Friday, July 15, 2016

Downtown Phoenix: A Destination for Art, Food and Community

The new mixes with
the historic in downtown Phoenix
Downtown Phoenix is becoming a destination for visitors and a place to live for locals. While not so long ago we saved the area for an occasional Diamondbacks game or a performance at the Herberger, there are changes in central Phoenix that have drawn people to live, work and dine there. And, I like what I see. 

I once lived in the West Valley and we found few reasons to venture into downtown Phoenix. But that is years ago. Buildings are being renovated, new condos are filling with residents excited about being part of the downtown vibe. And the vibe is there. Things are different. You want to be in downtown, now.

One morning we hung out at the Phoenix Public Market Café, a casual urban gathering place where you can have a meal, sip on a great cup of local Cartel coffee and pick up your CSA allotment. Focused on building community through food, the Café has become a gathering place for the downtown community. The Phoenix Farmers Market sets up there on Saturdays.
CSA shares waiting to
be picked up

Another change is transportation. The Valley Metro Light Rail runs from central Phoenix, through downtown, to Tempe and Mesa in the east. Stations are close by and run right by some of the area’s top attractions, such as the Heard Museum, Phoenix Art Museum, Arizona Science Center, Chase Field, Talking Stick Resort Arena (formerly US Airways Center), Arizona State University and more. It’s cheap. A one-way pass on the light rail costs $2 or an all-day pass is $4, which can be purchased at the ticket vending machines at each station.

The new Hilton
retained the old classic touches
We toured the new Hilton Garden Inn Phoenix Downtown on East Monroe and loved what we experienced. Once a 1930’s bank and professional office building, the amenity-filled urban hotel is located in a historical architectural gem. The art deco building was added to the National Register of Historic places in 1993. The building retains its original character and elegance with original marble floors, Phoenix birds crafted into bronze work and original touches such as the beautiful elevator doors. 

The Hilton features 170 ultra-modern guestrooms, a rooftop terrace and event space. The views from the windows of the cityscape reminded me that while things are changing for the better, the history of Phoenix is being lovingly retained.
Amazing view from the rooms includes
the Westward Ho, in the distance.

And, you don’t need to go far to experience one of the best dining spots in the Valley. You’ve probably heard of the popularity of Nook Kitchen, housed in Gaslight Square in the Acadia neighborhood. Nook is known for its wood-fired pizzas and both classic and creative modern Italian dishes. Chef Nick LaRosa recently opened the downtown version of Nook in the Hilton.

It’s a rather swanky place to be termed a “kitchen,” with central bar, 19 ft. tall windows and art deco accents. But the comfort and friendliness is retained. Chef Nick creates fresh, made from scratch dishes. Be sure and try their arancini appetizer, fried balls of risotto, house-pulled mozzarella and pomodoro sauce with a basalmic reduction. The pizzas from the custom-made, imported Italian Forno Bravo oven did not disappoint but why stop there. Nook Kitchen serves up steak, shrimp dishes and lamb all with a modern twist.

While we discovered a vibrant downtown, we know there is room for more. I was in a room on an upper floor of the new Hilton looking out over the city, and saw the venerable Westward Ho building… still there, ripe for additional (it is now a low income residence with ASU health services) renovation and just begging to be the center of attention once again. The Westward Ho once held the title of tallest building in Arizona for over 30 years.
One of Nook Kitchen's refreshing desserts.

A huge wood-fired oven is the
centerpiece of Nook Kitchen.

 If you have been resistant, in any way, to venturing downtown for an evening out or just to walk around and see what’s happening, now is the time. Roosevelt Row (RoRo), Phoenix’ eclectic arts district has First Friday gallery openings, there are small theaters, restaurants and boutiques. It’s an area worth exploring. 

The Arts District connects downtown Phoenix to historic neighborhoods including Garfield, Evans Churchill, F.Q. Story, Willow, Roosevelt, Historic Roosevelt and Grand Avenue.
Things are changing in central Phoenix. Get away to downtown. Take a look.

This experience was part of a media tour provided by Visit Mesa and Visit Phoenix. While this has not influenced this content, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.

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