Story and images by Ed Salvato; above hikers tackling Camelback Mountain
Phoenix is a sprawling city — the nation’s fifth largest — a collection of palm tree-studded cities and towns ringed by mountains, where a car is in indispensable necessity. The similarities to Los Angeles are striking, right down to analogous municipalities, including exclusive Paradise Valley, Phoenix’s Bel Air, and tony Scottsdale, its Beverly Hills.
Despite the controversial new immigration law scheduled to take effect this summer, it’s impossible to paint the area with the broad brushstroke of intolerance. Phoenix boasts a thriving community of LGBT residents and remains a warm and welcoming destination for gay and lesbian visitors. The population of Arizona is approximately 30% Hispanic, a group that depends heavily on tourism for employment. The other 70% is incredibly diverse ranging from bona fide desert cowboys to hippy-dippy energy healers in Sedona. As one of the last bastions of the U.S. West with these intriguing contradictions, Phoenix is well worth a visit.
With gays and lesbians living throughout the vast metropolis, there’s not a single defined gayborhood, though there are nearly three dozen bars and clubs catering to queers, with a concentration of businesses along 7th Ave in central Phoenix. Fez, offering American cuisine with a Moroccan flair, is a popular restaurant near Central Ave. Amsterdam in downtown Phoenix is the happening weekend club attracting a range of gays and lesbians.
The more residential-feeling Scottsdale, home to some of the nicest resorts and hotels in the city, has two dance bars, charming BS West tucked into Old Town Scottsdale with its fun drag shows and Forbidden, also in Old Town, which attracts a younger crowd. Phoenix Gay Pride takes pace in April to avoid the much hotter summer weather, and is a terrific time to visit.
See the stunning new Musical Instrument Museum, with its collection of 12,000 (and counting) instruments from around the world and Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden, a huge outdoor park for a better understanding of this sometimes extreme environment. Climb Camelback Mountain, which resembles, not surprisingly, a supine dromedary. Go early to avoid both crowds and heat. A truly magical experience is an evening stargazing Hummer tour with Stellar Adventures. You haven’t really experienced the stars till you’ve seen the rings and moons of Saturn, a billion miles away, with your own eye. (Photo right: entrance of Musical Instrument Museum.)
Paradise Valley’s InterContinental Montelucia, the brand’s only resort property offers excellent service, gorgeous architecture and surroundings, great amenities, and views of Camelback Mountain. In Scottsdale, the Hotel Valley Ho, originally opened in 1956 as a motor court-style hotel, re-opened after an $80 million renovation on its anniversary in 2005 as a hip urban hotel that pays homage to its mid-Century Modernist roots. The hotel is located at the edge of Old Town Scottsdale with its restaurants, shopping and Artwalk the first Friday of each month. (Photo left: view of Camelback Mountain from room 125 at the InterContinental Montelucia.)
Phoenix considers itself a foody city and in that vein offers a range of topnotch restaurants representing a wide variety of cuisines from American to French to Mexican and many others. Prado at the Montelucia (above) offers Italian and Mediterranean cuisine with an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients. For a casual lunch, join the shoppers and local business people at Zinburger, a locally-owned burger and shake joint with a contemporary feel in a popular upscale mall. The same owners opened Culinary Dropout, a hip dining and drinking hotspot along Scottsdale’s developing canal-front area. It’s a short walk to BS West (see above) from here for a gay after-dinner nightcap.
La Petite Maison in Old Town Scottsdale is an authentic French bistro restaurant with a limited menu of beautifully presented traditional French selections. Located in upscale Paradise Valley, El Chorro Lodge (a restaurant actually, not a hotel) at first blush seems a bit stuffy. However, the atmosphere is actually quite warm, and the food is consistently good and fresh.
Finish your night at Elements at Sanctuary, an outdoor bar/bistro/lounge for incredible views of Paradise Valley and its surrounding mountains, to engage in some star gazing, or to simply relish the discovery of this city’s surprisingly rich offerings.