From the first time I visited Sedona in 2000 I’ve always heard the same thing: The streets roll up at 5:30 p.m. In Sedona, it’s midnight at 9 p.m. There’s nothing for young people to do. I moved here with the understanding that nightlife was a six-screen movie theater and a few coffeehouses – for live music and dancing, prepare to drive to Flagstaff or Phoenix. Well, guess what? If you’re one of those people who think the phrase “Sedona nightlife” deserves the same level of skepticism as “Sedona vortex,” we’ll just say it flat out: You’re wrong.
Sedona Monthly spent seven nights visiting eight local bars, pubs, saloons and clubs, and each time we found something to make us glad we got off the couch and left TV to the TiVo. A bartender had us in stitches at PJ’s Village Pub, a young DJ made us want to shut up and dance at Olde Sedona Bar and Grill, karaoke at Full Moon Saloon gave us a good-natured laugh at our friends, and a rock band at Martini Bar sounded better than weeks’ worth of American Idol auditions. Nightlife in Sedona starts earlier than in L.A. (OK, a lot earlier) and you won’t see Lindsay Lohan or velvet ropes, but you may meet new friends and we promise no one will look at you cross-eyed when you order a mojito.
A few tips: Before you head to a bar to hear a specific band, call first to double-check the schedule – we’ve found lineups change fast. If you smoke, keep in mind you’ll be doing so outdoors come May 1 due to the Smoke-Free Arizona Act (www.smokefreearizona.org); some bars are already smoke-free. Nightlife in Sedona remains casual but that doesn’t mean everyone shows up in hiking boots – in most bars you’ll feel as comfortable in Dior as you will in Dickies. In Sedona at night as in Sedona by light, feel free to express yourself.
Sunday, 9:11 p.m. – Full Moon Saloon
Courage in a bottle. That’s what karaoke regular Wayne Laursen calls the beer a first-time karaoke singer typically grips while flipping through the songbooks at Full Moon Saloon, scanning 5,000 titles for just one that will make them sound like a star. Wayne is long past his liquid courage phase – he’s one of the Village of Oak Creek bar’s golden throats. Full Moon hosts karaoke every Sunday and Thursday night and you’ll usually find Wayne singing country and rock each night. Tonight he’s singing lead-off, belting out Garth Brooks’ “The Dance” in a black T-shirt that says “Old Guys Rule.”
“It can be addictive if you’re halfway decent,” Wayne says after his last verse. “You get to know other singers and there’s a camaraderie. You always want to learn new material and typically the crowds are very forgiving. I’ve never heard anybody get booed – that’s not what this is all about. It’s not Star Search.”
Full Moon Saloon feels more upscale than some other local bars – the walls are painted a rich gold, and dozens of niches filled with candles emit a warm glow. A pool table is tucked behind the L-shaped bar and ESPN plays on four TVs. Overstuffed couches and chairs are pushed up against the front window and tall tables line one wall. The saloon has eight beers on tap and “bar food” – burgers, pizzas, sandwiches and wings – until 2 a.m. Outside you’ll find a fireplace, tables, and blankets for cozying up on cool nights. During our visit, cigarette smoke hung heavily in the air but bartender Joe Mooney says he’s not worried the new anti-smoking law will drive away customers.