Best Of Tucson®

Best Place To Soak Up Urban Ambiance


READERS' PICK: If you want urban ambiance, what better place to go than your city's center to find it? Strangely though, downtown Tucson remains one of the city's best-kept secrets in terms of architecture with ambiance, retail with character and a sense of place that has more history and integrity than all the wider city's strip malls combined. Some of the city's most tenacious retail and gallery owners have claimed the vacated streets as their playground, and on any weekday or Downtown Saturday Night (the first and third weekends of the month), their doors stay open late so you can see what they've been up to.

On Congress Street alone you have the historic Hotel Congress (see pages 10, 17 and 18), the renovated Rialto Theatre (see page 40), the Land of the Pharoahs used bookstore and variety shop, with Malkia African gift gallery taking up a new residence right next door. You can stop in for smokes or a Coke at the Congress Street Store, peruse the amazing newsstand at Crescent Moon Smokeshop, or take in a terrific coffee or espresso at Wilde Rose (see pages 77 and 78). Take a seat at one of the sidewalk tables at fledgling Peruvian restaurant Irene's, in the space vacated by Café Magritte adjacent the tile-adorned Ronstadt Transit Center. Get a shave and a haircut from Johnny Gibson's there on Sixth Avenue, or a stylish new cut and dye from Spazz or Metropolis salons on Congress Street. Don't forget to tool down Toole Avenue and check out the HazMat Gallery, a growing presence on the downtown arts scene as the city's "temporary Contemporary" Art Museum. And for a bit of history, visit the ghost of the old Presidio in the Tucson Museum of Art Historic Block anchoring downtown's west end.

Every storefront is painted or tiled differently, and the tree-lined streets with their new flower pots are one of the few places citywide where you'll find folks from all walks of life strolling, pushing their carts, pedaling bikes and maneuvering cars in the shadow of Tucson's oldest commercial buildings. The more time you spend downtown, the more you'll discover there is to see.

READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: In a city where "downtown" unfortunately refers to a region relatively few citizens dare enter, the concept necessarily extends to nearby Fourth Avenue. Between Ninth Street and University Boulevard is a unique stretch of arts and retail, certainly one of the few in Tucson where a car is undesirable and people actually walk. Many subcultures converge on foot, from the shops targeting both locals and tourists, to the diverse cafés and restaurants, many of which have outdoor seating for continued people watching. At night a handful of bars featuring live music further promote an urban feel, and their close proximity to one another encourages moving from one to the next.

MORE MANIA: Scrappy little Café Quebec, 121 E. Broadway Blvd., is the unsung hero of urban ambiance there on the corner of Broadway and Sixth Avenue. This café has it all: cappuccino, friendly chess competitors, good food, an art gallery, indoor/outdoor seating, late-night hours, lots of inscrutably intellectual and artistic patrons, and just enough urban grit to keep your feet on the ground. We don't take advantage of their under-$5 lunch menu nearly often enough, but we're glad to know it's always there when we need it.

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