A mix of tomorrow and yesterday, Phoenix offers gay travelers a host of options, outdoorsy and elegant
RICH LOPEZ | Contributing Writer
The old and the new are at peace together in Phoenix, which embraces its burgeoning modernity with new developments but never loses its identity of heritage.
Gay travelers are not at a loss here — in fact, last week the city celebrated Gay Pride with its annual festival. Already steeped in cultural diversity and artistic diversity, Phoenix’s LGBT community enjoys clubs, restaurants and shops speckled throughout the city that are either gay-owned or gay-friendly. But beyond that, Phoenix is breathtaking in its fantastic convergence of modern luxury and gritty outdoors. For city boys and nature girls — and vice versa — there is much to behold.
When fall hits, the weather settles into perfection. Street fairs appear and patio eating dominates many of the city’s hip eateries.
In North Central Phoenix, The Windsor oozes hipness whether inside its small walls or on its huge patio. The food is upgraded pub fare but its vibe rings loudest with mustachioed waiters and a wall plastered with audiocassettes. After the two-hander pulled pork sandwich with housemade chips, step next door for dessert at Churn with its homemade ice creams.
Angels Trumpet in the artsy Roosevelt District serves up a fresh and eclectic menu thanks to local purveyors (as most restaurants tout), but their attention to beer is their pride. With a rotating list of 31 taps, the best bet is their $9 flight of six beers, the prime way to taste seasonal flavors like their standout pumpkin ale and the marionberry hibiscus.
For a simpler beer experience, hit up the 41-year-old gay bar the Nu Towne Saloon for its crowded Sunday afternoon dollar beer bust. Without much fanfare, the patio packs up the cruisy spot with bears and the men who love them. The kitschy inside offers zero pretension and the image of a huge cock is a photographic must.
Without a centralized gayborhood, Phoenix counts an astounding number of queer nightspots. More than 20 dot the landscape, catering to all demos, but Charlie’s is a priority visit.
The club combines country and western music with drag queens on the patio, an on-site taqueria and the best-lit bathroom ever. They line dance the hell out of the floor from country hits to dance mixes and vintage Ricky Martin. Leathered muscleguys, twinky preps and fruit flies all mix among the friendly, high-energy crowd.
The bears head to Pat O’s Bunkhouse Saloon in the Melrose District while the dance crowd hits up Amsterdam downtown, the leather peeps hit up Anvil, lesbians go to Cash Inn Country, and celebrity drag queens like Raja and Delta Work from Drag Race headline The Rock.
For the adventurous, head to the sky with Hot Air Expeditions and studly head pilot Patrick Stevens. You unofficially join the mile high club and see Phoenix and beyond in its postcard-like glory — and discover mesas really are that flat. And when the balloon swoops in to land, the natural denizens scamper through low-lying hills and cacti.
For a direct approach to the scenery, head north to Scottsdale for Green Zebra Adventures’ Tomcar tour of the Sonora Desert on the Fort McDowell Yavapai Reservation. A guide leads an ATV caravan giving a stunningly up close and beautiful view of the landscape including the only home to the saguaro cactus. Wild steer and horses can be seen drinking along the Salt River washout and mesquite trees provide a distinct aroma in the more flowered parts of the desert.
Phoenix isn’t short on cultural offerings but the Heard Museum of Native Cultures and Art highlights Native American culture as a living museum of both historic and contemporary work. Its kachina doll collection is astounding. (Tip: plan on lunch at the Heard’s café for the tepary bean hummus and frybread.)
The handsome Musical Instrument Museum, which opened in 2010, houses more than 15,000 instruments from around the world. The hands-on room is a must because it may be the one time to hit an actual gong or play some kind of music on the trippy Theremin. Next year, the museum will feature Lady Gaga’s meat dress as part of a “women in music” exhibition.
Ultra-cool accommodations can be found at the high-rise Westin Downtown with spacious rooms in warm colors and floor-to-ceiling windows. The view of downtown with mountains in the distance impresses. Province, the resto in the Westin, is big for drinks on the patio. Its sister hotel, the Sheraton Phoenix, is a massive complex blocks away geared toward convention goers with 1,000 rooms. But the restaurant that stands out as a major treasure is District American Kitchen and Wine Bar, which features a rich menu of comfort food elevated to five-star levels.
The new Palomar pulsates with modern vibe in the heart of the new CityScape development of restaurants, shops and nightlife. It is walking distance from USAirways Arena for major sports games and concerts, but its snazzy insides make it fulfilling to stay in.
The poolside bar Lustre looks on downtown from its open third floor and below is the stellar gastro-lounge Blue Hound Kitchen. Executive chef Stephen Jones has created a simple menu that is hardly short on complexity. The cheddar-scallion biscuits with quail eggs are hefty starters but worth a taste. He bombards both the eye and the taste buds with his gigantic BBQ’D Kobe beef short ribs that look like they came from the opening credits of The Flintstones. But the meat comes off easily with a fork before passing to your dining neighbor.
Hit the trendy Breadfruit Rum Bar for dinner. The tiny resto is cool on all the right notes with dark décor, cozy seating and a lively vibe in both the bar and dining room. The Jamaican-inspired menu knocks out the palate but the stealthy weapons here are the drinks. Rum punch flavors like the strawberry passion fruit are refreshing while their pina colada redux turns up the volume leaving behind any trace of 1980.
If there were a stunning gem of Phoenix it would have to be the legendary Arizona Biltmore. The 1929 Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired resort defines luxury and sprawl with heavenly gardens and gorgeous lawns and eight pools including the Catalina, which Marilyn Monroe deemed her favorite. The architecture invites guests to remain in awe at the grand hallways leading from the lobby to Wright’s, the dining room, which serves a rich Sunday brunch buffet. Paradise Pool is spectacular with three pools combined including a bar, cabanas, a 90-foot water slide and palm trees overlooking the water under the Arizona sun. It’s hard not to feel like a Hollywood star yourself.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 12, 2013.