Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Fresh Look at Phoenix: Arizona's Urban Heart

By Cynthia Dial

As a Southern Californian I’ve visited Phoenix, AZ often, but it wasn’t until my last trip that I discovered even more about this great city. My holiday, like many times in the past, included a stay at The Phoenician, dinner at a perennial eatery and a shopping stroll along Old Scottsdale’s Fifth Avenue—all favorites. However, this time was different because it included not only my tried-and-true but also new choices which proved worthwhile and memorable. For those who have never been or are looking for ways to change things up, here’s an easy guide to Arizona’s Urban Heart.

Photo by Cynthia Dial


Things are different in the desert: the sky is bluer, the mountains sharper and the contrasts greater. Perhaps this best explains that though Phoenix is the nation’s sixth largest city, it is anything but a hustle-and-bustle kind of town. Its lifestyle is relaxing, its scenery is radiant and its ambiance is reflective of the quiet serenity of the Southwest. And though civilization seems a world away don’t mistake its beckoning comfort for a lack of worldliness, for it is the hub of sophistication.

Photo by Cynthia Dial
Here you are never far from reminders that the desert lives within the city— arid landscape, scattered cacti and architecture that blends. Surrounded by mountains and the Sonoran Desert, this region is known for its perpetual sunshine.
But it’s known for much more. Phoenix celebrates a plethora of perks: authentic cowboys, panoramic sunsets, fashion-forward shopping, spring-training baseball (15 MLB teams), championship golf courses and palm-tree appointed resorts.


Celebrating its 25th anniversary, the legendary landmark is as inviting today as it was in its beginning—the entrance remains lined with palm trees and its greeting is as warm as the day its doors first opened.
“Good morning on this beautiful day,” greets James Meeks, The Phoenician’s long-time official ambassador. I’m told that Meeks began his hotel career at the resort’s front gate, but that the entrance line became so long with guests seeking lengthy conversations with the hospitable man that he was wisely transferred to the lobby. He’s a tall, imposing gentleman with a baritone voice that resonates throughout the luxurious foyer.  

Photo by Cynthia Dial
The AAA Five-Diamond resort’s pleasures are plentiful: three eateries (Il Terrazzo, J&G Steakhouse, Relish Burger Bistro, plus an Ice Cream Parlor and an afternoon Tea Court), 27 holes of golf, 11 tennis courts, nine pools (some with private cabanas) and a full-service spa—all on 250 manicured acres at the base of Camelback Mountain. 

It is no coincidence that ‘luxury’ is the resort’s common denominator. In 1985 financier and developer Charles Keating envisioned an Arizona resort reflecting the elegance and sophistication of a fine European hotel. His vision became The Phoenician—a resort complete with a white marble lobby (imported stone from Italy), a ceiling etched in 24-karat gold, 11 rare Steinway pianos scattered throughout and lush tropical landscaping created by island workers from the Kingdom of Tonga. 


Known only as the area’s central business district for years, 2013’s downtown embodies the city’s action—Chase Field (baseball), US Airways Arena (basketball and arena football), Phoenix Symphony Hall, hip hotels, trendy eateries, urban residences and a light rail system.

The epicenter seems to be CityScape, the noted hub of dining, nightlife, shopping and business—all within walking distance of the athletic venues. Kimpton’s luxury boutique Hotel Palomar is known for its artistic décor, penchant for pampering and an open-air rooftop pool and bar serving up a 360̊ view of the city. On the hotel’s mezzanine level Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails prides itself on its “gastro-lounge” concept—the pairing of Chef Stephen Jones’ seasonal creations with artisanal wines, craft cocktails and local brews (tip: sample the Shrimp Toast). So hip is this combo that the hotel/restaurant celebrated its one-year anniversary with a huge pillow fight. Nearby Gold’s Gym features Cardio Cinema—the opportunity to work out on cardio equipment while watching full-length feature films. And don’t forget Yoga in the Park at Patriots Square, first Friday Art Walk (one of the country’s largest) and the seasonal ice rink. 

Northeast of Scottsdale is a living memorial to the great American architect Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West. Designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright, he began constructing this sprawling 600-acre complex in 1937 as his personal winter home, studio and architectural campus. The site offers a broad range of guided public tours, giving visitors the up-close-and-personal chance to experience Wright’s ingenious ability to integrate indoor and outdoor spaces.

Dedicating 130,000 square feet of space to Native American history, the Heard Museum showcases artwork, pottery, books, textiles, and jewelry. A standout exhibit is the impressive grouping of Katsina dolls (many from Barry Goldwater’s collection). Originally debuted as a temporary exhibit, the now-permanent Boarding School exposition is spellbinding. “No exhibit at the Heard has received such emotional comment as America's untold story of the U.S. government forcibly removing Indian children from their homes and transferring them to militaristic boarding schools,” states the Heard. Tip: Visit the Heard Store, where the fine quality of merchandise reflects the experience of Director of Sales Bruce McGee, who spent years working in trading posts.

  Photo by Cynthia Dial
The latest to Phoenix’s collection of museums is the Musical Instrument Museum, from the vision of Robert J. Ulrich, chairman emeritus of Target Corporation. Complete with a 300-seat theater for world-class concerts and an Experience Room where you can play rare instruments from different cultures, what most captured my attention was the wireless headset system which allows visitors approaching displays to hear the instruments being played, whether solo or as an ensemble. Among the museum’s prized treasures is John Lennon’s Model Z Steinway on which he composed Imagine, Toby Keith’s American flag guitar and a video of the country star singing Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue to the troops and Taylor Swift’s red Gibson Les Paul electric guitar and gold Robert Cavalli dress from her Speak Now World Tour. 

An iconic eatery, El Chorro, has a rich regional history. Originally built as a girls’ school the adobe structure was converted to a restaurant and lodge in the 1930s; attracted such celebs as Clark Gable, Milton Berle and David Wright (son of Frank Lloyd Wright); significantly expanded and extended the hours to year-around (as opposed to closing in summer, which had been the tradition until 1990). Though known for both atmosphere and food, such as flash-fried lobster tails and buffalo burgers, the Valley’s pleasures of the palate go beyond El Chorro Lodge.

My restaurant revelation, Beckett’s Table, is commandeered by Chef Justin Beckett who presents a selection of hearty Americana favorites—typically with a fun flair. Think selections such as Deep Fried Deviled Eggs, Chicken ‘n’ Dumplings with Herbed Saffron Cream and Chocolate Dipped Bacon S’mores and you’ve got a picture of this culinary scene.

In mythology a Phoenix is a long-lived bird that repeatedly regenerates itself. And in the Southwest the city of Phoenix continues to reinvent itself again and again and again.
To see the published piece on the luxury-driven web site, JustLuxe, go here.

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