I was finally starting to de-stress on the drive to Phoenix. We only had one more night before we arrived and that meant only one more night that Lucy had to be packed to the gills. She was hurting; I could hear it every time I pushed the gas pedal. Beyond being a weirdo who personifies his car, I was actually terrified she was going to die along the way and I would be SOL in California where you really need a car.
This leg of the drive was different for a few reasons. As I said, I was in high spirits. We were driving to a place where we had not initially planned to be so we had no idea what to expect and we booked the hotel on the drive so we had no real idea of what it was around or how nice it would be.
Sometimes it works out to be last minute. For example, I was flying to New York once and kept putting off booking my flight. Finally the Tuesday before I was supposed to leave I booked a round trip flight from Chicago to New York for $179. I don’t recommend it, but it can work out in your favor.
The drive wore on and what was supposed to be seven hours seemed like it was taking days. This again wasn’t helped by the fact that we were driving through barren desert. There are two routes off of I-40 to get to Phoenix. One is a straight shot through Flagstaff and down. It is roughly 50 miles longer, but the other route goes through the middle of nowhere.
We chose Flagstaff and damn were we happy we did. With two hours left, we pulled into the mountain town not realizing that Flagstaff was a mountain town. It is rather beautiful. The air is fresher; the green pines surround you and are comforting after a long desert drive. This type of terrain is definitely more in my wheelhouse. If I ever get rich and famous, or just rich, I will absolutely own a mountain home.
We camped out for an hour and ate food while we enjoyed the scenery. If you are one of those people who drives straight through to your destination, just once try to stop and smell the roses. But this tale isn’t about Flagstaff (even though Flagstaff was so much better than Phoenix), this is about Phoenix.
Season 1 Episode 4 (of 4): “We’re Almost There, Let’s Get Drunk”
“How big is Phoenix?” My sister asked as we sat in traffic. We arrived at rush hour.
“I don’t know.”
“Take a guess.” She pulled out her phone to check,
“Okay, I guess I’d say around 300,000.” I thought this was an adequate guess.
“I’ll go for 500,000. Let’s see,” she trailed off slowly as she pulled up the figures. “Oh fuck not even close.”
“What is it?” I asked, now very intrigued.
“Just under 1.5 million.”
We were booked for the Westin in downtown Phoenix and after realizing we knew jack shit about the city we hoped we had picked a good spot, but a Westin, how can you go wrong?
We hadn’t. This place was a fucking palace.
The bathroom was as big as my old apartment. The room featured two plush queens and a large flat screen. Don’t even get me started on the views. From the 14th floor facing east, we could see for miles. A storm happened to be raging a few miles away and the lightening was majestic.
We showered and prepped for the evening. I am always exhausted after a long drive, but I had to rally. We decided to hit the downstairs bar first for a beer and get a recommendation for the rest of our night. As it turns out Phoenix has a burgeoning hipster demographic and there are some really neat places around.
Nick, our hotel bartender was a delight. He served us our beer and food and recommended two places that sounded perfect for us. The first was a basement bar in an alley that had a stage for small concerts and solid cocktails. We hit that first. The second bar featured dueling DJs that played old school hip-hop on Friday nights with a backdrop of ‘90s movies. Yep, we were sold. We paid and left for the first bar.
When someone tells you to go down a random alley and then down a dark stairwell in a city you’ve never been too, do it. What you will find is a creative little bar that is perfect for a date night or a chill night out with friends. Valley Bar has craft cocktails, a solid beer list and my personal favorite, Hamm’s. Never heard of it? Look it up. Around the top of the bar is a white cloth. Behind it are spotlight and mobiles that spin and cast shadows on the white cloth. However, these mobiles are full of slightly disturbing images such as knives and guns.
A nice man came up to us shortly after we procured our drinks and told us he was a preacher. Although we totally would have bought that as he was wearing all black with a short-sleeved button-up shirt, he was not sadly. But he talked us up, confused us for a coupled multiple times and then welcomed us to Phoenix with a list of other bars we should try.
He left us to play Cards Against Humanity.
We returned to the bar to for another drink. I of course ordered and then Instagrammed a Hamm’s. My sister went for a different, named for a Phoenix politician, cocktail.
There is something about taking in a new environment from the comfort of a barstool. Some people love it while others hate it. Unfortunately my sister and I are on opposite sides of that debate.
We left for…
After a five dollar cover, (which was bullshit), we ordered some beers and went to the backroom where the DJs were going at it. From the Westin bartender’s recommendation, we expected to see a screening of Rush Hour or some other Chris Tucker film. Instead, we were greeted by the Blaxploitation film, Black Samson. It was weird and not pleasant.
The DJs were spinning as promised, hitting all the ‘90s classic hip-hop hits. The music made the atmosphere dance-y and light, but the film didn’t match that and brought the vibe down. The room was also a little odd. You sit on four large steps and watch or listen while people dance on the open floor in front of you. The room doesn’t scream inviting.
After one beer we were back to the hotel to join Nick for another drink. He was there waiting to hear about our night and our lament of having left Valley Bar in the first place. We ordered a few more beers and were hit with the rough news that the kitchen was closed. Thank goodness for Papa John’s.
With two more beers and a pizza on the way we retired to our majestic hotel room. When the pizza arrived I rushed downstairs and we devoured most of it. The rest would be my breakfast in the morning.
It was luckily not a repeat of Nashville, and I was geared up for the drive without a hangover. We again drove through barren desert, but it was in California so it made up for it.
On our way out of town we stopped at a small farmers market for a taste of the local fare. We found fantastic coffee, homemade almond butter, pickled mushrooms and delicious spices. Because I am poor, I purchased nothing, but it was a quaint little place that was a good ending to our trip.
From there it was five hours to our destination and my new home.
Thanks for joining me on the journey and if you haven’t read parts 1, 2 or 3, take a look and find out how to travel across America with style: read part one, Nashville, here; part two, Oklahoma, here, part three, Santa Fe, here. By Steve Pipps
Steve Pipps is a frequent contributor to Step On magazine. He enjoys writing for both the screen and TV (when he’s not travelling all over the U.S. in search of a bar without a bullshit cover. – Ed. note) Follow him on Twitter or check out his website.