On Thursday, the Phoenix New Times published their annual Best of Phoenix 2010 awards. This years theme was ‘Who’s Your Hero”. Their intrepid staff “soared across this fair metropolis, finding 583 examples of the best cultural attractions, shopping, outdoor fun, places to eat, party spots, and things to do—be it morning, noon, night, or into the wee hours.”
While each of the winners has its merits—my personal feelings about Cityscape aside—even Superman himself would have trouble visiting them all. So to help guide you through this year’s best, I’ve listed ten of my favorite winners (in no particular order) below. I must note it was great to see so many of my friends and acquaintances make this years list. Alas, sticking to a top ten list meant that some of them didn’t make the cut. When I was on the fence, I went go with the underdog and newcomers. I hope the others understand!
Best Dream: Canalscape
We get fired up about great ideas—even if they seem a little ambitious. Greatness, after all, was built on dreams, and we think Canalscape has tremendous potential. Planners took inspiration from places like Venice and proposed incredible ideas for the Valley’s 181 miles of waterways.
These winding canals are based on the ancient Hohokam’s crop irrigation system and have previously been seen as utilitarian systems. Not any more. The plans include beefing up our waterfronts with small marketplaces filled with coffee shops, cafes, and retail boutiques. Imagine going for a jog along the waterway, free of cars and stinky traffic, to stop for a cappuccino and a newspaper. Sounds like a dream to us. canalscape.org
Best Phoenix History Lesson: Phoenix Retro Spectacular at Phoenix Metro Retro
As a former New Yorker who’s lived in the Valley for a decade, Marshall Shore may know a lot more about Phoenix history than most natives. Like the fact that Mr. Lucky’s was intended to be Arizona’s first casino or that Wayne Newton was a regular performer at Bill Johnson’s Big Apple. Shore, who calls himself an information curator, deals hour-long doses of local lore each month at the Phoenix Retro Spectacular. For a fiver, listeners and fellow tale-tellers can sip wine and lounge on vintage furniture at Phoenix Metro Retro while Shore, through stories and images, shares his understanding of Phoenix antiquity and the importance of saving it. lostphx.wordpress.com
Best Unexpected Urbanity: Historic Glendale
Walk into an antique store to check out some vintage dishes, jewelry, and furniture. Then pop into a fashion boutique for 20-something women that’s filled with hot pink tulle, bedazzled skulls, and roller derby-like attire. Feeling hungry? Roll into a burger joint and chow down on some American fare. Then get through the digestion drowsiness by walking down the street to a world-renowned museum.
Sounds like San Francisco or New York, right? Wrong. It’s Downtown Glendale. We’re talking about antique stores like Granny G’s Shady Nook or Strunk’s Hollow; restaurants like A Touch of European Café or Haus Murphy’s; and, of course, the Bead Museum. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to historic Glendale. Oh, yeah, believe it. historic-glendale.net
Best Tortillas: Verde
Although we can’t prove it unless we start sneaking into some kitchens, it’s pretty obvious that a lot of Mexican restaurants get their tortillas straight out of a bag—and some don’t even bother to reheat them. What gives, people? There’s a lot of competition for good Mexican food in the Valley, and to set yourself apart from the pack, you need to make grand gestures.
That’s what they do at Verde, a humble little downtown spot serving cheap, casual eats and flour tortillas we’re absolutely certain are as fresh as can be. Just take a look in the big front window, where you can see ladies hand-forming and cooking them on a griddle right on the premises. These are a little thicker than the norm, tender, and perfect for scooping up gobs of Verde’s fragrant green chile pork — or simply enjoying plain. verdeaz.com
Best Urban Planning Blog: Blooming Rock
For some folks, Phoenix is more than a pit stop on their way to whatever city their company transfers them to next. Some people care about the Valley of the Sun—its history, its topography, its architecture. And no one, it seems, cares about Phoenix as much as Tazmine “Taz” Khatri Loomans, a first-generation immigrant born in Mozambique who attended high school in Mesa, then went to ASU for a master’s in architecture. Loomans moved away from the Valley and then, like so many others, came back.
Unlike others, she launched a blog that celebrates what there is to love about our city—and candidly criticizes what’s wrong with it, too. In cannily written essays about wasted infills, the value of historic preservation, and the peculiar visions of Mayor Phil Gordon, Taz sets out to positively impact the city she loves. Even Phoenix haters (and they’re legion, right?) might well be swayed by Taz’s clear-headed, well-wrought prose about light rail and dust storms and “the urban forest.” It’s a heroic feat, sticking up for Phoenix—here’s to Taz! bloomingrock.com
Best Light-Rail Resource: Rail Life
You may be surprised to hear that the best resource for finding out what’s cool in and around the light rail is not associated with Metro light rail at all. Raillife.com is a site maintained by local folks who care about how light rail is changing our city. Perhaps you’re looking for a home near the route. You’re covered.
Hungry? Raillife.com has tons of listings for local eateries just steps away from the tracks. You can even receive the Twitter updates to find out if stations are temporarily closed or other pertinent infobits to make your rail life an easy one. Raillife.com
Best Neighborhood Bar, Downtown Phoenix: SideBar
It’s been just shy of two years since this cool downtown Phoenix lounge opened, yet we can’t remember what our lives were like before we had such a comfy, warmhearted spot to stop for a drink. SideBar owner Josh Parry wanted to create a landmark cocktail lounge that’s both a hot neighborhood gathering place and a cozy everyone-knows-your-name throwback to clubs of yesteryear. He’s done it!
Did we mention the cocktail menu? Smashing. We love the White Rabbit, an update on the Horchata martini that’s at the top of our list of faves. SideBar’s muddled drinks are made with fresh, homegrown ingredients, so we make sure to get there early to order one (or three!), because once the fresh stuff’s gone, it’s gone. sidebarphoenix.com
Best Concert Fliers: The Surfside IV
Each week, our music blog, Up On The Sun (PHXMusic.com), appoints a “Flier of the Week” to recognize excellence in promotional posters for local concerts. If Phoenix’s Surfside IV, a group that plays instrumental surf rock, has a show in any given week, they’re always in the running. The band has gone through some ups and downs (the drummer and a guitarist quit at the same time last year, leaving the remaining members scrambling for replacements), but guitarist Trey a.k.a. “T-Ray” consistently draws up the best fliers in town.
A poster for a show at The Icehouse Tavern featured a fantastic drawing of a man-eating Sasquatch, while the flier for a show at the now-closed Ruby Room was a dead-on take on the pulpy posters used to promote 1940s monster movies. Oh, then there was the killer robot attacking The Blooze Bar. It’s all great stuff, highly stylized in a way that fits the band perfectly. We’d love to see someone offer T-Ray a gallery show on a First Friday. surfsideiv.com
Best Coffee House, Central Phoenix: Lux Coffeebar
Coffee houses come and go, and we’re glad Lux stayed. Even with a change of ownership a few years ago, this packed-to-the-gills coffee bar earns its reputation as the place to see and be seen—and to sip—in Central Phoenix. No one minds if you bring over your Pane Bianco sandwich from next door on a hot day, as long as you buy a beverage—and we’re more than happy to oblige, since Lux brews some of our favorite coffee drinks in town. On a nice day, sit outside on the beautiful hand-carved picnic tables and watch the light rail whiz by. Nice, indeed. luxcoffee.com
Best Car Wash: Los Olivos Car Wash
How many times have you driven away from the car wash, only to notice after a few blocks that crumbs are still clinging to your console, and that your windows are all streaky? Look, in this economy, we really all should be washing our own damn cars, so if we’re going to splurge on a wash, we expect the royal treatment. That’s what we get, every time, at Los Olivos. Never, ever, do we drive away disappointed.
The staff is courteous and hard-working, they listen to our silly special requests—like, “Please don’t make my car smell like perfume!” or “Can you reach all the French fries the kids spilled in the way-back?” And on the few occasions we’ve really gone hog wild and paid for a detailing, we could have sworn we were driving off in a brand-new car. Not bad for an investment under $100. Not bad for an investment under $100. Los Olivos, you sure clean up nice. losolivoscarwash.com
It wouldn’t be a ‘Hero’ edition without some heros and villains. Of the 30 best and worst Phoenicians a few stood out, Kimber Lanning, Matt, Erina and Christopher Pool, but one rose to the top of my pack, my friend, Kate Benjamin: