Daily Archives: June 9, 2009

Rice’s Ring Roads of the World (say that 5 times fast)


This poster is designed as a sort of calling card for Rice School of Architecture, located in Houston, TX.  It collected ring roads from 27 international cities, including Phoenix, and layered them all at the same scale.   As it turned out, Houston has the largest system of those surveyed.  Beijing was second.

Ambitious downtown Phoenix restaurant plan on the front burner

[Source: Howard Seftel, Arizona Republic] — At a time when the recession is taking a toll on Valley restaurants, a hugely ambitious dining project is coming to downtown Phoenix.  An acclaimed Scottsdale chef and his partners have finalized a deal for a five-restaurant complex.  Bernie Kantak, who for a decade has kept Cowboy Ciao in the foodie spotlight, will house his one-of-a-kind restaurants at 246 S. First St., on the northwestern corner of Jackson Street.  Why downtown?  He’s attracted by lower rents — about half of what he would pay in Old Town Scottsdale, Kantak says — as well as the belief that the area is poised to flourish when the economy turns around.

For more than two decades, Phoenix has been trying to get real nightlife in the heart of the city, and a critical restaurant mass may finally be developing.  Kantak joins two other high-profile chefs who have recently located downtown. Wade Moises left Sassi, a high-end Scottsdale Italian restaurant, to open the Pasta Bar, and Matt Carter (Zinc Bistro, the Mission), is widening his scope with Nine05, a modern Asian restaurant, and Canteen, a gastropub.

Kantak and his partners, whose restaurants target a variety of tastes and budgets, are aiming to open all their doors by the end of the year.  Here’s the line-up for Jackson Street:

  1. It will be a less-pricey version of Cowboy Ciao, showcasing eclectic fare with a Southwestern accent.
  2. Set up in a separate bar area inside Restaurant 1, this down-home spot will offer Southern-comfort fare like barbecue and fried chicken.
  3. Look for an a la carte menu focusing on higher-end beef and seafood at this Italian steakhouse.
  4. Kantak says this rooftop patio will provide a stunning view of downtown Phoenix.  Meanwhile, the vibe will be Latin American, with the spotlight on cocktails, ceviche and tapas.
  5. This basement wine bar, hewed out of river rock, will concentrate on nibbles and drinks. You can expect to enter via a sort of “secret” passageway, perhaps a phony phone booth.

After a spate of closings, it’s refreshing to see such an ambitious project for downtown.  The casualty list includes some of the liveliest, most established independent venues whose demise is shocking dining experts.  Since the end of the year, at least 50 Valley restaurants — and counting –have closed.  Among recent downtown closings were Palatte, Café Labella, Fate, and Sweet Pea Bakery.  On the other hand, several more restaurants have opened downtown, including Vinery Two Fourteen, 214 W. Roosevelt St.; Hanny’s, 40 N. First St.; and Pasta Bar, Sens Asian Tapas and Sake Bar and Turf Restaurant, all in the same building at 705 N. First St.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Light rail contributes to uptown Phoenix’s revival


Cement foundation for new dining area just poured at Hula's Modern Tiki.

[Source: Scott Wong, Arizona Republic] — Phoenix native Dana Mule had spent 15 frustrating months trying to find an ideal spot to open his Hawaiian-inspired eatery when he stumbled upon a funky building along the Central Avenue light-rail line. Mule had been driving for years by the uptown Phoenix structure, which housed Heap Big Beef sandwiches in the 1960s and more recently a flower shop.  As a kid, he had named it after the “Star Wars” spacecraft, Tie Fighter, because of its large iconic hexagonal window.

Now, Mule and his two California business partners are in the midst of a massive $1 million remodel, nearly doubling the size of the building to 2,900 square feet.  The expansion and renovation will allow seating for up to 125, including an indoor bar and outdoor patio area.  “It’s been a helluva process,” said Mule, standing in the shell of what in August will debut as Hula’s Modern Tiki.  “We looked at 50 locations in Phoenix before we found a place we really loved.  This has the soul and character and community-based support that we were looking for.”

Uptown Phoenix, once home to dilapidated strip malls and run-down lots, is enjoying a revival of sorts.  With light rail cutting straight through the central Phoenix district, more than a dozen new businesses have sprouted in the neighborhood near Camelback Road and Central Avenue from coffee shops and restaurants to an organic pet store. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Viewpoint: “Phoenix 101: Lost opportunities”

[Source: Jon Talton, Rogue Columnist] — My chief goal in writing the Phoenix 101 post about the old city was to dispel the notion that “there’s no history here,” spoken by the transplants as they file into the tract houses of their so-called master planned communities.  More, to fight the canard that “Phoenix has no soul.”  Well, maybe now in most places, but it wasn’t always so.  Yet the post was so popular, it seems logical to follow up with a brief history on choices made and opportunities missed.

It’s important to make a distinction.  People have sometimes dismissed my observations with words such as “well, everyplace changes” and “my hometown isn’t the same any more, either.”  At the risk of being pedantic, that’s not my point.  First, while every place changes, it doesn’t necessarily change mostly for the worse.  Cities such as Seattle, Portland, Denver, Charlotte, San Diego and even Oklahoma City have undergone massive changes. Yet they have managed to preserve and revive their center cities, their civic spaces and enhance livability (and they have plenty of suburbs, so Phoenix isn’t special there).  I miss the old railroad yards in downtown Denver –- but what an amazing city it is now.  It’s gotten better.  Second, Phoenix is not just any city — so who cares if it’s no worse than Fresno or Youngstown?  It sold its magic for dross.  And its choices have set the stage for crisis, whether sudden or lingering.

Much was out of the control of Phoenicians and their leaders.  Phoenix grew large after the City Beautiful Movement, so it lacked many great civic spaces; it was a modest farm town during the 1920s, so it had relatively few art deco towers.  Worst of all, it came of age with the automobile, Levittown-style suburbia, and the savage city planning and dehumanizing design ethos of Robert Moses and Le Corbusier.  Still, Phoenix made choices.  It lost opportunities.  Here are a few.  [Note: To read the full blog entry, click here.]