Metropolitan Phoenix, aptly nicknamed “the Valley of the Sun,” has been experiencing an urban revival. The moniker was coined in the 1930s to boost the first wave of tourism and the name stuck. A building boom in the 1990s created increased gentrification and a transformation over the next decade in the downtown core, bringing a new wave of tourists and Phoenicians interested in urban attractions. The Arizona city that, in spite of its colourful history, always longed to be like others, is now justifiably proud of itself.
The saguaro-studded blocks north and south of Portland Street are home to many small restaurants, bars, coffee houses, artist studios, galleries, music venues, boutique clothing stores, bike shops and two lively markets. It’s hard to find a public space or building which has remained mural-free in the once-scruffy Roosevelt Row Arts District ( RoRo), which has been credited with helping transform downtown Phoenix. The vibrant paint colours, made blinding by the intense sunshine, depict themes whimsical and abstract, trompe l’oeil or optical illusion. It’s easy to get distracted, so keep your itinerary loose.
This hotel, which opened in October, 2016, is well situated in the cultural heart of downtown Phoenix. At the intersection of Portland Street and Central Avenue, beside Portland Park and a light-rail station, it’s close to attractions such as Roosevelt Row, the Phoenix Art Museum, the Heard Museum, the Arizona Opera, the downtown campus of the University of Arizona and convention centres. In the former Lexington Hotel, this 105-room boutique establishment combines high-end, reclaimed warehouse furnishings with a playful, art-filled environment. Found:Re and its cultural curator, Michael Oleskow, have done an exceptional job of sourcing contemporary Arizona art to complement the local art scene and feature a new artist every month in The Studio. A nude, wigged Burt Reynolds lounges on an outsized mural behind the front desk. The heated outdoor pool and bar area becomes a funky party space with a plastic green Tyrannosaurus rex cutout, real palm trees and a large mural of a 1950s beach scene.
Cast-iron metalwork details throughout the rooms enhance the industrial-chic vibe in chandeliers, doors and tables. Rooms have high, exposed ceilings, concrete floors with custom area rugs, platform floating beds and period wallpaper. Balconies with modern sofas allow visitors to watch the sun rise and set behind the mountains surrounding the city.
Tim Sprague, of Habitat Metro, is the local developer behind the Found:Re Hotel, Portland on the Park and Portland Place, luxury condos built to accommodate a condo boom, although Found:Re is the company’s flagship property. “The Found:Re completes our vision of transforming Portland Street back into the gem of downtown Phoenix it once was,” Sprague says. 1100 N. Central Ave.; foundrehotels.com
Phoenix’s heyday was the art-deco era. A two-hour walk from the hotel becomes an architectural tour – deco-inspired public buildings include the Hotel San Carlos, the Luhrs Building, Phoenix City Hall and the Westward Ho. The Hotel San Carlos, a favourite getaway for Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant and Clark Gable escaping paparazzi in Los Angeles, remains virtually unchanged since the 1930s. The Hilton Garden Inn, a renovated bank building, was the location for the opening scene of the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock movie Psycho. During the Prohibition era, the Luhrs Building was known for its wild parties; John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan both stayed at the Westward Ho, a hotel built in 1928 and closed in 1980, which now provides affordable housing to the elderly.
Eat and Drink
Found:Re Hotel’s Match is an expansive space with a patio and a menu of shareable plates inspired by global street food, with a commitment to local sourcing. Executive chef Matthew Hobbs takes advantage of a wood-fired grill and a Forno Bravo wood oven. Beverages include local Arizona and international wines, Arizona craft beers and cocktails. Found:Re Hotel; matchphx.com
This landmark restaurant and bar in downtown Phoenix originally opened in 1929 and has been a gathering spot for mayors, governors and celebrities. It’s now owned by chef Jim Gallen, who has updated the menu but carries on the tradition of American comfort food in a diner-style environment. The place is famous for its burgers and brisket chili. 2 N. Central Ave.; tomstavernaz.com. (As of early May, the restaurant is closed, according to its Facebook page.)
DeSoto Central Market
This is a gourmet food hall spearheaded by chef Stephen Jones, one of seven Arizona chefs invited to cook at the James Beard House in 2015. In an airy renovated building from 1928 that was once a car dealership, it houses a variety of restaurants, including DCM Burgers; Walrus & the Pearl oyster bar; Adobo Dragon, with Asian and Latin American fusion cuisine; The Larder + the Delta serving Southern-style cooking; gourmet coffee, tea and toast at Tea & Toast Co.; juices and salads at Radish; and a deco-era bar. 915 N. Central Ave.; desotocentralmarket.com
Phoenix Public Market Café
A casual urban hangout for breakfast, lunch and dinner offering fresh market cuisine with ingredients sourced directly from Arizona’s largest farmers’ market. Hearty sandwiches on house-baked bread, robust salads, fresh pastries and slow-cooked meats from the wood-roasted rotisserie are complemented with a cup of freshly ground coffee or a glass of local wine at the full bar. 14 E. Pierce St.; 602-253-2700; phxpublicmarket.com.
Mother Bunch Brewing
Located in what was once a market building for a local supermarket chain and run by husband-and-wife team Julie Meeker and Jimmy McBride, Mother Bunch offers an ideal brewpub environment. 825 N. 7th St.; motherbunchbrew.com
Desert Botanical Garden
This 140-acre botanical garden in Papago Park offers meandering trails and magnificent views of Papago Butte. Experience the feeling of walking in the Sonoran Desert among a multitude of stunning desert plants. During Las Noches de Las Luminarias in December, the garden is lit up at night for 21 magical evenings. This spring, hundreds of live butterflies will be on exhibit, fluttering through the desert landscape – a great family experience. 1201 N. Galvin Parkway, dbg.org
The writer was a guest of Found:Re Hotel and Visit Phoenix. They did not review or approve this article.