When I was in high school, only the hippest of the hip traveled to downtown Phoenix for First Fridays.
These kids had cars and licenses, meaning they could make the trek up the I-10 from Tempe to walk around Roosevelt Row. They’d come back with artsy trinkets and social media accounts rife with pictures taken in front of murals and exposed brick walls. Sometimes I went with them, relishing in the scene while politely declining pamphlets about veganism and sipping chai lattes from Jobot (back before Jobot knocked that interior wall down). Ah. Those halcyon days.
After finishing high school and living downtown for three years, I’ve come to appreciate a different set of things that make our community unique, beyond First Fridays. Here are some of them:
1. The AMC at the Arizona Center is never full: There’s no reason for a 24-theater cinema to exist in downtown Phoenix, but I’m not complaining. You can almost always snag the coveted middle row with the bar for your feet — or take a few seats to yourself and lay down — any day of the week. And if you’ve already shelled out $8 to come see a movie, you deserve such luxury.
2. Ed the Hotdogger: Ed parks his hot dog cart outside the county courthouse, serving dogs and chips every weekday. It’s great to see people from all sides of the legal system take a break to enjoy his lunches. Ed is also the nicest person ever.
3. The sparkly patches of sidewalk on First Avenue, between Adams and Monroe: For some reason, these patches of sidewalk are sparkly, and walking on them at night feels like walking on a runway.
4. The seating options available at Grand Central Coffee Company: The cafe opened this summer, and the lounging options throughout the two stories of this 13,000-square-foot building make it feel like you’re coming home. I have a hunch this cafe is going to become more popular, especially as its owners plan to expand into the rest of the building. But for now, it feels special to cozy up on a couch in a downtown Phoenix cafe and be relatively un-bothered the whole time.
5. The lighting at Burton Barr Central Library: The giant windows on the fifth floor of Burton Barr offer a great south-facing view of downtown. It’s especially beautiful on overcast days.
6. The pulse racing/brief contemplation of death during any sort of maneuver at the 5-way intersection on Grand Avenue and Van Buren Street: Is that green light meant for you or another lane? Just floor it and find out! A quick way to get your blood flowing, all rolled into your commute.
7. The immediate smell of clay at the Phoenix Art Museum: To walk into the Phoenix Art Museum is to experience a beautiful wave of temperature-controlled, clay-smelling air. A great primer for looking at some art, like Kehinde Wiley’s exhibit.
8. $6 mac and cheese during happy hour at District American Kitchen and Wine Bar: My first few times eating this dish, I didn’t know the crunchy topping was made of crushed Cheez-Its. But it’s somehow more delicious once you realize it is, in fact, made of crushed Cheez-Its. The price of this dish has increased from $4 to $6 over time, but it’s still a good deal, and perfectly filling. And it has sliced hot dogs in it. And it comes out in a little pan. Talk about underrated.
9. Downtown Phoenix Ambassadors: I haven’t been to all the downtowns in the world, but I’ve never seen one that has friendly people standing on street corners whose job it is to help you and be nice. Always a mood brightener.
10. The Third Street exit: We’ve discussed the underappreciated magic of the Third Street off-ramp at length. I couldn’t complete this list without mentioning it.
11. Jobot’s playlists: Set up shop to work at Jobot, and you never know what music you’re going to be treated to. It might be a Queen album in its entirety, or a Spanish, spoken-word piece, or The Beach Boys or Beach House or beach soundscapes. Jobot breaks the mold of the Modest Mouse/The Shins/MGMT playlists so many other downtown coffee shops and restaurants seem to play, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.
What are your favorite underappreciated parts of downtown? Comment below or let me know @jarahsarvis.
Clarification: October 18, 2016
An earlier version of this column exaggerated the price of a movie ticket at AMC Arizona Center 24 to be $13. Average adult tickets are around $8.
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