Blog Archives

Reviving downtown Phoenix through art

[Source: Michael Tulipan, New York Times] — BOARDED-UP buildings and empty lots in the shadow of office towers hardly seemed a promising foundation for an arts district in rapidly growing Phoenix.  But once-neglected and dangerous Roosevelt Row, on the north side of downtown, turned out to be an irresistible lure for artists looking for cheap spaces in which to live and work.  Galleries, restaurants and a farmers’ market soon followed.

Today, Roosevelt Row is the city’s cutting-edge art destination, full of galleries like Perihelion Arts (610 East Roosevelt Street, No. 137; 602-334-6299) and Eye Lounge (419 East Roosevelt Street; 602-430-1490), which showcase contemporary, often challenging art and performances.  The area is also a popular draw during Phoenix’s monthly First Fridays art walk (

Just as vital to the area’s resurgence is the Downtown Phoenix Public Market (721 North Central Avenue;, founded five years ago by Community Food Connections, a local nonprofit with an ambitious agenda.  “The goals of the market were to increase access to healthy food and create a vibrant gathering space in the heart of the city,” said Cindy Gentry, the organization’s executive director.  Today, the market (open 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays) has over 65 vendors offering local produce, jewelry, herbal remedies and treats like delicious lemon strawberry basil sorbet ($2) from Crave Artisan Ice Cream, a local purveyor.

Last October, the market expanded to include Urban Grocery and Wine Bar (14 East Pierce Street; 602-254-1799), downtown Phoenix’s first grocery store in nearly three decades.  The grocery sells products from many market vendors and features an outpost of Royal Coffee Bar, as well as a wine bar serving Arizona labels (starting at $7 a glass).

For the fashion-minded, Spoken Boutique (610 East Roosevelt Street, No. 148) stocks trendy denim labels like William Rast and Bishop of Seventh, Wet Cement T-shirts and flirty dresses.  Local artists and residents drop into two-year-old Conspire (901 North Fifth Street; 602-237-5446), a laid-back boutique and coffee shop with offerings as diverse as handmade paper, quirky clothing and vegan doughnuts.

The area’s transformation was perhaps best encapsulated by Michael Carbajal, a former boxing champion and local celebrity who grew up on the hardscrabble streets of Roosevelt Row and is now a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame. On a recent night’s visit to the bar at the year-old Asian tapas hot spot Sens (705 North First Street, No. 120; 602-340-9777; Mr. Carbajal spoke about the changes in the neighborhood. “It was rough,” he said, before dropping a shot of sake into his beer and gesturing to the sleek surroundings. “I like it better now. I can come here.”

New restaurant cluster emerging along downtown Phoenix’s Roosevelt St.

[Source: Howard Seftel, Arizona Republic] — A new cluster of restaurants looks poised to bring some energy to yet another part of downtown Phoenix.  This time the location is the stretch along Roosevelt Street between Second and Third Avenues.

There’s Bambino Bistro, formerly Vinery 214. Chef/owner Leonard Jay threw in the towel on Vinery’s small-plate concept — the neighborhood didn’t get it, he says with a sigh.  Now, armed with a new name and concept, the restaurant features sandwiches built around three kinds of homemade flatbread; from-scratch pasta; wood-fired, brick-oven pizza; burgers; mussels; and several off-beat specials… Bambino Bistro is a cute spot that could turn out to be a neighborhood sleeper.  Jay, meanwhile, is determined: “We’ve made a commitment to the community,” he says.  “No matter what it takes, we’re going to be here.”

A few feet down the block is Lola Coffee, the second branch of Daniel Wayne’s hip coffeehouse.  (The original is at 4700 N. Central Avenue, just south of Camelback Road.)  It opened Dec. 18 in the remodeled circa 1925 Gold Spot Market building.  Why here? “Downtown is finally ready,” Wayne says, pointing to the growing number of neighborhood residents.  He’s roasting his coffee beans and baking pastries on the premises.

Finally, the 10th Valley branch of Pita Jungle is coming to the same building as Lola Coffee.  It’s scheduled to open by the end of March.

By my count, the area bounded by Fourth Avenue on the west and Fourth Street on the east, and Roosevelt and Fillmore Streets on the north and south, is now home to 10 new places in the past year.  Along with Bambino Bistro, Lola Coffee and Pita Jungle, the list includes Nine 05, Local Breeze, Pasta Bar, Sens, Turf Restaurant & Pub, Moira Sushi and Phoenix Public Market Urban Grocery and Wine Bar.  And several more restaurants are on the way.  [Note: To read the full article, visit New restaurant cluster emerging along downtown Phoenix’s Roosevelt St.]

Viewpoint: downtown Phoenix businesses finally scoring

[Source: Arizona Republic editorial board] — A bit more than a year ago, downtown Phoenix business owners wondered out loud where all the Arizona State University students were.  There may have been more than 8,000 registered for classes downtown, they said, but they weren’t showing up in their shops and restaurants.  One year later… check that concern.  Parts of downtown, particularly the region north of the downtown ASU campus, are being overrun with Sun Devils.  Or perhaps it is simply young people in general. Whoever these kids are, they are beginning to swarm throughout central Phoenix in impressive numbers at last.

The most notable demonstration of the blossoming of the central city continues to be the First Friday events, of course.  On Nov. 5, the city closed off East Roosevelt from North Central Avenue to Seventh Street to traffic for the first time, allowing the throngs of attendees to overflow the streets without fear of automobiles.

The growing First Friday crowds and the widening ASU footprint have attracted entrepreneurs like Kyle Simone and Jeff Mann to open shops like their Phoenicia Association, a combination men’s clothier and art gallery.  The youth traffic persuaded restaurateur Wade Moises to open the popular PastaBAR at First Street and Pierce Street, in the same building with Sens Asian Tapas and the now popular Irish bar Turf.  [Note: Read the full article at Viewpoint: downtown Phoenix businesses finally scoring.]

RadiatePHX to discuss downtown Phoenix marketing efforts

radiatephxRadiatePHX invites you to meet Patty Johnson as she shares Mayor Phil Gordon’s marketing efforts underway to promote downtown Phoenix:

  • Date: Tuesday, February 24
  • Time: 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
  • Place: Sens Asian Tapas & Sake Bar, 705 N. 1st St., #120 (between McKinley and Pierce)
  • RadiatePhx specials will be available.  To RSVP, click here

RadiatePHX is a non-traditional networking group that meets once a month to support smart growth in our emerging city.  It is intended to be an informal and fun forum for connecting people, ideas, and vision.  The goal is to encourage spirited and stimulating dialogue around Phoenix’s emerging urban culture.

Dining sales in downtown Phoenix picking up, says Partnership

[Source: Lynn Ducey, Phoenix Business Journal] — Sales at bars and restaurants in the downtown business district were up 5.4% through September, according to a report just released by the Downtown Phoenix Partnership.  From January through September 2008, sales at downtown bars and restaurants totaled more than $194 million, compared with $183 million during the same period in 2007, according to the report.   “Bars and restaurants are a leading indicator of any type of redevelopment activity,” said Dave Roderique, president and CEO of the nonprofit partnership, which represents businesses within the 90-square-block downtown area.  “I think this is a very positive sign for downtown.”

Downtown Phoenix Partnership research indicates 29 new bars and restaurants opened between January and September, including Bar Smith, Sonoma Grill, Sens, and ZPizza, and eight others were under construction. The study also shows 14 restaurants closed during that period, including 101 Bistro and Circa 1900.

Restaurateur to open 3rd operation in downtown Phoenix vintage building

[Source: Richard Ruelas, Arizona Republic] — Five years ago, people thought Johnny Chu was nuts to close down his successful Tempe restaurant and open one in downtown Phoenix.  “A lot of investors dropped out,” Chu said, including a member of his own family.  “My uncle tried to talk me out of it.”  But Chu’s investment in Phoenix’s city center has paid off.  And he has doubled down, opening two more spots within the same square mile.  “Downtown has grown faster than I expected it,” he said, touring his new place, Sens, an Asian tapas and sake bar that opens early next month.

Sens joins Chu’s original downtown Phoenix restaurant, Fate, and the outdoor martini bar adjacent to Fate called Next Door.  All three bring a much-needed pulse to the heart of the nation’s fifth-largest city.  “It’s been asleep for 22 years.  Up until 2005, nobody would be walking at night,” Chu said.  His wife, Linda, added, “They’d run.”

All three Chu restaurants have opened in what had been abandoned buildings. Fate took over a brick house along Fourth Street, just south of Roosevelt Street.  Next Door took the plywood off the windows at the house next door.  Sens takes a spot in what used to be a business plaza hidden behind thick wrought-iron gates.  They’re the kinds of buildings people pass every day, without a thought to their potential.  “You really don’t pay attention to the beauty,” Chu said. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]