience of a Conservative, which included a chapter accusing his fellow Republicans of being in denial over the foibles of President Trump. This, after only days earlier the state's most aptly named politician continued to vote in lockstep with the Commander in Tweet, siding with the losers in the attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Finally, by week’s end, Trump was leaving the White House. No cheering from the liberals. He's taking a 17-day working – wink, wink – vacation. Perfectly timed with his appearance on the cover of Newsweek under the headline "Lazy Boy." I call that cover fake news. Instead of Photoshopping the president on a leather recliner, he should have been in a golf cart.

Yes, I could have done a deep dive on any of those topics this weekend for today’s column. Instead, I opted to spend Saturday night researching the quintessential downtown Phoenix experience, i.e., my wife was away visiting our daughter in Brooklyn and I didn’t want to stay home alone, so I went out for drinks, dinner, and a show.

I hesitate to tell you about my adventure, because since I moved here almost five years ago, I’ve considered downtown my own private island, where I could enjoy music, sports, theater, art, clubs, films, drinking, and dining with little hassle from the masses.

So I risk spoiling all this:

• There are rarely any lines, even for the most popular movies, at the AMC Arizona Center 24.

• There’s no waiting at most of the downtown restaurants, either, except, of course, at the legendary Pizzeria Bianco. But for my money, you can get brick-oven baked pies at Pomo Pizzeria Napoletana and La Piazza PHX that are equally outstanding, and without the delay.

• There’s plenty of street parking, though if you don’t have a credit card for the meters, you’ll need to bring so much change that the answer to the question frequently asked of men will be “Indeed, that is a roll of quarters in my pocket."

But it appears that many others are making the same discovery.

At 6 p.m. Saturday there was already a queue for tables at Gallo Blanco Café and Bar, a new restaurant in the historic Garfield neighborhood, where I suppose some important battle must have been fought over a cartoon cat long ago.

This was not a flock of Arizona early birds, either. Gallo Blanco is so hip that the food menu is in Spanish.

Fortunately, the drink menu is not, but I still asked the bartender for help. He recommended the Jamaica: Jamaica-infused blanco tequila, aperol, lime, and vanilla. And a straw.

Excellent choice. I had two.

click to enlarge
The Gallo Blanco chilaquiles.
Gallo Blanco Cafe & Bar
For dinner, I took a chance on the Gallo Blanco chilaquiles.

I was too reticent to ask for a translation, but remembered enough seventh-grade Spanish to know it sounded good: Pollo o vegetables, salsa de chilaquiles, queso Oaxaca, tortilla crujientes, fire-roasted salsa (is there no word for fire-roasted in Mexico?), queso cotija y dos heuvos a tu estilo.

Besides, I had seen a photo of the dish in a Phoenix New Times feature “Five New Metro Phoenix Restaurants You’ve Got to Try Right Now.”

After the second Jamaica, I realized I still had time to catch the 7:30 show at the Nash, one of Phoenix’s true hidden treasures.

The jazz club at the corner of Roosevelt and First streets has only been open for five years, but it has already been named by Downbeat magazine, the bible of jazz, as one of the best clubs in the world.

The setting at the club is so intimate that you can see the saxophone players sweat.

Every weekend, the Nash features local or touring musicians. Saturday night’s headliners, the West Coast Cool Jazz Octet, weren’t actually from California.

It’s the kind of crowd where many men sport the Full Phoenix – Hawaiian shirt, Bermuda shorts, sandals and white socks.

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They were a group of local jazz veterans — Frank Smith, tenor sax; Paul Brewer, baritone sax; Denny Monce, trumpet; Mark Witt, trombone; Russ Schmidt, piano; Eric Bart, guitar; Vic Kottner, bass; and Bob McKeon, drums — who formed sort of a Dave Pell Octet tribute band. Okay, Dave Pell is hardly the Led Zeppelin of jazz, but the songs were mostly standards you'd recognize.

I also like the Nash because, even at age 65, I feel like one of the young folks there.

It’s the kind of crowd where many men sport the Full Phoenix – Hawaiian shirt, Bermuda shorts, sandals, and white socks. And the women shout “Woo-hoo” when the bandleader mentions that Steve Allen was the first host of The Tonight Show. (When we were putting together a list of Arizonans who have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one of my young staffers asked, “There’s a guy named Steve Allen who went to school and started his career on radio here. Should we include him?”)

But in fairness, arriving late, I got one of the last seats and I was surrounded by three millennial couples, two of which stayed for the entire show and seemed to enjoy it just as much their elders did.

I left before the last song, just about 9:30. I needn’t have worried about beating the traffic out of downtown. As I walked north on First Street on Saturday night, there wasn’t another soul in sight.

Or so I thought.

I heard the sound of a single drummer. Bah-da-bah-da-bum. Bah-da-bah-da-bum. Cymbal crash.

The drum solo intensified as I walked toward my car.

Camera lights illuminated a small patch of darkness ahead of me.

I’m a journalist. I had to investigate.

Just at the end of the street, where First Street turns into Moreland Street, a crew from a local production company, Focal Point, was making a music video with drummer Gabriel Herrera.

“We needed someplace quiet,” one of the crew members explained to me.

And where better to find it than downtown Phoenix on a Saturday night?

I guess there's still room on the island.

(Drumming video courtesy of Steve Schulak and Taylor Smith.)

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