Local Takes: Scottsdale

Five notable locals, from a DJ to a cowboy, show us how to do their town, their way.

WORDS Chris Malloy
November 2019
SHARE

Photography by José Mandojana

In the family of American cities, Scottsdale is a shining young sibling. With a population of just 2,000 in 1950, the former citrus and cow town now has 250,000 inhabitants. Though some things remain the same—the golf scene, the more than 300 days of annual sun, the location in our planet’s most vibrant desert, the Sonoran—the real story is that this young city is still evolving and growing more and more eclectic every day. In Scottsdale, you can lick horchata ice cream, savor the unfolding of a marathon sushi omakase, visit houses dreamed up by the experimental architect Paolo Soleri, or kick it at the best pool parties east of Vegas. In other words, Scottsdale has morphed into something beyond its popular perception. For a full picture of the city today, we have five locals lead us through DJ pits, cattle ranches, vintage shops and mountain vistas—the parts of town they love most.



Javin Silao rides through the streets of Old Town.
Javin Silao, 28
DJ
Social Studies in the Club District
A hissing mist and steady course of remixed pop music bathe the patio day-drinkers at The Hot Chick, a new spot on the edge of Old Town’s club district. Javin Silao, wearing a button-down with a cut watermelon pattern, a tiny gold hoop in her nose, kicks back on a patio bench out of the sun. “It’s amazing,” Silao says of the scene. “You step out from your hotel and go around the block and have a great time.”

Silao DJs in downtown Scottsdale, also known as Old Town, both by night and at the two biggest pool parties by day: Maya Day & Nightclub and The W Scottsdale hotel. “Every property on the block has its own energy,” she says. “Whatever your style is, you can find it. There’s a country bar, a hip-hop club.”

We’re blocks from the clubby neighborhood’s bass-beating heart, but the scene at The Hot Chick is circus-like. The crowd is young and loud and beautiful, playing arcade games, watching sports, knocking down Nashville-style hot chicken cooked in a retro trailer that serves as the restaurant-bar’s kitchen. “Compared to when I travel and DJ somewhere else, Scottsdale is open and welcoming,” Silao says. On any given day or night, the scene on these blocks is a blur of college kids, young workers, bachelor parties, travelers and Tinder dates.


W Scottsdale
How, then, does she play to that crowd? “I’m pretty open-format, so I can play pop as well, but I like to stick to hip-hop and electronic music.” The patio tunes here slide from a tropical house jangle into ’80s hip-hop. I catch Silao bopping her head to the beat and she jokes that she’s an outlier among DJs—when she goes out, she actually likes to dance.

These days, she doesn’t drink, but there’s plenty to do in the neck of downtown just south of Camelback Road. To get from A to B, she loves the communal electric scooters that have recently appeared downtown. She’ll grab quick bites from The Beverly, drive down Scottsdale Road to SumoMaya for veggie fried rice and sushi. In the wee hours, after a long DJ set, she’ll down wood-grilled tacos with iced salsa from Mr. Mesquite.

“That’s the late-night, when-you’re-trying-to-party-too-hard kind of taco,” she says.


Exterior of the Beverly on Main.
Post lunch, we’re out in the hard Sonoran sunlight, hopping on those scooters, zipping across sidewalks west toward the club district’s center. Even the wind is hot. She slaloms through a parking lot and it’s hard to keep up. “You gotta be careful!” She laughs back to me.

We park outside The W and head upstairs, emerging into a pool party on the second-story patio deck. “I work here all the time, and I’m still surprised by how many people there are in the pool,” she says. The shallow end is brimming with people hoisting drinks while marinating in sunshine and a driving hail of house music. Through the commotion, you can see the desert mountains beyond, running north.

We settle into a shaded cabana where she watches the scene and thinks about her first set of the day, which starts in an hour or so, a few doors down at Maya. A steady stream of scenesters come over and greet us. We’re surrounded by bachelorette parties, glossy skin and neon drinks. Life here feels short and bright. “Here, you don’t prepare,” Silao says with a grin. “You just kind of pray.”



Misty Guerrero at the Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort.
Misty Guerriero, 40
Boutique Owner
Finding Newness in Old Town
Her shop in downtown Scottsdale was supposed to close 15 minutes ago, but Misty Guerriero’s rather stylish customers are lingering. They browse racks of vintage clothing from European and Middle Eastern designers. “You can pull off that turban!” she says to a woman with a beehive of braids, who laughs and asks about a gauzy white dress. “That’s actually U.S. Native American,” Guerriero replies. “From the 1970s—2,200 pieces of fringe, hand-loomed out of New Mexico.”

The store, Vintage by Misty, is a favorite among the 320 shops that line downtown Scottsdale. “There’s everything from Arizona novelty tees to high-end fashion,” she says of the curving streets. Guerriero has been in her space near the patinaed bronze horse fountain on 5th Avenue for six years. “If you think about Arizona, there’s not really anywhere except Old Town that is bikeable, walkable, livable,” she says.

Her last shopper satisfied, she steps outside and locks up, the rhinestones on her ’70s silk dress catching the twilight. String lights laced through palm trees illuminate the avenue of terracotta-roofed shops and restaurants. People stroll eating pizza, licking gelato. Though downtown’s club scene is out of earshot, the energy of Scottsdale by night is building.


Faust Gallery.
We hop into her SUV and drive past a string of art spaces, including some standouts showcasing indigenous art, like Faust Gallery and Trailside Galleries. She points to the glassy futuristic entrance of Udinotti Gallery, home to contemporary sculpture and painting. “That’s an amazing spot,” she says. “Super cool funky stuff.” On Thursday nights, galleries stay open for ArtWalk, an open house uniting many of Scottsdale’s 80 galleries.

On the other side of Old Town, we park behind a multicolor boutique hotel, The Saguaro, and stroll a path along a rare grass lawn flanked by squat buildings. “So this is the arts district, really,” she says. “You have the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.”


Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.
Another site in this cluster is the Scottsdale Museum of the West. We head into a striking white building with what looks like long, orange canoes over the entrance, and open the door to raucous disco. This is AZ88, a restaurant featuring rotating local art. People congregate in the dimness, filling a bar under images of near-naked people illuminated by digital flames from a projector.

Guerriero takes a seat. She’s jetlagged from a trip to the Iberian Peninsula and Morocco, having returned about 24 hours before with some finds for the shop. “You been with us before?” a waiter asks.

“Of course!” she replies.

Before her five-year-old daughter was born, Guerriero used to start nights on the town with drinks at AZ88. We nibble on a basket of waffle fries, sip martinis, talk of then and now, how the town has changed.

“When I first started living in Scottsdale, nobody knew about the Old Town Farmers’ Market. Now it’s huge,” she says, raving about Juice Core and other staples at the 100-plus vendor hall. Another new love in Old Town is a nearby bar called The Canal Club. “It’s like being in 1950s Cuba.” The waiter drops another round of martinis. “Old Town is fun,” she says. “When I first came six years ago, it was so different. It’s so diverse.

“There’s just something for everybody.”



Dave Anderson outside his roastery.
Dave Anderson, 64
Coffee Roaster
Motivation in the Mountains
“Look at the sky right now,” says Dave Anderson in his soft Kansan voice, as if speaking too loudly will disrupt the beauty. The moon has just gone down to the west and first light is hitting the rugged McDowell Mountains above us. A trail switchbacks up more than 1,000 feet to our target: Tom’s Thumb, a 200-foot granite spire.

We sip water and start on our four-mile hike, part of 215 miles of trail that carve through the 30,500 acres of the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy, the largest city preserve in North America. Early mornings are cool enough for hiking in summer, and daytime hikes are doable in cooler months. “This part of Arizona is just a beautiful space,” he reflects. “There’s no place like it in the U.S. The sunsets rival anything on the planet, especially in monsoon season.”


Hikers walk through Tom's Thumb with distant views of the Tonto National Forest.
Anderson is a Southwestern Renaissance man: a pilot, philanthropist, landscape photographer and welder. As a coffee guru with a sleek roastery just north of Scottsdale, ROC2, he jets to the Americas and beyond to source beans for top Phoenix and Scottsdale eateries. His photography decorates the walls of the roastery; it’s often snapped while traveling the globe for beans. He did most of the metalwork himself, including touches on his experimental “coffee tasting bar,” where you can buy bags and enjoy some of the best nitro cold brew around.

We churn up the path, sunlight now hitting the tops of cholla cactus and prickly pear around us. “Howdy,” he says to three women strolling down, and “Good morning, pooch!” to a dog leading other hikers. Soon, we reach the first saddle, Prairie Falcon Overlook, the breeze bringing the faintly saline smell of desert plants: creosote, graythorn, saguaro. To the northeast, even taller mountains are covered in forest, the range marching on for untold miles. “Coming from Kansas, where it’s pretty much flat as a pancake, looking out toward the forest and peaks is something.”


Beans roasting on the new Probat machine at ROC2.
Though he’s “huffing and puffing” and his bum knees are “speaking to him,” Anderson remains quick to smile, his voice raspy and upbeat. “I feel like I just stepped out of the car right now!” he jokes.

And even though this is a rather healthy excursion, Anderson is still a “meat-and-potatoes” guy, riffing on how nice a big meal will be after the hike—maybe eggs and a beautifully seared rib pork chop from Matt’s Big Breakfast, or dinner at one of his favorite new spots, a downtown Scottsdale steak house called Maple & Ash, where he favors the bone-in ribeye.

As we climb and pass through a glade of especially large cacti, the view gets even better.

“There’s nowhere else on the planet the saguaros grow,” says Anderson. “It’s just a different kind of beauty.”

After we round a few giant boulders and send dozens of tiny lizards scurrying, we reach the top of the mountain ridge—the only thing higher than us is the 200-foot granite thumb.

Below, the expanse of Scottsdale stretches, along with the adjacent sprawl of Phoenix. We’ve got a beautiful hike down ahead of us, and that pork chop is waiting.



Lori Bridwell on one of her horses at Arizona Cowboy College.
Lori Bridwell, 61
Cowboy
Ranch Life and Tortillas
Scottsdale still has cowboys. They live and work on the fringes, where Scottsdale thins to desert. Turn north onto 152nd Street, in Scottsdale’s far northeast corner, and the pavement stops, giving way to a dirt road lined with ranches, interspersed with livestock crossing signs. Ahead, the jagged peaks of Tonto National Forest trail north over 100 miles to Flagstaff.

I pull into the 10-acre Arizona Cowboy College where owner Lori Bridwell, an athletic 61-year-old woman dressed in a long-sleeve cowboy shirt and jeans, despite the heat, greets me. “We offer everything from riding lessons to a five-day college stay,” she says of the school, which opened in 1989. Guests practice riding, roping and taking care of animals, including the ranch’s 12 dogs, 47 horses, many cows and a pot-bellied pig named Myron. “One shower, one toilet, and it’s meant to be that way, because everyone works together as a team,” Bridwell says.

We stride over to the green-painted cow corral and check on her animals. A spotted longhorn hurries over, licks her hand. It’s the restless hour before dinner, and some of Bridwell’s kids and grandkids are hanging out around the porch, blasting country music, swinging lassos. “It’s a good hangout,” she says of their rural setup. “We got a fire pit up here. My daughter, my grandson, and Rocco [her business partner] all sing and pick the guitar.”

Rocco Wachman gives me a leathery handshake, leans back against the bunkhouse and nods from under his wide-brimmed hat at the distant National Forest. “Much of Arizona is some form of government land,” he says. “You’ve got Scottsdale, and right here, you’ve got three million acres of nothing.”


Arizona Cowboy College offers riding lessons to its guests.
“The view, it’s beautiful,” Bridwell says. “For cowboys and horse people, we don’t want houses. We can ride out there. We want the view of the mountains and animals running free—coyotes, deer, owls. We’ve got mountain lions, bobcats, javelina.”

Kind, coarse and disarmingly honest, Bridwell hosts small groups at the school, which once appeared on the reality TV show Cowboy U. She also hosts corporations on team-building outings. Using a grill, smoker and Dutch oven, she cooks for guests. “If you’re cooking for 10, you might as well be cooking for 120,” she says. “Because it’s cowboy stuff, you know? Baked beans, bean salads, enchiladas.”

Nobody will be cooking tonight. Instead, Bridwell and Wachman will be venturing downtown for a late meal. Before getting into Wachman’s old truck, license plate “COWS,” she takes off her spurs. On the half-hour drive into Old Town, pockets of houses start to line Pima Road. This was all open desert with just a few ranches when Bridwell moved to North Scottsdale 50 years ago. Her father had two jobs: country club manager and cattle buyer.

“I know how to go to a five-star restaurant,” she says. “I also like to play in the dirt.”

The two business partners make a pit stop at Boot Barn, a chain Western store. Wachman is officiating a wedding the coming weekend and picks out a more reserved blazer, skipping the ones with glinting shoulder embroidery. Bridwell, eyeing the rows of Western footwear, nods and says she wears “dress boots” on special occasions, rather than flats or heels. “I wear boots all the time, because they hold my pants,” she says. “We like our pants to be really long, because when you sit down on a horse, they go up.”

It’s twilight now and back in the truck, the two are excited. Going downtown is a treat. “Real cowboys don’t go out,” Bridwell says. “We’re tired by now. I work through the middle of the heat, digging holes, putting up pipe, all kinds of things.”


Outside dining at Old Town Factory.
We park and walk into the adobe-walled Old Town Tortilla Factory’s flagstone courtyard, ready for some of the 120-plus tequilas and complimentary tortillas. Next to the garage refurbished into a bar, a cook hand-flips tortillas, giving them a long steel kiss on the plancha where they puff and crisp before arrival at tables where guests dunk them in the restaurant’s compound butters and Tex-Mex queso with chorizo.

Bridwell and Wachman settle into a wooden booth. Across the room, as part of the decor meant to invoke the Old West, there’s a framed photograph on a dresser. The picture shows a man in a cowboy hat. “Hey,” Wachman says, “that’s me.” I look closely and indeed it’s him, from years ago.

“Hello there!” Bridwell greets the manager. “You remember Rocco?”

“The man, the myth, the legend!” the manager replies, shaking his hand. The tortillas arrive, still hot and smelling of the plancha. Based on the duo’s smiles faces, it’s the smell of happiness.



Dom Ruggiero at his Hush Public House restaurant.
Dom Ruggiero, 37
Chef
Culinary Delights in North Scottsdale
Though he does plenty of eating downtown, chef Dom Ruggiero prefers to stay north. The cult-favorite chef, who’s Hush Public House restaurant is the belle of Scottsdale’s culinary ball at the moment, sits in a simple sandwich shop, Guido’s Chicago Meat & Deli. He’s got a lumberjack beard, a flat felt cap and his forearms are colored with tattoos, one of which is a rippling Arizona state flag.

The Scottsdale native traveled the world as a marine, as some of his ink reveals. Despite his sojourns, and having lived in Los Angeles, Georgia, New York and Japan, he always returns here to his home neighborhood—and to its modest hangouts. In 2018, Ruggiero, who was helming operations at a massive restaurant kitchen in Phoenix, left town to apprentice with a butcher in Orange County, California. In 2019, he returned and opened Hush Public House in North Scottsdale with longtime friend and mixologist Charles Barber. Tucked in the quieter northern reach of town, Hush has since received an avalanche of praise from local critics (including myself) for, among other things, his chicken livers spiked with brandy, sherry and port, his beef heart tartare, and a riff on a Chicago-style Italian beef sandwich, but with melting oxtail. He has also converted a 500-gallon propane tank into a smoker, resulting in thick bacon served with radishes and salsa verde.


Scottsdale's spacious gastropub FnB.
But he still loves a classic. “It’s a little hidden gem,” Ruggiero says of Guido’s. “We used to come here in high school for lunch.” Sandwiches at Chicago-style delis like this one inspired his signature oxtail dish. More than half the people who now live in Arizona moved from somewhere else; Ruggiero believes that Scottsdale’s transplants have given rise to unexpected wrinkles, such as Chicago-style eateries—wrinkles that, together, make the town a better place. 

“There’s so many transplants from the east coast, from the Midwest,” he says. “It’s kind of cool because there’s little pockets all throughout Metro Phoenix where you can get Sichuan food, or Greek food, or Italian food.” In Scottsdale, for instance, you can eat white rose ice cream at Sweet Republic, fork into octopus with Calabrian chili at Virtù Honest Craft, or sit for a winding, mind-blowing sushi journey at omakase-only ShinBay. While talking, we devour chicken Parm and a roast beef sandwich before heading out to Ruggiero’s glossy black pickup truck.

Saguaro cacti in the heart of Cactus Park and Fitness Center.
Alternative rock blares as Scottsdale Road funnels us even farther north. “Right here in Cactus Park, we used to play ball,” Ruggiero says. “I think Scottsdale, 10, 15, 20 years ago, was looked at as more of a retirement community, but I think that’s definitely changed in the last decade.” He cites Old Town’s intensely Arizonan restaurant, FnB, where his former boss, chef Charleen Badman, earned a 2019 James Beard Award for her hyperlocal cuisine expressed in dishes such as lamb with tepary beans, a variety grown by Native Americans in the region thousands of years ago.

“Even now, you see all these construction cranes,” Ruggiero says, nodding to their forms against the sunset. “All these high-rises and huge luxury apartments going on up here.”

Ruggiero swings a U-turn. We park and head into a dive bar, Ernie’s, where you can smoke inside because of the retractable ceiling and paneless windows. There is shuffleboard, pool and karaoke after 8 p.m. Locals nurse Budweisers and Pacificos and watch football. A group of golfers enjoys a cold, post-round drink.

“I feel like Scottsdale gets a bad rap,” he says, sitting at the wooden bar. “You come into our restaurant—it’s dark, it’s loud, rock music playing. It’s not cookie-cutter.” The old idea of Scottsdale doesn’t exactly conjure images of a tattooed chef with a 500-gallon smoker who goes bowhunting and plates divine handmade pasta with lamb shank ragú—but thankfully, ideas are rapidly changing.


MORE LOCAL TAKES

Samantha Sanz
Chef, Talavera

In Old Town, don't miss Virtù Honest Craft. Try the octopus, smoked duck, and sticky toffee pudding. Another Old Town forte is art galleries, with Royse Contemporary being one of my favorites. Check out work by Gennaro Garcia, a local artist who made a piece using only Talavera pottery from Puebla, Mexico for my restaurant.

Michelle Sasonov
Photographer and Boutique Owner

You have to check out Walter Art Gallery, a Burning Man-inspired art venue, yoga studio, maker space and brewery. Scottsdale Trading Post sells old Native American jewelry that isn’t mass-produced. Every piece has character and history. The owner’s father is the best part. You can talk to him for hours; he knows so much about jewelry.

Cheyenne Woods
Professional Golfer

Scottsdale has hidden gems that I’m always finding. Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa is my new favorite. It’s a true escape with an amazing spa and restaurant, plus fantastic views. A great place to play golf is The Boulders Golf Club. It’s a top course, and the hotel rooms are gorgeous and romantic.

Bill Campana
Poet

South Scottsdale has the only soul food restaurant that I know of with valet parking, Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles. I also frequent the Food City grocery store, they have anything you may need for any Mexican dish, from fresh roasted chilies to chicharrones. You don’t have to wait for Christmas and New Year’s Eve for tamales and menudo.

Tiffany Sprague
Wildlife Biologist

The McDowell Sonoran Preserve is the largest urban preserve in North America, with more than 200 miles of trails. To refuel after a hike, check out The Vig restaurant near Gateway Trailhead. They’ve got tasty options and plentiful cocktails. If you’re in the northern part of the Preserve, hit the happy hour at Dynamite Grille at Troon North.



The Phoenician.

Outlying Beauty

Scottsdale’s outskirts brim with aesthetic delights.

Once my ToursByLocals guide, Eric, picks me up and we head out of town, I’m immediately treated to an explosion of green in the McDowell Mountains.

“It’s the Sonoran Desert,” he says of the area that stretches from central Arizona to Northern Mexico and blooms with annual summer rains. “It’s the most diverse desert because of the precipitation.” Just beyond Scottsdale’s southern border, we pass the Desert Botanical Garden, which contains more than 1,200 types of cacti, Eric says, including the saguaro, the wavy-armed cactus depicted in Road Runner cartoons. We stop at a high vantage point in Papago Park, where red sandstone blobs, sculpted by eons of wind, emerge from the flat desert, creating beautiful hiking opportunities.

From here we head north, Eric sharing intel on Scottsdale’s many resorts and spas, before we hit downtown Scottsdale for a pick-me-up cold brew at local roaster, Cartel. Next it’s off to the outskirts again for a look at Cosanti, famed architect Paolo Soleri’s former home. Soleri was one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s students at Taliesin West, Wright’s architecture school in North Scottsdale. On the drive there we pass multi-million dollar homes, the $300 million Phoenician Resort, and Camelback Mountain with its great hump of rock. At Cosanti—a series of architectural domes, half-domes and organic forms that seem to have grown from the desert—we visit an outdoor foundry for crafting bells. Wind runs through hundreds of bronze bells, causing them to chime—a serene soundtrack to the desert around us.

toursbylocals.com

Share

More United States related features

Utah's Best Friends Roadhouse and Mercantile is the Ultimate Pet Hotel

The Sanctuary’s 30,000 annual visitors can now choose from 40 Roadhouse rooms and suites with creature comforts including double-door pet entries and cozy snuggle nooks.

Sarasota Art Museum of Ringling College of Art and Design Makes Debut

Florida’s Gulf Coast debuts an unusual museum of art.

Discovering Del Rio

Families and cultures are braided together in Del Rio, border or no border.

Turkey Talk-Line Salvages Thanksgiving Turkeys

We spoke to the folks at the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line about the crazy things people do to their birds.

Recent Features

Local Takes: San Juan

Brazil's Parintins Folklore Festival Rivals Rio de Janeiro's Carnival

Colorado Ski Slopes You Probably Haven't Tried

These Bakers Are Leading the Artisanal Bread Revolution