Living in the land of beige and urban sprawl, Phoenicians have a sometimes curious way of defining urban. I have occasionally heard people refer to Desert Ridge and Tempe Market Place as an urban shopping atmosphere. Really? Kierland and City North are quasi-urban shopping centers. You can park your car and easily walk to all the stores and shops. Still, they are in the suburbs and you have to drive a long way to get there.

Even in downtown Phoenix there are a range of examples of what I call urban and what smacks of suburban sensibilities. Mixed-use, economy of size and pedestrian accessibility are ways in which I define urban.

Seamus McCaffrey’s is practically a downtown landmark and a great example of an urban pub. The owners recently opened a new place a little further north called Turf. I don’t quite get Turf. I recently went to a chain bar/restaurant in the “burbs” that had a very similar feel. It was big and open and, unfortunately, a little generic. Maybe it needs a little more time to develop some character but they’re not off to a great start.

Right next door is Johnny Chu’s (Fate) new place Sens. It is small, beautifully designed and, in my opinion, has a very urban feel. Johnny gets it. It reminded me in look and feel of places I’ve been in New York.

Another person who gets it is Josh Parry, the owner of Side Bar. It definitely helps that Side Bar is located on the second floor of a historic red brick building. You walk in the side door, go up the stairs and suddenly you feel like you are in a real urban bar. I’m not a huge fan of chains, but that building with Pei Wei and Starbuck’s is a wonderfully restored square of urbanity.

The light rail has definitely created a way for urban sensibilities to creep into the minds of suburban-minded Phoenicians. On several occasions I have hopped on the rail to go to Mill Ave. for a bite or some function. Linking downtown Phoenix an Mill Ave. was a brilliant move since neither downtown offers a complete urban experience but together they can.

So why do I go to Tempe instead of supporting Phoenix businesses? It’s quite simple. There are only a handful of businesses that stay open past 5 in Phoenix and all of them stay open on Mill Ave.

So take note Phoenix businesses. If you stay open, they will come. But only if you are consistent about it and let people know. Give it some time. I live downtown and hesitate to go to places if I’m not sure they’ll be open. There’s nothing worse than getting hungry for something and then getting to the place and finding it closed.

  • Just checked out Side Bar over the weekend and it truly is and urban spot. You get the sense of being whisked away to a unfamiliar metropolis.