Best Place To Soak Up Urban Ambiance
Downtown Saturday NightREADERS' PICK: Downtown is transformed into a bustling urban hive on Downtown Saturday Nights, snapping to life in the glow of street lamps. The staid suits and skirts of the daytime business crowd are replaced with diverse fashions that reflect a far more eclectic public than you might've imagined possible in Tucson. The nighttime throngs are sometimes 10 across, shoulder to shoulder, as they stroll the sidewalks. Here, you won't see the chain stores that dominate malls across America. No, here are a variety of haunts with character: some remnants of the pragmatic, busy downtowns common to Western towns in the 1930s and 1940s; empty department stores, signs of the lemming flight from the cities in the 1960s and 1970s; and the exciting revitalization, the creative juice, in the more recent years of rediscovering downtown, in the form of tiny galleries, boutiques, studios, renovated venues. Even the unoccupied storefronts--and our downtown has fewer and fewer of those--show promise. Witness the Phantom Galleries displays, offering art to enjoy in otherwise empty spaces. Wig-O-Rama maintains its decades-long reign on Congress. Older still is the Rialto Theatre, now being resuscitated after a long rest. Chicago Store, on the corner of Sixth Avenue, still lures musicians looking for that old Fender guitar. Open on Downtown Saturday Night are furniture and antique shops, art galleries and the neighborhood toy store, Yikes!, which on these nights has a line to get in. Farther down the street we have The Real Me, Land of the Pharaohs, a Village-esque spot that's always alive with music and dance. Tables spill out on the sidewalk in front of Café Magritte; other diners head for the Gallery of Food, Iguana Café, Grill, Cup Café, Café Poca Cosa and a handful of other neighboring restaurants. Finally, although most Tucsonans never set foot on a city bus, those who walk through the Ronstadt Transit Center can say they've been to the end of the line.
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Fourth Avenue seems like a little city inside of Tucson. The street doesn't look like the majority of Tucson's faceless strip malls, the traffic is slower, more dense and city-like, and a wider mix of people flow up and down the avenue. Its variety of shops and restaurants are also more urban and urbane than most of Tucson--and it's harder to turn away and ignore the homeless and hungry. Good and bad, Fourth Avenue continues to be an urban barometer for Tucson's evolution.
STAFF PICK: 5:30 a.m.: Distant sunlight and streetlights vie for the privilege of illuminating the layers of lanes of the downtown Ronstadt Center. On a bench a man sleeps, just sleeps through the greeting morning chatter of early workers awaiting their rides out into the city. Pigeons stand still; the asphalt is clean, without crumbs. South across two lanes of traffic-less boulevard the restaurants and news stand are dark. 10:15 a.m.: Almost everywhere buses line up and sunlight glints off of the chrome. Where there are no buses there are people. People and sunlight share space, but as the sun climbs faster the people move slower. Noon: A bus driver fumbles with the fasteners that hold a bicycle on the front of his bus. Another, eating an apple from her right hand, reaches down for her drink, shakes out an ice cube into her open mouth, then nails the trash. Pigeons scurry, then preen their wet feathers. Three buses come, more go out. A woman crosses the lanes, pushing her baby in a stroller. Stopping near the middle, she turns and shouts back over her shoulder in the direction of an apartment building, "I said, eggs only." 3 p.m.: Momentum is building. In knots of two, and four and five come the high school kids. Eventually they'll all end up on one of these buses, but they're not looking for buses. They're looking for each other, looking for themselves, sliding and shuffling, hitching up their pants and lighting cigarettes. Bicycle cops ride through the throngs. Bus drivers stay on their buses. A very old man, walking his very tiny dog, takes a bench facing the street. There is shouting between two boys; the dog watches over the back of the bench. Old man and dog argue about what dog should be allowed to see, then leave. 6 p.m.: The light is sublime, all urgency has lifted. A couple walks from Southern Arizona Legal Aid to a bench. The woman pulls on a single pin and lets her hair down. Midnight: A man stands under the city center's clock, gazing up. A moon is overhead. Perhaps he ponders time travel; no buses are in sight.
CAT'S MEOW: If you like the symphony of the city, you'll enjoy the way the extended electric guitar solo melds with the rhythmic bird calls of the pedestrian crossings and the steady bass hum from a snack trailer generator--all at the Main Library Plaza, 101 N. Stone Ave. Whether it's coffee or a hotdog or donut you seek, this place is vendor-licious for those urban fast food-gatherers. Why not congregate with those less fortunate on the grassy knoll or under the red toy sculpture? Share a smile with the outcasts of society as they take a break from the Pima County Assessor's Office. And if it rains, as a last resort you can always go inside and read.