Day #10 & #11 Urban Phoenix

Sunday Night, Monday, and Tuesday Jo and I spent in downtown Phoenix at the San Carlos.  Meeting other people, seeing the wedding, and eating Brazilian in the burbs was all awesome.  But otherwise, the suburbs sucked in so many ways I would have to start another blog about all the ways that suburbs suck.  Economically, environmentally, efficiency, education, and by about every other measure, suburbs truly bring out the mediocrity in humanity.  But really, I digress, it was awesome meeting everyone in burbia and hope they come visit Portland soon so they can be effectively turned away from the soul sucking entrenchment of the burbs’.

So what happened on day #10 & 11, well Jo and I left the suburbs.  We left for the urban life style of downtown Phoenix.  We got some help from Tony (lightrailblogger) and Nick (raillife) to find the elements that allow one to live  without the ever tightening noose of the auto oriented lifestyle.  Out of all the places we went to, these really stuck out in our minds as places that just kick ass!  ๐Ÿ™‚

Gallo Blanco

Gallo Blanco was amazing.  We actually ended up going back to Gallo Blanco because it rocked so much.  This place is something we honestly did not expect in Phoenix.  Our assumption, especially after all the milling about in the suburbs was suburban food, which rarely breaks from big generic corporate food.  Think Applebee’s, TGI Friday’s, and all that crap.  But this was a slice of sanity, a bit of beauty, taste, elegance, modern, and above all Gallo Blanco was delicious.

The Clarendon Hotel

The Gallo Blanco is located within the Clarendon Hotel.  This hotel has a somewhat grisly history.  A reporter was killed by car bomb by a mafia operative in the parking lot of the building in the 70s.  In one of the hallways they have the descriptive story of what happened.

The Clarendon has a super modern, minimalistic, and artsy.  The hotel was absolutely stunning.  The outer facing of the hotel seems at first glance to be somewhat boring.  With a white and slightly blue striped design the outside is a single face.  Without too many windows facing outwards from the building.  However upon stepping inside the hotel has a liveliness in the central courtyard.  There is a pool with an artsy design to it.  In the center of the L shaped pool there is a multi-colored separation that disconnects the pool ever so slightly from the short part of the L, which is a hot tub of massive size!  The rooms all face from a balcony walkway into this courtyard.

We toured through two of the rooms, the largest and mid-sized room.  The large room had a living room type area with a couch, coffee table, and TV, with the bedroom in the back room.  The windows that faced external to the building and internally toward the pool both had no blinds.  Instead, large pieces of art display over the window on sliders, sort of an industrial design.  These could be pushed aside to view either direction.  The rooms had various amenities one would expect, the difference being they were artfully designed and used modern pieces for the vanity and other parts of the hotel room.  The mid-size room was basically the same styling and amenities, except a bit smaller and under a single space.

Jo and I both decided that upon our next trip, we’d definitely be staying at the Clarendon Hotel on our next trip!

The San Carlos Hotel

We stayed these nights in the San Carlos, which is definitely in the urban core were as The Clarendon is a few stops from the core and a block off from the light rail (which remember, a block in Phoenix is about 4 blocks in Portland).  The San Carlos also has a pool on the roof, which is rad.  Even though it was a nice hotel, one has to be in the mood for a boutique hotel to stay here.  If you are in that mood, I’d definitely suggest it!

Tempe Transit Center & the Bike Cellar

I managed to travel to the Tempe Transit Center twice.  Once myself, and once with Jo and I both gallivanting about.  The first time when I went, I merely took a few photos of various vehicles pulling into and out of the transit center during operations.  Very nice transit center, but this first trip didn’t expose what really makes it unique.

Jo & I went back, on Tuesday, to check out the part that really makes the Tempe Transit Center unique.  The Bike Cellar is located in the transit center building on the ground floor.  The Bike Cellar is this awesome, secure, clean area of the center that is operated for bicyclists to have access to bike parking and showers.  In addition there are lockers, tools, and other services.  In addition the owner even sells bikes if you’re in the market for one.

One of the things I love about the Bike Cellar is that this is a private business run by people that have a real passion for the bicycle lifestyle.  This isn’t some random experiment from some random Government Department.  This I find ideal, real private interest and involvement in connecting and working toward a connected populace that doesn’t involve building massive roads that expand over vast tracts of land.  A beautiful idea!

While speaking to the owners of the Bike Cellar and mentioned that this is something that should absolutely be built in Portland.  After closer thought, there are a few issues to getting something like this built in Portland. 
For one, I’m not sure how TriMet would work with a private business trying to provide a service in a transit center.  In downtown, there just isn’t all that much space, making it difficult to build out something like this.

I send all my wishes of success to the Bike Cellar Crew!  I imagine Tempe can really use a service like that, especially in the summer!

Lux Coffee Bar

I have to mention Lux again.  We returned a couple times over the course of our stay.  In addition we even purchased a half pound of beans ground for our French press.  The Stumptown bean supply had run out on our 8th day and the Lux beans provided a great substitute for the remainder of the trip.  In all honesty, Lux produces beans that could compete in Portland – and that is extremely hard to achieve.

Mill Ave & 3rd Street

The Mill Avenue & 3rd Stop of the light rail system exits directly on Mill Avenue.  Mill Avenue is basically a small block, street level commercial business area.  This area is what one desires and expects of a college area.  Lots of awesome niche restaurants, nick nak stores, custom t-shirst, bars, pubs, and more.  I imagine that this area is bumping on Friday and Saturday nights.

Valley Metro Light Rail

Of course, I have to mention the light rail.  This being one of the major things I wanted to see and check out while in town.  I’d been curious that Phoenix, one of the least …  [big list here]  …cities was going to get light rail.  At first I couldn’t help but think, “oh dear, it will for sure be a complete and object failure, the pro-road Republicans Socialists will surely jump all over this when it bombs out”…  but oh was I wrong.  I started studying as they where finishing up the line and saw that it did have some slight potential, it might just succeed.

Well when the light rail opened it exploded into success.  Running every 10 minutes I believe the average per day has been approximately 30,000 trips.  That measures well against our Blue Line, and TriMet’s Blue Line is a little longer even.  Mind you, Phoenix has a lot more potential for ridership growth.  They often run three car LRV trains, the line can handle more trains during the course of a day, and thus a multiplier over what TriMet’s lines run is fairly high.

Overall, the light rail is absolutely well built, which is surprising for a city like Phoenix.  They do have a few distinct advantages such as the high population (4 mil vs. Portland’s barely 2 mil), and the biggest advantage I see is that the line is built on level, flat, easy to build on ground.

Phoenix in Summary

Overall Phoenix has sprawl, the kind that really should be wiped from the face of the earth and replaced with a market based, intelligently built transit system mixed with automobiles that actually compete with each other.  Instead it is a massive Government subsidized sprawl of Interstates and Highways.  The Feds have dumped so much money into Phoenix and Phoenix has suckled upon the teat, feeding upon this cash flow.  However amid this cursed sprawl and disturbingly soulless expanse of ticky tack housing as far as one can see, the urban center of Phoenix exists.  It is beautiful in some regards even, contrary to some commentary.  Here, slowly, a new birth is taking place for Phoenix.  One with culture and humanity, one with life and opportunity, art and design, and heaven forbid, a break of the ticky tack.

Don’t get me wrong, there is still a lot to do before a place like Phoenix can stand upon the grand enclave that Portland exists in, of art, design, life, opportunity, humanity, and culture that only massively larger cities like Chicago, San Francisco, and New York can currently provide.  But Phoenix finally has the infrastructure groundwork laid to become a great city that can harbor and grow a lifestyle that would have these great traits.  I look forward to visiting again, maybe in just a few months, and definitely over the years I’d like to see how the effort is taking root.

But There’s MORE!

That’s right people, Phoenix is not alone in this effort.  The city’s of Tempe and Mesa are also working diligently to gain a foothold in the creative class, the cultured individual, the high earner urbanite.  Tempe has Mill & 3rd, the Tempe Transit Center, and the growing urban core around these two great examples of development.  One of the first expanses, that I’ve heard at least, is that Mesa will finally connect its downtown soon too.  That will be three core urban areas connected by a good effective, highly ridden light rail system.

My best wishes go out to Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa in their efforts to turn their cities into a connected, culturally relevant, livable city within the United States.


  1. I appreciate the good wishes and the continuing commentary about your trip to Phoenix, but I wish it came without a does of Portland superiority. I’m glad you feel pride in your home there — just as I feel pride in my home here in Phoenix. Nevertheless, your post seems to claim that Portland doesn’t have suburbs. It does. I’ve seen them with my own eyes. I’ve even spent the night at drab chain hotels and eaten in drab chain restaurants when business trips have taken me to Portland suburbs like Tigard. Also, why should a well-built light rail system be a surprise in Phoenix?

    In bring all this up because I used to think San Francisco was the smuggest city on the planet, but I’m beginning to think Portland might be competing for the title. Please don’t let that happen. Portland is too nice a city of find itself skewered on South Park. Regardless, you’ll always be welcome here in decidedly un-smug Phoenix.


  2. I don’t mean for it to come off as smugness, just simple observations. Portland (Oregon in general) has more styles of beer created than any place on EARTH. The coffee is renown for being rather premium, and these are known tacts.

    Yes Portland has suburbs, but absolutely nothing like Phoenix’s. Sure, everywhere has the crappy hotel out in the boonies somewhere. I’m not trying to say Portland doesn’t, it just has a LOT of the alternative.

    Anyway, I hope I haven’t ruffled your feathers too much, I’m just making observations.

    …also note: I DID give PDX a bad rap for not having something like the Bike Cellar, and Tempe total cred for that. The Bike Cellar is AWESOME!


  3. Hey guys, I’m just gonna butt in here for a second… ๐Ÿ™‚ Adron and Jo – I’m getting the biggest kick out of reading/viewing your posts and hearing what you have to say about a system that, obviously, I take so much pride in. I love how you really turned your vacation into a train adventure and alternative transportation field trip. If only everyone could experience travel in this way. Oh, and I love the pictures of Jo on Smug Mug! Seriously, it was a treat for me to show you guys around and take you to some of my favorite places in CenPho! I think Portland is calling my name..


  4. Hey Tony. Thanks much! I got more coming too, just trying to find the time to get the last few pieces finished up to post. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

    The train adventure, definitely something Jo & I love doing. ๐Ÿ™‚ One of the best ways to travel!

    …and Portland is calling your name, anytime you want, you have a place at ours for your visit! I’ll also have a post in about a week or so about our new digs we’ll be moving into downtown. Yup, we’re moving 20+ blocks back into downtown!


  5. Adron, there have been lots of attempts at getting something like the Bike Cellar in Portland, including speculation that such a facility would be housed in the McCall’s restaurant building on the waterfront.

    I bet TriMet would be OK with it, but as you said – they just don’t have much retail space (that isn’t a cafe at a MAX station). I suppose there’s that retail space at Clackamas TC, but what are the chances that such a facility would work there (due to its location)??

    So far nobody has filled this void. I think it’s a matter of time, though.


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