Play PHX

Play Date
Hey, Phoenix, can you come out and play?

Eat, drink, and be merry with Quick PHX, your pocket-size guide to downtown Phoenix.

This time 'round, hit the playground — from the rave scene to a wig shop to a favorite coffee house. We're taking a long recess to tell you all about it.

We'll help you fill your toy box. Be sure to stop by the sweet, funky boutique Frances, and ask to see Bob Adams' whimsical curio cabinet. Adams is a serious artist. But he's taken a break to indulge his inner kid, with creations made from vintage craft supplies, some rescued from sadly defunct stores like Millie's and Diane Ribbon. Own a bit of old Phoenix — trimmed with bump chenille.

Take our old tin train for a victory lap around the city and celebrate the new light-rail system — we've included our favorite public art, dining, shopping, and nightlife spots along the Valley Metro route.

Have fun! — Amy Silverman

Frances: 10 W. Camelback Rd., 602-279-5463,

Grand PiñAta
Lions and tigers and bears and . . . mutant piñatas? Yes, Grand Avenue grande dame Beatrice Moore, who organized last year's mutant piñata show at Bragg's Pie Factory, is at it again. Last spring, the cavernous former pie factory teemed with alien art — from the gross to the fantastical — and we can only hope that this year's crop will be as varied and as dazzling. You can't whack these piñatas with a stick, but some of them will be for sale, with proceeds going mostly to the artists, who range from school kids to local art luminaries.

The Pie Factory is pipin' hot these days — a cafe's slated to open soon (if it hasn't by the time you read this), and a tattoo shop and several small artist galleries/studios are already in business. The additions will complement the main gallery, which will continue to rotate shows long after that last wacky piñata finds a new home. — Deborah Sussman Susser

The Mutant PiñAta SHOW: 1301 Grand Avenue, 602-391-4016. Open First and Third Fridays in March and April, or by appointment.

Boy Toys
Who says grownups can't play with toys?

Not Jason Kiningham, who's done brisk business over the past two years selling cutesy vinyl figures and other designer toys at his boutique Red-Hot Robot. But he's not the only one.

Designer toys have been a multimillion-dollar trend since being birthed in the mid-'90s by such Asian urban artists as China's Michael Lau. Migrating to America in the last decade, the stylish-looking playthings (created from materials ranging from resin to wood) have made major chedda for manufacturers like NYC's Kidrobot, and caused shops like Kiningham's to spring up nationwide.

The popularity of the bizarre-yet-beautiful toys, he explains, lies in their hipster appeal, uniqueness, and, ultimately, collectibility. Some are virtual masterpieces, created in limited amounts (from 100 to 2,000 units) by renowned artists. The coolest toys are ultra-rare and you can't find them at chains like Urban Outfitters. Since they're snatched up online, the best bet is through shops like Kiningham's.

"I try getting the hottest figures," he says. "Even then it's only a handful, and they don't hang around long."

Take, for example, coarsetoys' wicked-looking vinyl Paw figures. Kiningham begged his distributor for as many as possible, but got four. They were bought quickly at $120 each, and currently go for twice that on eBay.

C.J. Ernster also goes to great length getting exclusive toys for his recently opened store Kaiju-X3. The 27-year-old artist (who designs his own line called Kill! Graffiti) endlessly hunts online to determine what's hot, like the Kaiju Big Battel figures he recently ordered.

"You gotta know what's gonna be big and when it's being released, so you can swoop in at the right time to order it," Ernster says. — Benjamin Leatherman

Red Hot Robot: 14 W. Camelback Rd., 602-264-8560, • Kaiju-X3: 918 N. 6th St., 602-595-2030,

Puppet Master
"Who's ready for a puppet show?" Well, duh. Great Arizona Puppet Theater's been ready for 25 years, and we're right there with 'em. Whether it's an old fairy tale or fable, a new story, or a 21-and-over late-night "puppet slam," GAPT presents the crème de la, um, puppet. And puppetry, that age-old, diverse, and ever-so-happening medium, belongs on your radar.

The lovingly restored theater/museum/gift shop, a 1932-vintage LDS church in the shadow of Interstate 10, hosts shows year-round that bring in 30,000 audience members per annum. The company tours to another 70,000 fans each season, and you can even have them for a party, at your home or theirs.

Who are these people? Professionals, with degrees in puppetry and decades of experience. Serious artists, who demo and teach and bring in guest performers from around the world. Great big kids, who sing goofy songs to warm up the audience and join them in crafts after the show. Bravura performers, as disciplined and talented as any athlete or entertainer, but without the crazy ego trips.

These puppeteers might not have been the coolest kids on the playground back in the day. But they sure are now. — Julie Peterson

Great Arizona Puppet Theater: 302 W. Latham St., 602-262-2050,