April 2, 2015

Learning how to art walk in Phoenix, despite the crowds

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A blend of eclectic art exhibits, artisan markets and chill restaurants creates a must-do experience on Roosevelt Row in downtown Phoenix each month. USA Today recently named the city’s First Friday event as one of the 10 best self-guided art walks in the country.

Be forewarned, though. The event has become so popular in the last few years that being there — walking on jammed streets, squeezing into small galleries and finding a parking spot — has become an ordeal. No worries though, we’re here to help you navigate.

Getting there — One of the best options is riding the light rail to the arts district, after taking advantage of park-and-ride lots at either Central Avenue and Camelback Road or 38th and Washington streets. Once on the train, which costs $2, it’s an easy 10- to 15- minute ride to Roosevelt Street.

If driving is preferred, try parking at one of four different First Friday hubs: the Phoenix Art Museum (also well worth a visit), Oasis on Grand, CityScape Phoenix and the Arizona Center. From there, take a trolley provided by Artlink Phoenix that circulates among the galleries. Only 5 miles from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, an Audi rental from Silvercar could get you to the heart of Roosevelt Row lickety-split.

Choosing the best galleries — Affectionately called “RoRo,“ the six-block arts district contains a few dozen galleries, studios and boutiques. Rotating exhibits showcase primarily local contemporary artists working across mediums. The pieces for sale are often reasonably priced. Check out modified/arts, monOrchid and eye lounge, and peek into three moveable galleries created from repurposed shipping containers. Nicknamed the “hot box” galleries, these are usually set up on Roosevelt. Also be sure to admire the many murals adorning the older bungalow-style buildings. Most galleries have First Friday hours from 6 to 10 p.m. While strolling the art spaces, pause at the A.R.T.S. Market tables usually set up off the main drag. You’ll find artisans hawking all manner of unique gifts and collectibles.

Taking a break — Restaurants and bars in the heart of Roosevelt Row are subject to turnover, but three establishments consistently draw crowds: Carly’s Bistro, known for light fare, such as fig salad and bruschetta; bliss ReBAR, a trendy spot with plenty of outdoor seating under twinkly lights; and Songbird Coffee and Tea House, if a sedate cup of coffee or a glass of iced tea is your thing.

Enjoying the music — Jazz aficionados flock to The Nash, where live music is offered throughout the week, not just on First Friday. For tastes that run to rock, pop and rap, the street corners are often occupied by emerging musicians.

And here is probably the best tip for those who are crowd-averse: Roam the galleries on Third Friday, a monthly event that focuses mostly on the art and is popular among collectors.

The art walks take place throughout the year, even during when it’s 100-plus degrees. Those are the times when refreshment at one of Roosevelt Row’s restaurants or bars is mandatory.

PHOTO BY: David Patten/The Arizona Republic