Editorial: Better of Downtown

(Evie Carpenter/DD)
When we saw State Press Magazine’s Best of Downtown spread, we were shocked, confused, disturbed and worried. We simply had to set the record straight. (Evie Carpenter/DD)

By Connor Descheemaker and Mauro Whiteman

We got our hands on State Press Magazine’s Best of ASU issue last night, and after flipping through roughly 40 pages of non-Best-of content, we happened upon the Best of Downtown section. This spread was particularly interesting to us, an embedded, hyperlocal publication that exclusively serves the downtown community.

We don’t want to say they got it wrong. But, they got it wrong.

The Downtown Devil isn’t informed of State Press’s methodology for choosing the best in each category, or even the categories themselves, but after noting the “Best Hiking” in downtown, we couldn’t help but look closer.

People’s definitions of downtown vary. Even our own definition has been subject to critique and minor alterations over the last couple years. What we have landed upon is a fairly common definition of Seventh Avenue to Seventh Street, McDowell Road to the railroad tracks, including Grand Avenue.

Occasionally, our coverage extends to locations along the Central Avenue light rail corridor that are accessible and of particular import to the downtown community — but in these cases, we clearly delineate what is downtown, midtown, uptown or the greater central Phoenix.

This particular Best-of list appears to break pretty much all of those rules and boundaries.

Beginning at the top-left of the spread, we see “Best Chinese Food,” awarded to China Chili Restaurant. China Chili is neither in downtown, nor along the light rail. And its competition is little to none.

Perhaps a more comprehensive category would be “Best Asian Food,” which would include such downtown hotspots as Pallets Food & Bar, Bonjour Vietnam, Moira Sushi, and Nobuo at the Teeter House.

Just below this, we find “Best Crepes,” given to Jobot Coffee. With coffee being such a staple of downtown Phoenix life, it seems negligent to simply praise Jobot for but one of its many offerings. Instead, we think it would be more fitting to call for downtown’s “Best Coffee Shop,” a category where there would be more than one or two options.

And speaking of options — or lack thereof — “Best Music Store” and “Best Tapas”? If you can name more than one place that fits either of these criteria in downtown Phoenix, then you know something we don’t.

While Bunky Boutique — the choice for “Best Vintage Clothing Store” — certainly dwells within downtown, and provides many great goods for sale, it simply doesn’t sell vintage clothing. In fact, everything it sells is new. “Best Boutique,” maybe? Then, Bunky would be in competition with MADE, Royal Exchange, Mercantile, Vintage By Misty, GROWop and many more.

Matt’s Big Breakfast, for the umpteenth time, was awarded “Best Breakfast.” Congratulations, someone searched “breakfast, downtown Phoenix” on Google, or maybe just watched the Food Network. Contrary to popular belief, there actually are other options for breakfast in downtown. Might we suggest The Breakfast Club or Squash Blossom? Even Cartel Coffee Lab, which would be in the running for best coffee shop above, serves a mean breakfast of its own.

The choice of The Duce as “Best Happy Hour” is dubious at best. If $11 drinks are your idea of a happy hour, then it’s quite clear which ASU student-run publication gets paid and which one is run by volunteers.

“Best Mexican Food” went to Carolina’s Mexican Food. Though Carolina’s is about 10 blocks outside of downtown and across the railroad tracks from the nearest light rail stops, there’s no denying the restaurant’s tastiness and superiority in Mexican cuisine.

“Editor’s Pick,” New Orleans Snow Cones? Could someone please explain this one to us? More than a mile from the nearest light rail stop, and several miles from any semblance of downtown, this pick just needs some justification.

To pick apart the “Best Exhibition” category, though, requires no explanation. Just a little bit of thought.

First, to call First Fridays an exhibition is a stretch, to say the least. As a nearly 20-year-old artwalk inclusive of nearly 100 venues across central Phoenix, the event is more accurately a slew of exhibitions. And to list the event as existent on Roosevelt Row disregards dozens of venues along Grand Avenue, inside the Warehouse District, and sprinkled throughout the downtown core.

Finally, to the impetus for this article: “Best Hiking.”

For the urban, embedded campus, hiking couldn’t be further from the daily reality of life for ASU’s Downtown students. At the very least, the victory could have been awarded to a (vaguely) central Phoenix hiking destination like Camelback Mountain.

But no, they chose South Mountain. Located seven miles directly south of the Downtown campus, and equally far from the light rail, one would need to get seriously lost in order to meander from downtown to this particular hiking spot.

As a conclusion of sorts to this critique, we have decided to compile our own, admittedly small Better of Downtown list. Rather than basing it on a Tempe-based readership, we want to base it on our readers’ choices, as downtown is the community that we aim to serve.

We appreciate the nod from State Press Magazine and their attempt to dig into the culture of downtown. Next time, we would encourage them to try a little harder to go beyond the surface, or at least establish a cohesive methodology by which they might define their boundaries.

Editor’s note: The photo illustration that originally ran with this editorial has been replaced, as its intended jest was distasteful to many of our readers. Additionally, the authors’ names have been added to the editorial for the sake of transparency. Mauro Whiteman is the executive managing editor of the Downtown Devil, as well as the opinions and special projects editor. Connor Descheemaker is the director of community initiatives and is one of the primary organizers of Downtown Devil Discussions.

Contact us at news@downtowndevil.com

Update: April 17, 2012

The Downtown Devil has updated the wording of the second to last paragraph to reflect that State Press Magazine‘s picks for Best of Downtown were based on polling of their readers.