As downtown Phoenix has revitalized itself and the whole Valley has begun to shrug off the effects of extended downturns, fun places to hang out at night are popping up all over. Although much of the nightlife scene is centered on downtown Scottsdale, Tempe’s Mill Avenue, and downtown Phoenix, you’ll find things going on all over.
Tickets to many concerts, theater performances, and sporting events are available through Ticketmaster (www.ticketmaster.com; tel. 866/448-7849 or 800/745-3000), but smaller, hipper venues use other services like Ticketfly (www.ticketfly.com; tel. 877/987-6487). Venue websites will direct you to the right place.
The Club & Music Scene
As most denizens of any urban nightlife scene know, clubs come and go. I wish I could say there was a nightlife bible to consult here, but there’s isn’t. But poke around the Phoenix New Times website (phoenixnewtimes.com) and the Arizona Republic website (azcentral.com) and you should be able to get some leads on the latest openings.
The Valley’s Nightlife Hubs
If you’re looking for big ol’ Scottsdale bars with a vaguely Western theme, head over to the city’s rather blandly titled Entertainment District. The name doesn’t do justice to the 4 or 5 sprawling blocks of drinking holes, centered on an extended cul-de-sac just east of the intersection of Camelback and Scottsdale roads. The lineup includes Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row, Bottled Blonde, Maya Day and Night Club, and the like. If recent history holds, the names may have changed by the time you get there, but the boisterous action will live on. It’s all right next to the W Hotel.
Five miles north, at the intersection of Scottsdale Road and Shea Blvd., you’ll find some slightly more authentic country joints, like Handlebar J on the northwest corner and Ernie’s (www.erniesscottsdale.com; tel. 480/948-4433), on the southwest corner, where you can karaoke to your heart’s content with other cowpokes-for-the-night.
Mill Avenue in Tempe is a good place to wander around in search of your favorite type of music; the bars and clubs here are mostly within walking distance of one another. Because Tempe is a college town, the crowd tends to be young and occasionally rowdy. The best venue for touring acts is the Marquee, 730 N. Mill Ave., Tempe (www.marqueetheatreaz.com; tel. 480/829-0607), a half-mile walk north over the Mill Avenue Bridge.
Downtown Phoenix has a growing number of live music venues—the Van Buren, the Crescent, the Valley Bar—and some dance clubs. It is also home to Symphony Hall and the Herberger Theater Center. However, much of the action revolves around sports events and concerts at US Airways Center and Chase Field, which of course are surrounded by sports bars for pre- and post-game drinking.
The best country band in Phoenix is the Pat James Band; James, a fine figure of a man in a ten-gallon hat, delivers country ballads, rollicking two-steps, and some unexpected covers with a crack band. Check his website (www.patjames.net) to see where he’s playing.
Cocktails with a View
The Valley of the Sun has more than its fair share of spectacular views. Unfortunately, most of them are from expensive restaurants. All these restaurants have lounges, though, where, for the price of a drink (and perhaps valet parking), you can sit back and ogle a crimson sunset and the purple mountains’ majesty. Among the best choices are the Terrace Room at Different Pointe of View, at the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort; Rustler’s Rooste, at the Arizona Grand Resort; and the swanky Jade Bar, at the Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain. The Thirsty Camel, the central lounge of the top-tier Phoenician resort boasts some particularly wonderful views. Tip: To avoid the pricey valet fee, tell the folks at the front gate you want to self-park; you’ll be directed to the underground parking garage and the lounge will validate.
It’s hard to think of a more spectacular setting in all the Valley than the Wrigley Mansion, sitting on a hill high atop the Biltmore neighborhood a mile north of Camelback Road. It’s harder still to think why any casual Valley visitor wouldn’t want to go at least once for a drink on the terrace at sunset. Adjoining Geordie’s Restaurant, there’s a first-class wine bar, Jamie’s, where you can do just that. It’s worth paying for the valet at the top of the hill; it’s a steep climb from the self-parking area.
Gay & Lesbian Bars & Clubs
The heart of gay Phoenix is the Melrose—that’s 7th Avenue north of Indian School Road. There’s a jog in 7th Avenue—known as “the Curve”—where a distinctive arch has been constructed over the street to celebrate Melrose. (Here’s a free barstool conversation starter: Ask if anyone knows why the Curve is there at all. The answer: It was created when surveyors building the 7th Avenue canal crossing just a few blocks north discovered that the street had been inaccurately surveyed heading north from downtown, and was actually tilting northwest! It had to be wrenched back to due north.)
There are also gay- and lesbian-friendly bars dotting the northeast quadrant of the Valley—but note that outside of the Melrose, gay bars don’t generally advertise themselves as such. (In fact, if you see a place with a somewhat generic name and no other information, you can pretty much assume it’s a gay bar!) In a lot of the hipper clubs and restaurants on Central and 7th avenues you can find a magazine called Echo that can guide you into the scene and any gay-related events that month.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.