Archive for: May 2012

A Real Phoenix is Needed Now

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After yet another disappointing season for the Suns in 2012, it was disheartening to see all the past Suns players that were in the playoffs, but wearing different uniforms and I couldn’t help to wonder, what if? What if the likes of Amaré Stoudemire, Joe Johnson, Shawn Marion, Leandro Barbosa, Lou Amundson, Jason & ‘Q’ Richardson were on the same roster as Steve Nash? They would have the same troubles that have plagued them since 1994 – no big man underneath. The Suns style of play has long been the “Run & Gun” a high octane offense that relies on quickness and adept shooting from beyond the arc. The Suns adapted the run & gun into the “Fun & Gun” as they were having a good time while winning numerous games along the way which made games in downtown Phoenix a “must do” for the Valley’s elite looking to see & be seen. Unfortunately, as in every sport, defense wins games and the Suns have had serious gaps in forcing turnovers and pounding the glass for rebounds.

The historical Phoenix is a bird who near the end of his life cycle would build a nest and then spontaneously combust fiercely burning the bird & nest leaving behind nothing but ashes. The new Phoenix rises from the ashes to live again and rebuild its life. If all that I have been hearing is true with Steve Nash not coming back to the Suns next season, then suffice to say that Robert Sarver better start looking for some twigs to build that nest. There are a couple bright spots on the roster so there is no need to completely gut the roster and start from square one; just as the Phoenix takes on the traits from its former self, the team moving into the future needs to keep the basic tenets of the “run & gun” style offense and focus more on a defensive style of game. That means either getting current centers Marcin Gortat & Robin Lopez on the Bill Laimbeer diet or going out to get tough, gritty & perhaps dirty players that will gut it out in the trenches, pound the boards and maybe throw an elbow or two to assert their dominance on the court.

Valley sports fans are a fickle bunch. I remember my high school days in the mid 80’s when I was a ball boy for the Suns and they were playing to some of the smallest crowds in the NBA, although being only a couple years removed from their first appearance in the NBA Finals. I can hear the rumbling over the past couple years, first with the strike and only reaching the playoffs once in the past 4 years, the Phoenix Suns need to ignite & be reborn before they lose their fan base for good.

Top 10 Best Things to do in Tucson

Everybody in the Valley needs to get away. Although the metropolitan Phoenix area has some of the most exciting and eclectic events happening round the clock, our little sister city 90 miles southeast of us is turning into quite the destination for Phoenicians seeking a change of scenery without breaking the bank. I have compiled a Top 10 Tucson Must See & Do with something for everybody including the furry & non-furry children.

The first thing that you need to decide is if you are coming down for a day trip or looking to stay the weekend. Two places for lodging immediately jump to the forefront each with their own special qualities; it all depends on who is accompanying you on this getaway.

  1. 1.      Hotel Congress/Club Congress           311 E. Congress St.

For those traveling without the children and looking for the historic yet hip & trendy feel of downtown Tucson, the Hotel Congress is the place where the ‘in’ crowd goes to see and be seen. Built in 1919, the Hotel Congress was built across the street from the Southern Pacific Railroad Line to serve the passengers coming into Tucson. The hotel is most famous for leading to the capture of John Dillinger in 1934, the original “Public Enemy #1.

The hotel boasts a gorgeous lobby, 3 bars serving signature cocktails and a bartender that has been there for 50+ years.The rooms haven’t changed much over the past century with no TVs, only an old-time radio. There isa quaint café that offers an incredible Sunday brunch with an outdoor patio.  The hotel and patio are pet-friendly so bring Spike or Tabby along with you. It is also home to one of the city’s best venues for live music & dancing. Club Congress is an intimate venue that has been labeled as one the Best Rock Clubs in America.The Entertainment Director is the former lead singer of Tucson’s favorite bands The Sand Rubies & The Sidewinders so he knows A LOT about the music scene.

 

 2.      Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa        3800 E. Sunrise Drive

If this is a family trip, Tucson has you covered here as well. The Westin La Paloma resort nestled in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains is a haven for adults and children alike.  There is 27-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course with awards from Golfweek, Golf Digest & Condé Nast. The Red Door Spafocuses on a holistic approach to work on your mind & body with 16 private rooms as 2 outdoor cabanas for that return to nature feel. I haven’t forgotten about the little ones either, in fact, that is what ranks this hotel & resort above the others in the city. La Paloma has five different pools; the main pool has a swim-up bar, a kids pool, a secluded adults only pool and the Southwest’s largest water slide, the Slidewinder that twists and turns for 177 ft. In addition to all that, there is a Kids Club with arts & crafts & a litany of other kid-centric activities to keep them occupied while you explore the area.

Now that you are settled in to your hotel, it is time to go out and discover all that Tucson and its gorgeous surroundings has to offer. With an elevation of more than twice that of the metropolitan Phoenix area, the temperatures tend to be on average 5-7 degrees cooler making the outdoor adventures just a little more bearable.

 3.      Mt. Lemmon/Summerhaven                     10300 Ski Run Rd.

Just a short hour’s drive north east of Tucson lies the playground for Tucsonans looking to cool off. At 8,200 feet in elevation, Summerhaven is truly a breath of fresh air. The village atop the mountain is aptly named with the high temperatures rarely, if ever reaching into the 80’s.There are a couple restaurants and a general store to service the local residents and winter visitors coming to the Ski Valley, the southernmost ski destination in the continental United States. There are several cabins that are available for rent and I personally spent my bachelor party weekend up there and we were snowed in the entire weekend, a great getaway from the hustle & bustle of the city.

 4.      Pima Air & Space Museum/AMARG Boneyard                6000 E. Valencia Rd.

One of the most awe-inspiring things that I have seen is on the southern fringe of Tucson and goes on and on and well, you get the idea. The 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) is a storage facility at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base that “mothballs” planes to store indefinitely or to salvage them later for parts. With over 4,400 aircraft and aerospace vehicles from all branches of the U.S. military and federal agencies such as NASA, this vast collection provides the country with a savings account from which the military can use as they see fit. Bus tours are given Monday – Friday from 9am to 4pm and the cost for touring the Boneyard is $7 each. The Pima Air & Space Museum is one of the largest museums of its kind in the world which consists of five separate hangars, a Museum, a WWII Barracks, a Space Gallery and much, much more.

 5.      San Xavier Del Bac Mission               1950 W. San Xavier Rd.

Staying on the south side of Tucson on the road to Mexico is a National Historic Landmark;The White Dove of the Desert stands out majestically among the desert landscape and serves as a beacon to the Catholic Church. The mission was founded in 1692 by Father Eusebio Kino yet the current building wasn’t built until 1797 when the mission was still part of New Spain. The church is open to the public from 7am to 5pm daily and there is no admission charge to visit the mission. There is a museum on the premises that explains the rich history of the mission with artifacts dating back to the 18th century. Masses are still held every day as well three services on Sunday.

After a long day of sightseeing and exploring the great outdoors in southeastern Arizona, it is now time to head back to the hotel, clean up and get ready for Tucson’s offering of food, wine & FUN. With the University of Arizona so close to downtown Tucson, the 4th Avenue district of college bars and eateries is connected to the hipster downtown locale. In the northern part of the city are upscale areas for those looking for a more refined atmosphere. I have selected one restaurant from both areas as they are both tops in the city.

6.      Maynard’s Market & Kitchen                        400 N. Toole Ave.

Situated at the historic train depot of Tucson is Maynard’s Market & Kitchen, an Über-hip eatery that has garnered several accolades including the cover of Arizona Highways Best Restaurants for 2012. You can choose the dark & intimate seclusion of the 30-seat restaurant or enjoy your meal on the back plaza with the rumble of locomotives against the panoramic backdrop of the Santa Catalina Mountains.

 The Market is chock full of local foods & groceries such as Café Luce coffee, Tucson Tamales & specialty hot sauces. There is a vast wine selection sure to please any wine lover with local Arizona wineries represented. The craft beer selection is second to none and offers many local brewers such as Four Peaks & San Tan Breweries.Fresh soups, pizza & Cuban sandwiches are made daily as well as several grab & go sandwiches. There is a large community table inside the market to hold meetings or smaller tables on the front patio to enjoy the wonderful Arizona day.

 7.  The Grill at Hacienda del Sol Resort    5501 N.  Hacienda del Sol Rd.

For the oenophile or wine enthusiast, The Grill at the Hacienda del Sol Resort has been listed in Wine Spectator’s “Best of” issue for 15 years running and has twice been conferredthe Award of Ultimate Distinction from Wine Enthusiast.No other restaurant or wine bar in Arizona has received that distinction, let alone twice, so if wine is what you are looking for, you cannot do any better than the 2,000 labels and 10,000 bottles in The Grill’s wine cellar.

The Sunday Brunch at The Grill has been chosen year in and year out as the best brunch in Tucson with every food imaginable including omelet, waffle & carving stations with prime rib, ham &duck to name a few. No Sunday brunch would be complete without champagne and The Grill knows how to pamper its guests with complimentary glasses of the bubbly beverage to make your day complete.

 Now that you have enjoyed some of Southern Arizona’s more delectable dishes, it is time to find a bar, but not just any bar, you want to check out what makes Tucson special. It seems that every city is becoming more homogenized with chain restaurants and sports bars that shill the same food and beer that everybody does because the corporate mentality is to quell any originality in the fear of offending the prospective guests’ delicate senses. This bar is the farthest from a corporate bar and does its best to be as non-PC as possible.

8.      The Buffet Bar & Crock Pot                                                                        538 E. 9th St.

The Buffet Bar & Crock Pot or the “Buff” as it is affectionately known is Tucson’s oldest bar that originally opened as a buffet for the Arizona railroad workers. With the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the Buffet began serving alcohol and became a hit. This classic dive bar just east of the 4th Avenue college district and north of downtown is the epitome of what a dive bar should be. The Buffet is the nation’s largest retailer of Coors products with only Coors original & Blue Moon on tap. The jukebox is packed with classic oldies, the pool table only costs a quarter and the shuffleboard is free! If you are wondering about the Crock Pot in the name, it is because they boil hot dogs in beer all day long in the crock pot and serve ‘em up on steamed bun for only $2. Esquire magazine named the Buffet Bar & Crock Pot the “Best Bar in America” in 2011 and I wholeheartedly agree with them as the colorful clientele &dark, cool atmosphere makes me want to return time and again.

Rounding out my Top Ten Tucson Must See & Do are seasonal events, please check to make sure that you are coming during the right time of the year to enjoy these limited time pleasures. Sporting events are unique in that they pull members from all walks of society to make a cross-generational, multi-racial and all around interesting mélangeof people.

 9. Accenture Match Play Golf Championship                                The Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain

Every February, the best in the world of golf descend upon the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain in Marana, approximately 30 minutes north of downtown Tucson. The top 64 golfers according to Official World Golf Rankings are invited to the tournament and are matched in a single elimination tournament resembling the NCAA Basketball tournament except that all matches take place on the same course. This is the social event of the year and Tucsonans swarm the event for its specialized format. For weeks heading into the tournament, the entire metropolitan area buzzes with golf fever. Unlike other regular golf events, golfers are matched and only the remaining 2 golfers vie for the Championship trophy on Sunday. Because of this format and limited golfers, the final day of the tournament is “Follow the Leaders” day where the general public can walk the course and literally follow the leaders through the final hole of the Championship to get the authentic feel that no other tournament can offer.

10. Tucson Padres Baseball                           Tucson Electric Park

There is nothing in the world like Minor League Baseball; the wacky promotions, the ability to see past & future baseball stars and the family atmosphere that can be enjoyed without the exorbitant costs associated with Major League Baseball. From April to September, the boys of summer take the field at the Kino Sports Complex south of the city and put on a great show regardless if they win or lose.

The Triple-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres baseball club, the Tucson Padres are a member of the 16-team Pacific Coast League including affiliates of the Diamondbacks, Dodgers & Giants. The promotions are what make this a must do. Ranging from “Thirsty Thursdays” which offers $1.50 beers to the infamous bat nights (which will never be held in conjunction with Thirsty Thursdays again) to Military Appreciation & “Bark in the Park” wherein all active duty &veterans receive free admission and you can even bring your dog for a $5 donation to the Humane Society and enjoy time in park with your furry friends and family.

This is not an exhaustive list of things to do and see yet only my observations since moving down to Tucson from the Valley five years ago. Be sure to keep an eye out for future Top Ten Tucson articles as I go in-depth looking at all that this fair region has to offer.

Top 10 Breweries in Arizona

With Memorial Day weekend quickly approaching, our minds begin shifting into vacation mode. Whether it is spending time at the lake, the pool, the backyard barbeque or just relaxing on your couch in the cool confines of your home; one thing that truly says vacation to me is the cracking open of an ice cold beer. The world’s most widely consumed alcoholic beverage and the 3rd most consumed beverage behind water and tea, the history of beer can be traced back to the 8th Century in Germany with four simple ingredients: hops, grain, yeast & water. It hasn’t been until recently that beer enthusiasts have had enough of the mass produced, cheap product that was being distributed by the major breweries in Wisconsin& Missouri. Arizonans took it on their own to use better ingredients to make a better beer; whole hops, all-grain barley malts, unique yeast strains and pure water. I am proud to be a self-proclaimed beer snoband have made it my mission as of late to seek out and sample many of the new craft beers that have been popping up all over the place. Being a denizen of the best state in the Union, I have compiled the best breweries in Arizona – drumroll please…

10. Dragoon Brewing Company Tucson http://www.dragoonbrewing.com
This newcomer has been brewing and gearing up for their grand opening for the past 15 months and I had the opportunity to visit their facility for a tasting and I must say that I was blown away. With only 2 beers available for tasting, their India Pale Ale(IPA) was a beauty to behold & savor with an ABV(alcohol content) of 7.5% and 83 IBU(hop content) this beer quickly found its place in my heart.

9. Sonoran Brewing Company Scottsdale http://www.sonoranbrewing.com
Located at the Pinnacle Peak Patio Steakhouse in North Scottsdale, this craft brewery has been churning out some of the state’s best beer since 1996 – the old days in craft brew speak. Their flagships beers the Burning Bird Pale Ale & Desert Amber have long been a staple in my diet of not only great Arizona beers, but great beers period. I recently tried their White Chocolate Ale and although I am usually not a fan of fruit or sweet beers, this was so subtle and left a pleasant after taste that begged me to order another pint.

Sleepy Dog Brewery – Tempe


8. Sleepy Dog Brewery Tempe http://www.sleepydogbrewing.com
Another relative newcomer to the Craft Brew scene, Tempe’s Sleepy Dog Brewery opened up in 2007 right down the street from Arizona State University and immediately had a cult following due to its relative location to another vastly popular brewery – more on them later. Being a parent of two Golden Retrievers myself, I love the dog theme and feel right at home when I am there. Sleepy Dog is a production brewery with an intimate tasting room that boasts sports, music & they even allow you to bring in your own food from elsewhere because they focus on the beer. Thank goodness for that because their beer is phenomenal! Having tasted four of their hand-crafted brews, I am going to have to say that their Wet Snout Milk Stout was my favorite; a dark, rich & creamy stout that fills you up right.

Barrio Brewing Co. in Tucson


7. Gentle Ben’s Brewing Company Tucson http://gentlebens.com
Located basically on the University of Arizona campus, Gentle Ben’s Brewing Company has been brewing award winning beers since 1991 from their original location on University and also at Barrio Brewing Company just west of the downtown area located across from the railroad tracks. I have had the opportunity to try all of their beers but I believe their original to be the best. The Red Cat Amber is super smooth and highly enjoyable; not too hoppy, not too thick – a perfectly balanced beer that hits on all areas but allows all beer style lovers to bask in its refreshing flavor.

Oak Creek Brewery – Sedona


6. Oak Creek Brewing Co. Sedona http://www.oakcreekbrew.com
I love Sedona and I love craft brew so when I found this place while looking for the Red Rock Tours office with my family many years ago, I fell in love and it has been a mainstay and “must visit” for anybody & everybody that visits Sedona and/or Oak Creek Canyon. Their brews have consistently won gold medals from both the North American Brewers’ Association and at the Great American Beer Festival. Their flagship beer and my personal favorite Nut Brown Ale sets the standard for what all nut brown ales should aspire to. The heartiness of the nut flavor comingled with a hint of spice that finishes with a gentle touch of bitter hops that makes this beer a true pioneer in its fieldthat should be savored time and time again.

5. Papago Brewing Scottsdale http://papagobrewing.com/
This popular beer bar has been a mainstay of both the Tempe & Scottsdale crowds due to its proximity in south Scottsdale. The extensive tasting room not only serves its amazing beers but also houses 30 taps as well as nearly 500 different bottled beers from the region, country & the world. Opened in 2001, this brewery has made quite a splash on the craft brew world and is home to one of the few fruit beers that I absolutely cannot do without! The Orange Blossom Wheat Beer is definitely in my TOP 10 favorite beers of ALL TIME. This light American wheat ale has flavors of mandarin oranges and vanilla and once it hits your palate, you’ll be sure to harken back to your youth standing outside the ice cream truck with your bike on the ground savoring your first creamsicle. This experience is exponentially magnified because it is a beer – mmmmm ice cream beer.

Nimbus Brewing – Tucson


4. Nimbus Brewery Tucson http://www.nimbusbeer.com
What began as a small, local brewery in the spring of 1996 has grown into the largest brewery based in Arizona with three 150-barrel fermenters that stand nearly 30 feet tall and holding nearly 5,000 gallons of beer each. The brewery opened up two locations statewide with bistros serving their craft beer and an extensive menu including burgers, brewpub food & wood-fired pizzas. Nimbus beer is renowned throughout the state for its collection of natural beers that derive from the local Tucson groundwater that resembles that of the water found on the Burton in the heart of England. It is that exceptional water that makes their flagship beer, Old Monkey Shine a favorite of true beer enthusiasts. This traditional English Strong Ale is a medium-bodied ale with a dark, roasted flavor derived from seven different malts and brown sugar. This dark beer starts with a touch of sweetness but finishes dry and crisp. Although this beer has an explosive flavor profile that could almost be considered a dessert beer, it packs quite a punch with an ABV content of 8.2%! I assume the name is derived by the deceptiveness of the beer and its effects on the casual beer drinker.

Lumberyard Brewing Co. in Flagstaff


3. Lumberyard Brewing Co. Flagstaff http://www.lumberyardbrewingcompany.com
The owners of Flagstaff’s iconic Beaver Street Brewery & Whistle Stop Café have truly outdone themselves when they restored one of the town’s last standing buildings from the lumber era in 2000 and created the Lumberyard Brewing Company. Two of their beers have been consistently awarded best in class including their Red and IPA. The American Craft Beer Festival has awarded the IPA from Lumberyard Brewing the gold medal two years in a row, which is an amazing feat as it is by far the most popular category with nearly double the entrants of other categories. This American IPA has an ABV of 6.1% and hits 90 on the IBU scale. This copper colored ale is heavier bodied with a high bitterness that is sure to please any & all “hop heads.” The citrus & floral notes with a subtle malt ending make this beer one of the best IPA’s that I have experienced.

SanTan Brewery Chandler


2. SanTan Brewing Company Chandler http://www.santanbrewing.com
Another newcomer to the Arizona craft brew scene that is consistently vying for the top spot for best brewery in Arizona opened up in downtown Chandler in 2007 and hasn’t looked back since. With its dedication to only distributing their beer in cans, SanTan Brewery has established itself as the front runner of the recent canned beer renaissance. Once believed by beer snobs that canning beer was less attractive, SanTan brewers realized that despite its appearance, canning beer was the best way to keep the beer away from harmful lights and temperature to maintain its superior quality & freshness. They are the National sponsor of the Ameri “Can” Beer Festival recently held in Scottsdale that welcomed over 150 local & National canned beers. MensHealth magazine recently named SanTan the best beer in football cities in 32 teams, 32 beers.

Their list of standard & seasonal beers is incredible and I have yet to have a beer there that I didn’t love. My favorite is the Devil’s Ale which is a West Coast Pale Ale that takes its name from the maroon & gold color of the beer and the nearby ASU Sun Devils. It is not only my favorite, but recently received a Gold Medal at the 2011 Great Arizona Beer Festival. Their seasonal beers are a lot of fun and are quite creative with names like Count Hopula Blood Red I.P.A., Sex Panther Double Chocolate Porter & Mr. Pineapple Wheat Fruit Ale.

Four Peaks Brewery – Tempe


1. Four Peaks Brewing Company Tempe http://www.fourpeaks.com
What makes Four Peaks Brewery the best brewery in Arizona? It isn’t just the beer; it’s the atmosphere, the food, the people, the history, the feeling of community that is conveyed to every guest that visits the old Pacific Creamery originally constructed in 1892. The one place that I can truly call my “home brewery” even though I have visited myriad breweries throughout the state, country & yes, the world. While attending college at ASU, there wasn’t a day that went by when I wasn’t at the brewery or enjoying a growler or six pack from “The Peaks,” perhaps that is why it took my 6 ½ years to graduate, but I digress. This is the #1 point of pride in my hometown of Tempe as well as my home state of Arizona and I request, nay require all out of town visitors to visit there and they all fall in love with the place and plan their vacations with a return trip to Four Peaks.

Their eight standard beers are the most rewarded beers in the state and have garnered international acclaim. Most recently, The World Beer Cup awarded Gold Medals to their Sunbru Kölsch Style and Hop Knot India Pale Ale and a Bronze Medal to their 8th Street English Style Ale. While I have enjoyed many a pitcher of their banana & clove flavored HefeWeizen on their patio on a hot summer day and downed numerous pints of the Raj IPA, it is their Scottish Style Ale – Kilt Lifter that has made Four Peaks famous. A strong Scottish Ale that boasts a 6% ABV, amber color, malty sweetness & just a touch of smokiness with a caramel & toffee aroma, this beer is sure to make you hear the legendary sounds of bagpipes playing “Danny Boy” in the background. If there is a singular point to this article, it is “Run, don’t walk, to Four Peaks Brewery.”