Find fun straight from your favorite era | By Jessica Dunham
There is no shortage of modern-day fun in Greater Phoenix. You can dine at restaurants featuring the latest culinary trends or take the family on a high-tech indoor/outdoor golf adventure (looking at you, Topgolf). But if you want to slow down the pace and step back in time, our city offers myriad ways to experience old-school pleasures. From the era of Rosie the Riveter to the “totally awesome” 80s, these blast-from-the-past activities will have you ditching your smartphone and logging off your e-mail in no time.
The Early Years: 1920s–1940s
Celebrate the 1920s through the 1940s with speakeasies and swing music. First step: Dress up. Think ties for the gentlemen and pumps for the ladies. Second step: Order a cocktail. If you’ve seen a film depicting this time period, you know that every evening starts with a drink.
With this in mind, head to The Ostrich. Not only is this throwback lounge hard to find (in true speakeasy style), but the mixologists shake up bevvies, such as a Tom Collins or Old Fashioned, that nod to a bygone era. The space is dimly lit and cozy with tall tables clustered together and sofas and wingback chairs tucked into corners. How to get there: Find a parking space along San Marcos Place in downtown Chandler, then set off on foot toward Commonwealth Avenue. Around the corner from Crust, follow the stairs leading underground to an unmarked door. Congrats, you’ve arrived at The Ostrich! The lounge opens at 5 p.m. on Fridays and at 6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday.
We know time machines don’t exist, but the next best thing just might be the Arizona Commemorative Air Force Museum in Mesa. The word “museum” is a misnomer. This place is actually an impressive airplane hangar filled with an astonishing collection of aircraft—bombers, cargo planes, open-air biplanes—from World War I through the present. Not only can you get up close and personal with these superior winged creatures from decades past, you can actually ride in a classic war bird from the 1940s. Prefer to stay on land? The museum’s annual “A Night in the 40s Big Band Dance,” held each spring, promises a swingin’ time.
Opened in 1929, the Orpheum Theatre holds court on a busy corner in Downtown Phoenix—an ornate, Spanish Baroque Revival structure brimming with a history of traveling vaudeville shows and the fur-clad, wealthy guests who filled its elegant halls. In its heyday, the Orpheum’s stage showcased some of Hollywood’s greats: Mae West for one, Lauren Bacall for two. Thanks to a restoration by the City of Phoenix, plus a spot in the National Register of Historic Places, the Orpheum now relives its glory days, playing host to nationally touring shows. Don your best duds and pretend to be Golden Age-era Hollywood elite.
Mad Men Swank: 1950s–1960s
For the fan of everything mid-century, you’ve come to the right place. Greater Phoenix boomed during the 1950s and 60s, as seen in our ranch-style homes and modular office buildings. Even the way our city is laid out—all grids and right angles—smacks of mid-century sensibilities.
Make your first stop the McDonald’s Rock ’n’ Roll Classic Car Show at Scottsdale’s The Pavilions at Talking Stick. Every Saturday from 4 to 8 p.m., up to 500 classic cars rumble through, finding a spot in the shopping center’s expansive parking area to sit and be ogled, awed, and fawned over. Hosted by the center’s 1950s-themed McDonald’s, this free-to-the-public event has been taking visitors back to happy days for the past 20 years. Grab a fountain drink and bop along to 1950s tunes as you peruse the cool and classic vehicles. It’ll feel just like a typical Saturday night at a drive-in hamburger joint, circa 1956.
Across the street from the car show, slide into a shiny red-vinyl booth for a bite at 5 & Diner, a chrome-and-neon 1950s-themed dream. Serving malts, shakes, and nine types of burgers, when it comes to mid-century dining, it doesn’t get more classic than this jukebox joint. The restaurant even hosts events such as hula hoop contests, sock hops, and rockabilly parties.
Tiki culture—the style, the food, the drinks—is enjoying a resurgence, but it first hit American shores in the late 1930s and continued to surge in popularity through the 1950s, after our island state of Hawaii joined the union. At the below-ground bar UnderTow, tiki is the name of the game. Designed like the hull of a ship, complete with porthole windows depicting at-sea adventures, UnderTow is tiny and reservations are highly recommended. But once you “board,” my, oh my. The drinks arrive at your table tall and adorned with flowers and fruit, servers wear Polynesian-style shirts, and the whole experience will have you sure that you’ve set sail on exotic, time-transporting seas.
Totally Rad Fun: 1970s–1990s
Ah, the 1980s—a time of big hair, power ballads, arcade fever, and John Hughes movies. A period in history when it was perfectly acceptable to sport a mullet or blue eye shadow. Here in Greater Phoenix, you can go back to 1987 in so many ways (eye shadow optional). Let’s start with a quintessential 80s icon: Pac-Man.
At Cobra Arcade Bar in Downtown Phoenix, wax nostalgic for days of yore, when the mall arcade was the hangout spot. Cobra pairs its collection of vintage games—from Ms. Pac-Man and Donkey Kong to Frogger and Super Mario Bros.—with cocktails that sport names like Death Star and Garbage Pail Kid. And to be clear, Cobra Arcade isn’t a museum of 1980s game consoles; every machine in Cobra is 100% playable. Bring your pocket change.
Castles-n-Coasters also offers a “totally awesome” arcade experience, albeit one that’s more family-friendly. The amusement park may be known for its roller coasters, bumper cars, and mini golf, but when it opened in 1977, teens flocked here for the massive indoor video arcade, still in operation today. By massive, we’re talking 12,000 square feet of gaming space. The best part? Upstairs, the impressive collection of classic games still rock 1980s prices, meaning you get to play Galaga, Mortal Kombat, and Tetris for just 25 cents.
Ready for a show? Take your pick—a rock concert featuring a killer 70s, 80s, or 90s tribute band or a retro movie on the big screen. Casino Arizona features a year-round lineup of live music at its performance space, The Showroom, including a long list of cover bands whose music spans the decades. Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino showcases concerts by bands that pay homage to popular 70s and 80s groups, such as ABBA and Fleetwood Mac. And while you may have seen Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Breakfast Club, or Back to the Future 50 times, there’s nothing quite like watching them on the big screen. Harkins Theatres lets you do just that with its Tuesday Night Classics program, which features a different movie every Tuesday at 7 p.m.