Phoenix is Rising From the Ashes

Posted by Diane Penwill in Uncategorized

Article appeared in the Globe and Mail

Phoenix is Rising From the Ashes

Phoenix, Arizona

Metropolitan Phoenix, aptly nicknamed “The Valley of the Sun,” has been experiencing an urban revival. The moniker was coined in the 1930’s to boost the first wave of tourism and the name stuck. A building boom in the 1990’s created increased gentrification and a transformation over the next decade in the downtown core, bringing a new wave of tourists and Phoenicians interested in urban attractions. The city that, in spite of its colourful history, always longed to be like others, is now justifiably proud of itself. Like the mythical bird the city was named after, a symbol of renewal, Phoenix is indeed rising once again.

The saguaro-studded blocks north & south of Portland Street are home to many small restaurants, bars, coffee houses, artist studios, galleries, music venues, boutique clothing stores, bike shops and two lively markets. It’s hard to find a public space or building which has remained mural-free in the once-scruffy Roosevelt Row Arts District (RoRo), which has been credited with helping transform downtown Phoenix. The vibrant paint colours, made blinding by the intense sunshine, depict themes whimsical and abstract, trompe l’oeil or optical illusion — it’s easy to get distracted, so keep your itinerary loose.

The align%3DleD:RE, which opened in October 2016, is perfectly situated in the cultural heart of downtown Phoenix. At the intersection of Portland Street and Central Avenue, beside Portland Park and a light rail station, it’s close to attractions like Roosevelt Row, the Phoenix Art Museum, the Heard Museum, the Arizona Opera, the downtown campus of the University of Arizona and convention centres. In the former Lexington Hotel, this 105-room boutique hotel combines high-end, reclaimed warehouse furnishings with a playful, art-filled environment. FOUND:RE and its Cultural Curator Michael Oleskow, have done an exceptional job of sourcing contemporary Arizona art to complement the local art scene and feature a new artist every month in The Studio. A nude, wigged Burt Reynolds languishes on an outsized mural behind the front desk. The heated outdoor pool and bar area becomes a funky party space with a plastic green Tyrannosaurus Rex cut-out, real palm trees and a large mural of a 1950’s beach scene.

Cast-iron metalwork details throughout the rooms enhance the industrial chic vibe in chandeliers, doors and tables. Rooms have high, exposed ceilings, concrete floors with custom area rugs, platform floating beds and period wallpaper. Balconies with modern sofas allow visitors to watch the sun rise and set behind the mountains surrounding the city. Tim Sprague, of Habitat Metro, is the local developer behind the FOUND:RE hotel, Portland on the Park and Portland Place, luxury condos built to accommodate a condo boom, although the FOUND:RE is their flagship property. Tim says, “The FOUND:RE completes our vision of transforming Portland Street back into the gem of downtown Phoenix it once was.”

Phoenix’s heyday was the Art Deco era. A two-hour walk from the hotel becomes an architectural tour — Deco-inspired public buildings include the Hotel San Carlos, the Luhrs Building, Phoenix City Hall and the Westward Ho. The DeSoto Public Market was built in 1928 and renovated in 2014. The Hotel San Carlos, a favorite getaway for Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant and Clark Gable escaping paparazzi in Los Angeles, it remains virtually unchanged since the 1930’s. The Hilton Garden Inn, a renovated bank building, was the location for the opening scene of the movie “Psycho”. The Luhrs Building was known for its wild parties during the Prohibition era. John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan have both stayed at The Westward Ho, a hotel built in 1928 and closed in 1980, which now provides affordable housing to the elderly.

Downtown Phoenix’s vitality owes much to its colourful past – and the vision of local entrepreneurs, artists and developers such as those behind FOUNDRE:RE, who are building a strong foundation to attract Phoenicians, new residents and savvy tourists. Like the desert that surrounds Phoenix, it seems the future of this human-scaled city is limitles—8187319p;

Eat and Drink


MATCH Restaurant

FOUND:RE Hotel’s MATCH restaurant is an expansive space, with a patio, and a menu of shareable plates inspired by global street food, with a commitment to local sourcing. Executive Chef Matthew Hobbs takes advantage of a wood-fired grill and a Forno Bravo wood oven. Beverages include local Arizona and international wines, Arizona craft beers and cocktails.


1100 N. Central Ave., Phoenix.



Tom’s Tavern


A landmark restaurant and bar in downtown Phoenix, originally opened in 1929 and a gathering spot for mayors, governors and celebrities. In a new location, it’s now owned by Chef Jim Gallen, who has updated the menu, but carries on the tradition of American comfort food in a diner-style environment. Famous for their burgers and brisket chili.


2 N. Central Avenue, Phoenix



DeSoto Central Market

A gourmet food hall spearheaded by Chef Stephen Jones, one of seven Arizona chefs invited to cook at the James Beard House in 2015. In an airy vintage building that was once a car dealership, it houses a variety of restaurants, including DCM Burgers, Walrus & The Pearl oyster bar, Adobo Dragon, with Asian and Latin American fusion cuisine, The Larder + the Delta serving southern-style cooking, gourmet coffee, tea and toast at Tea & Toast Co., juices & salads at Radish and a Deco-era bar.

915 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85004, USA



Phoenix Public Market Cafe


A casual urban hangout for breakfast, lunch and dinner offering fresh market cuisine with ingredients sourced directly from Arizona’s largest farmer’s market. Hearty sandwiches on house-baked bread, robust salads, fresh pastries and slow-cooked meats from the wood-roasted rotisserie are complemented with a cup of fresh-ground coffee or a glass of local wine at the full bar.


14 Pierce St., Phoenix



Mother Bunch Brewing


In what was once a market building for a local supermarket chain, it’s an ideal brewpub environment and is run by husband and wife team Julie Meeker and Jimmy McBride (brewer).

825 N. 7th St., Phoenix



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