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Best Of 2005


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Best Of :: Shopping & Services


The Book Connection is an odd little business, a shop just steps away from the ultimate independent bookstore (in these parts, anyway), Changing Hands. But there it is, tiny in comparison, with rows of used books and a few Melissa and Doug puzzles in the window.

Melissa and Doug toys are one of life's true joys. They're almost all made of wood, by some crunchy northeasterners (probably named Melissa and Doug) who realized that if one more plastic Polly Pocket doll moved into our house, we were going to have to move out. The toys are relatively inexpensive -- you can score a cool puzzle for $10, even an enormous castle with a king and queen for under $100. And you can find just about every Melissa and Doug toy we've ever seen -- a bigger selection, even, than in the toy department at you-know-where -- at the Book Connection.

The best part: Follow the rows of books to the back of the store, and it opens onto an oasis of toys. Shelves full of Melissa and Doug toys for sale, and just about every toy available to try. Our kids have held many concerts on the tiny pianos, thrown parties in the dollhouses -- and made good use of the (real) bathroom in the back, all undisturbed by the friendly staff.

Retro Redux

When we stepped into this chic Seventh Avenue secondhand shop, it was as if a time machine had transported us back to an era when the Chairman of the Board ruled the world and cocktail culture was king. In our disorientation, we decided it was time to ditch our trendy obsession with '80s fashion and get a style that's more Rat Pack than Brat Pack.

Goodwill and vintage clothiers can be hit-or-miss, but our newfound friends at Retro Redux aren't; they clearly know which estate sales to hit, as there are ample samples of swanky suits and other attire from the Camelot era. Bingo, baby, we just found a smoking jacket worthy of Hef himself, as well as a two-piece sharkskin number with just the right amount of shine. To go along with our Chez Nous style, we acquired a pair of two-tone wingtips, a cigarette case, cufflinks, and enough martini shakers, quadraphonic stereo equipment, and copies of Look magazine to remake our apartment into one shagadelic bachelor pad.


4303 N. 7th Ave., Phoenix, 85014

We confess. As much as we live for the exhilaration of the table games like Texas Hold'em and blackjack at the multitude of casinos in the Valley, we sometimes like to simply slip off to the slots section with a few dozen rolls of nickels, for a slower-paced way of wasting our kid's college fund. Many a lost weekend has been spent in front of these one-armed bandits, working the levers in a zombie-like rapture, and feeding in loose change until our fingers have been dirtied by the coins. Many casinos try to get us spending with machines featuring various licensed properties like The Addams Family or The Price Is Right. Frankly, we're sickened by this crass commercialization, and prefer the more generic -- yet still exciting -- slot machines produced by Atronic Casino Technology, a Scottsdale-based company that produces themed slots with thrilling names like "Angels & Devils CASH FEVER" and "Black Thunder." They've got all the bells and whistles of an ordinary machine, but without the endorsement of Bob Barker.

If only Atronic would offer public tours of its headquarters, so we could learn some tricks to landing that one gigantic progressive jackpot that's been eluding us. After all, baby needs a full ride to Rutgers.

Sportsman's Fine Wines and Spirits

Phoenix is a city of pawnshops and drive-through liquor stores. There seems to be one or the other on every corner, thus allowing you to pawn that Rolex, then cruise on down the street to grab a bottle of Maker's Mark without ever having to get out of your BMW. Brilliant, eh? Of course, not all drive-through liquor stores are created equal, and the best in town is also one of the best liquor stores in general, Sportsman's Fine Wines and Spirits at 32nd Street and Camelback Road. The folks at Sportsman's are serious cork dorks, likker geeks, and so on, with an outstanding selection of wines and spirits from all over the world, which makes for a combo of brains and product that can't be beat. This ain't the sort of place you roll up on to purchase a case of PBR. No, sir. But if you can't recall the name of that Argentine Cabernet you went gaga over at the last wine tasting, and want to grab a couple of liters without getting out of your Spiderman pajamas, then Sportsman's drive-through window is for you.

3205 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 85018
Hermanos Liquor and Market

So you've dumped all your hard-earned nicks into Lobstermania, Betty Boop's Big Hit, and Wheel of Fortune machines, and you're feeling lower than William H. Macy's loser character in The Cooler. You're down to your last few bucks -- just enough for a Lone Star and a lone butt. Where to go in Phoenix that would perfectly mirror the murky mood created by your losing streak and let you anonymously score both cig and swig without having to get out of your car?

Try Hermanos Liquor and Market, a dive of a drive-through liquor/convenience mart in downtown Phoenix. Reminiscent of a funky 1940s film noir movie set, Hermanos caters to a clientele on its last few fumes. The night we drove through this picaresque pit stop, we were entertained by what appeared to be several ladies of nocturnal endeavors looking for a loosy and a bleary-eyed guy with a brown paper bag way worse off than we were. You couldn't buy this kind of ambiance even if you had all the moola back you just fed to those money-sucking machines.

1340 Grand Ave., Phoenix, 85007

We're always crunched for time these days, so to free up spots on our schedule, we've combined two of our main passions: boozing and buying. Since the security fascists at Scottsdale Fashion Square wouldn't let us flit around with Fat Tires in our fists, we're gonna try purchasing while plastered on Wednesday evenings and during the day from Fridays through Sundays at the Valley's largest outdoor swap meet. Food vendors serve up drafts like Budweiser Select and Coors Light in 16-ounce cups for $2.50 (or "The Big One," a bladder-busting 24-ouncer, for $5), as well as cans of Budweiser and Bud Light for $3, and imports like Tecate and Corona for $3. Golf carts loaded with giant kegs of Miller Lite and Miller High Life also cruise the rows, meeting you while you're haggling over cowboy hats, baseball bats, or statues of cats. A vast collection of other marked-down merchandise is also in abundance, be it dirt-cheap video games, boundless bling-bling jewelry, affordably priced Chuck Taylors, or a hardware-store-size selection of new and used tools.

Avoid stumbling into any stacks of home electronics, however, because if you break it, you buy it.




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