These are the impressions I had of Arizona before flying to Phoenix last minute for Lost Lake Music Fest: The soft, warm pastels in which Instagram influencers are currently awash; golfing retirees; Edward Abbey’s concerns about irrigation; the throwback politics; roughly 71 pages of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian; and an anecdote about the caterpillars of the Chiricahua mountains, which charmed a former neighbor of mine right before she fell for the entomologist cataloging them.
Visiting a city you’ve read a little about but which doesn’t have as massive a reputation preceding it as, say, New York City or San Francisco, is a little like meeting someone for the first time based on their online dating profile or a friend’s recommendation. You have a few tidbits to go on, but no idea how they’ll line up with the real deal. You have high enough hopes to stake a plane ticket on the promise of a fun weekend, but no idea if there will be a genuine spark will.
Let me spoil the surprise and tell you right now: Phoenix left me wanting a second date.
At first blush, the city seemed like a place that would exist if Denver picked itself up off its plateau and descended into the Sonoran Desert. Both cities feel, to some extent, like cowtowns grown up, and both have historic districts flush with mid-century ranches and teeny post-war homes. But there’s something different about Phoenix besides elevation and climate. Flying over the Salt River and the Superstition Mountains, Phoenix is unmistakable — glittering there on the edge of the desert. The flight path seems to cut right past the downtown skyscrapers. And there it is, and old-new city, partly Clint Eastwood’s west, with its towering saguaros and saw-toothed mountains abruptly jutting out of the center of the city, and part California, the tidy grid of even streets and canals, its palm trees and bright flowers.
My first stop was the Camby Hotel, which has been open in its current incarnation as part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection for about a year. The decor is luxe, cheeky, and Instagram ready. After a warm greeting from the desk, I posted up in the bronze-spangled, nouveau-deco Artizen Bar while housekeeping put the finishing touches on my room. An Arizona Hop Knot IPA by Four Peaks Brewing pair with an ahi poke salad and I was already feeling good to be out west. The lunch menu certainly has its finger on current culinary trends — making the fries festive with a dusting of sumac and amping up the Organic Amaranth Salad with a dose of fiery harissa. The dinner menu is simultaneously more refined and rustic with items like veal cheeks, bacon foie pate, and Colorado lamb chops.
Once I was up on the seventh floor overlooking Camelback Mountain, it was easy to settle in. The room was a generous size and the decor felt designer without being impersonal. A giant metallic installation over my bed read “everything’s looking up,” and I had to agree. My bathmat told me “clean up your act,” and I was happy to do so. While I was dressing, I noticed that the illuminated cow skull sconce over my desk said “moo.” Thirty minutes in my room and I’d already had a complete conversation with it.