Literary City Guide | PHOENIX, ARIZONA
Tour Guide: CHRISTINE K. BAILEY
Originally from Chicago, Christine K. Bailey adopted Phoenix, Arizona as her new home where she regularly explores, writes and indulges in the delicious weather with her husband and two sons. She loves Arizona, travel, coffee, local businesses and startups, meeting new people and discovering new things to see and do. In her latest book, “100 Things to Do in Phoenix Before You Die,” she shares some of the best things to see and do in what locals appropriately call the Valley of the Sun. .
Relationship to Phoenix: 16-year resident
Writer you’d like to invite to dinner: Samuel Clemens AKA Mark Twain
Chef you’d like to prepare the meal: Gordon Ramsey
Writing soundtrack: Depends on the mood; but, today my playlist, which I named Be Unreasonable, is an amalgamation of everything from Al Green to Avicii.
Pen or Pencil: Pen
Coffee or Tea? Coffee to start my day and tea to close it out
Paperback or Hardback? Paperback
Changing Hands (Tempe). This 40-plus-year-old indie bookstore is tucked away in a strip mall in south Tempe, it offers a cozy place to explore both new and used books. The store is nestled alongside another local favorite – Wildflower Bread Company. Make a morning of it – an early breakfast and when the bookstore opens at 10a wander into Changing Hands (Scottsdale). Grab the monthly event newsletter on your way in where you’ll find a list of events for New York Times Best-selling authors like Elizabeth Gilbert.
Poisoned Pen Bookstore. Found in the Marshall Arts District in downtown Scottsdale, this shop specializes in mysteries, but sells fiction of all kinds–mysteries, thrillers, Westerns, fantasy, historical and literary fiction. You can often pick up autographed copies of books by local novelists like Diana Gabaldon and Kevin Hearne.
Bookman’s Entertainment Exchange (Phoenix). Located in northwest Phoenix and in Mesa, Bookman’s offers the largest selection of used books stuffed into a rabbit warren of towering stacks, complete with an on-site coffee shop. You’ll also find games (many from your childhood). They trade, too – so bring your old books for a chance to sell or trade for a few new ones. You can also trade, buy and sell music, video games and even musical instruments.
First Draft Book Bar (Phoenix). This is Changing Hands’ latest venture. About a block west of Central Avenue in central Phoenix, this new space is part bookstore and part bar, serving coffee, wine, beer and food from local makers like Four Peaks Brewery. A great place to browse books, grab a beer or grab a seat beside the big, beautiful fireplace and settle in with a latte and a book or your laptop.
Burton Barr Central Library (Phoenix). This central Phoenix branch may not be as large as some other city libraries across the country, but the five-story, 280,000-square-foot building does house some cool artifacts (in addition to all of those books) worthy of exploration – chief among them Shakespeare’s second and fourth folios, an illuminated manuscript, and a page out of the Gutenberg Bible (all three can be found in the Rare Book Room) and the papers of Rough Rider James H. McClintock (after whom Phoenix streets and schools have been named) in the Arizona Room. It’s a great place to settle in for a day of writing, research or reading.
City of Tempe Public Library. The library and its Connections Café create a community feel, plus you can get free wi-fi, a cup of coffee and a muffin and plug in your laptop while you write. They also have an interesting set of classes, workshops and author talks hosted by the Friends of the Tempe Public Library.
Scottsdale Public Library (Scottsdale). In the heart of central Scottsdale, this library offers a number of great community events including author talks and book signings and family-friendly events.
Chandler Downtown Public Library. A short walk from Peixoto, Chandler’s library is a modern affair with a coffee shop off of its lobby and a series of small meeting rooms you can reserve – they’re great for book clubs and writing critique groups.
READINGS & CONFERENCES
Changing Hands. This bookstore regularly brings in local and national bestselling authors – from celebrities like Ozzy Osbourne to politicians like Barak Obama (when he was still a senator from Chicago) to Young Adult favorites like Rick Riordan and adventure writers such as Clive Cussler. The events are often so popular they are hosted in high school auditoriums in the area, and can bring upwards of 500 people. The store also hosts book clubs, family-friendly events and writing workshops by local experts and authors.
Poisoned Pen Bookstore. Poisoned Pen hosts regular book talks with local and national writers at its store and in the surrounding community, and has hosted the likes of mystery writer Dennis Lehane for an evening Q&A and an afternoon tea with novelist Fiona Barton.
Desert Nights, Rising Stars (Tempe). An annual writers conference hosted at Arizona State University in the Historic Quarter of its Tempe Campus. The event has featured well-known authors from around the country, including several who make and/or have made Arizona their home, including sci-fi/fantasy writer Michael Stackpole, crime writer James Sallis, novelists Jewell Parker Rhodes and Betty Webb, and short-story specialist Ron Carlson. Every February, fledgling and published writers come together for three days to learn from some of the best authors, agents and industry experts for readings, workshops and sessions packed with tips, suggestions and personal stories of struggles and successes from some of their favorite authors.
Rula Bula (Tempe). You may see a few books on the shelves above the bar in Rula Bula, an Irish pub on Mill Avenue in Tempe. The books are written by Arizona native and novelist Kevin Hearne who not only writes in the pub, but also features it in his books.
Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West. This museum showcases art and works that celebrate the West, and often hosts book talks and signings with experts who write about the West and its famous and infamous characters.
Books & More. Located at the Heard Museum which celebrates the Native art and culture of the American Indian communities, Books & More carries a unique array of books about American Indian and Southwest art, cooking and children’s books and gifts.
Billie Jane Baguley Library and Archives. Also at the Heard Museum, this research facility offers encyclopedic insight into almost 25,000 American Indian artists. It’s open to the public, but appointments are recommended.
Chocolate Affaire. A delicious weekend packed with all kinds of chocolate delicacies is an annual event in nearby Glendale celebrating all things romantic. It’s also become the Southwest’s largest gathering of romance writers. The event showcases an impressive line-up of writers signing books and offering workshops and classes.
Cartel Coffee (Tempe). Tucked in one of the historic neighborhoods west of the Arizona State University’s campus, Cartel Coffee started out as a tiny little place with a few tables. It has since expanded into a warehouse-esque space with a coffee bar, high top tables, couches and workspace to plug in and recharge both your laptop and your body. Sweet treats are provided daily by the Café at Phoenix Public Market. Also check out Cartel locations in Phoenix, Scottsdale and Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.
Matt’s Big Breakfast. Home to the best pancakes in town. You’ll also find a pile of delicious bacon next to these butter-smeared cakes in this tiny downtown restaurant that often has a crowd of people waiting to be seated. It will be worth your wait.
La Grande Orange. Located in the shadow of Camelback Mountain (named thus because it really does look like a reclining camel) is one of my favorites. Known locally as LGO, the bustle of activity and cacophony of shouted orders (both food and coffee) is a little a jolt of caffeine in your veins in the morning. Wander past the coffee counter into the back room (where they serve pizza in the evenings) and you’ll find plenty of space (and a quieter place) to settle in and enjoy that latte and commuter sandwich (bacon, eggs, avocado on the biggest English muffin you’ve ever seen). In the warmer weather the floor to ceiling arcadia doors open out into the surrounding Arcadia neighborhood.
Peixoto Coffee (Chandler). Peixoto supplies their rich, delicious Brazilian coffee to restaurants and coffee shops across the Valley. But, to get a taste of this generations-old tradition in its purest form, stop into this warm, cozy coffee lounge as dark and inviting as its coffee. Grab a seat at the bar and when it’s slower the talented baristas can share their vast knowledge about everything from pour overs to their on-tap nitro brew (order it with a dollop of gelato for a special treat). It gets packed sometimes, but somehow there always seems to be a free seat just waiting for you.
Steve’s Espresso (Tempe). Steve’s serves delicious teas and coffee; and their standard coffee is not of the drip variety, instead it’s French press. Steve’s is off the grid. You won’t find a website, and they pride themselves on the fact that they don’t have any wi-fi, which means good quality writing time without any distractions.
A PROPER MEAL
Cafe Barrio. The colors, textures, scents, sounds and tastes at Café Barrio, a Sonora Mexico-inspired restaurant in South Phoenix piques the senses. The live music, house margaritas and guacamole made table-side are only a few of my favorite things, but, the pumpkin seed, pomegranate, cheese and chicken stuffed chile en nogada may very well take top prize.
Phoenix Public Market. Café at Phoenix Public Market in the Roosevelt Row District (known locally as RoRo) of downtown Phoenix is what urban dining is all about. The café is located in a refurbished brick building adjacent to what was once a dirt lot hosting one of the city’s most popular farmers’ markets. Just off of the light rail stop at Central and Roosevelt, this bustling restaurant features local ingredients in their mouth-watering dishes (the very colorful Taste the Rainbow salad, agave syrup- and walnut-laden chickpea (yes, chickpea) pancakes, and house-baked pork chile verde pot pie are only a few of them. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you can grab a cappuccino in the morning made with Arizona favorite Cartel coffee and later a glass of wine or mug of beer from some of Arizona’s favorite makers.
Pizzeria Bianco. Chef Chris Bianco is the 2003 winner of the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest. His pizzeria is THE place that unexpectedly put Phoenix on the pizza map–right in the heart of downtown Phoenix at Science and Heritage Park. You can also visit their location on Camelback and 22nd Street in the Biltmore area.
Four Peaks Brewery. Four Peaks recently signed that once-in-a-lifetime deal with the Kings of Beer, but before it joined the ranks of nationally-distributed microbrews, it started out as hometown favorite in an old creamery building in Tempe. The beer, which will soon be found in bars and stores across the U.S. is made in the building (you can take a tour), and served on tap and paired quite nicely with a menu that is both delectable and eclectic–think fish and chips and carne asada–and both are equally as good.
Kitchen 56. An Arcadia neighborhood bar and restaurant set in a 1960s-era gas station, it offers a cozy and well-lit patio, an indoor/outdoor bar, and a wood fire grill filled with chunks of cherry and mesquite logs that ignite the senses and remind us all what Arizona is all about – outdoor living. Serving wood-fired pizzas, burgers, salads, and comfort food like cheddar bacon mac and cheese and skillet pot pie. Open for lunch, dinner and brunch on weekends. Whatever you order for brunch – enjoy a side of grilled toast.
Durant’s. A decades-old tradition in downtown Phoenix. While much of the city has been razed, refurbished or redecorated over the years, Durant’s has stayed with the same feel– red leather booths and dark interior–it had when the city’s movers and shakers were smoking cigars and sipping manhattans back in the 1950s. But, it works for what is probably the best steakhouse in town. Stop by for lunch or dinner–the food is delicious and the service flawless, and save room for dessert. Don’t bother looking for the front door (somewhere off of Central Avenue). Locals know you come in through the kitchen in the back.
Don't miss the honey vanilla latte at Giant Coffee in central Phoenix.
Fresh-made bread from MJ Bread and a red velvet cupcake from Tammie Coe Cakes at the little wife-husband bakery in the Roosevelt Row District of downtown Phoenix.
A chocolate chip scone from Steve’s Espresso – these babies are made fresh, on-site. Sometimes you can smell them baking. Yum!
Try a corn cookie from the bakery case at the Café at Phoenix Public Market (or anything there really). No really, they’re good.
CHRISTINE's 5 Favorites
1. Favorite bookstore: I love taking my two boys to Changing Hands in Tempe. We like to ask the staff for recommendations. They’re so knowledgeable; we always discover new authors to explore and books to read.
2. Favorite place to write: Gold Bar Espresso, a coffee shop just around the corner from our house in Tempe, with dim lights, walls covered with works by local artists, and nooks and crannies that remind me of an old library where I can hide away by myself – I’ve written most of all four of my books there.
3. Favorite museum: The Phoenix Art Museum in central Phoenix. There is a beautiful courtyard and sculpture garden; it provides a peaceful reprieve from the bustle of the city.
4. Favorite coffee shop: Giant Coffee in central Phoenix has these floor to ceiling arcadia doors that fold back and when the weather is nice (most of the year) they’re wide open letting all of the sunshine and warmth inside – a perfect place to wake up with a cup of joe (or their delicious honey vanilla latte).
5. Favorite thing about Phoenix: Its weather and its adolescence. Despite the fact that Phoenix is the 6th largest city in the U.S., it’s still fairly young. Watching it evolve from a tourist hot-spot into a thriving metropolitan city is an exciting experience.