Best Of :: Shopping & Services
We thought we knew the meaning of "jaw-dropping" until we set foot inside Total Wine, the sprawling Dionysian temple whose name pretty much says it all. In the past year, the national retailer has opened two locations in the Valley, and both have become to wine lovers what IKEA is to compulsive home decorators: destination shopping. Total Wine is gargantuan, to be sure, but it's got a comfortable layout that feels less like a warehouse and more like a high-end grocery store, with displays arranged by region and varietal, and wines displayed alphabetically, along with tasting notes and Wine Spectator ratings. For as much inventory as they have — around 8,000 different wines at every store, along with an amazing variety of beers, spirits, and drink-centric accessories — bottles are so easy to track down that you may as well bring along a checklist. (Actually, it would be easier to bring a highlighter marker to mark up a copy of the store's free shopping guide.) Not to mention, there are plenty of employees roaming the aisles, ready to help you in your search. Weekdays are good for unhindered leisurely browsing, but it's even more fun to stop by on a weekend afternoon for one of the regularly scheduled wine tastings. You'll never have to twist our arm to sample these goods.
We tried to resist our newest obsession, vintage carnival chalkware, but we failed. It certainly didn't help that while we were out looking for end tables, we stumbled on a treasure trove of this cool stuff, which used to be handed out as prizes at carnival dime pitches in the '30s and '40s. Our shelves were already stacked with tiny chalk Pinocchios and big, scary-eyed kewpies covered in chalk's trademark hyper-colorful, randomly spray-painted way, when we tripped into Historic District Antique Mall, which has the best selection of vintage chalkware we've seen anywhere, hands down.
We spied a pair of sleepy cherub bookends; a super-rare (and really gigantic — is there such a thing as "too big" when you're talking chalkware?) Porky Pig; and not one, but three, majorettes, which were popular figurines in chalkware during the '30s. We ended up buying a chalkware lamp shaped like a fawn and a pair of really ugly schooners, simply because they were so cheap and because we'd never seen chalkware that depicted a boat before. Looking for a new obsession? You, too, can become infatuated with the joys of vintage chalk — and if you do, we recommend nursing your chalkware jones at Historic District Antique Mall.
Looking for that ultra-spicy ginger beer that they serve at your favorite indie restaurant? Come to Pop the Soda Shop. Not only do they have the elusive drink you've been searching for (as well every conceivable kind of ginger ale, ginger soda, and ginger beer out there), they have more varieties of "alternative, imported, and gourmet" sodas and non-alcoholic beverages than we ever thought possible. It's just plain fun to stroll the aisles of this specialty shop, where there's everything from cane sugar cola and exotic energy drinks to old-fashioned sarsaparilla, birch beer, and root beer. For the sugar-conscious crowd, check out the fancy bottled water, tea, and diet sodas of every flavor. Chocolate soda? Check. Moxie? Check. Purple Love Potion #69? Check. (Seriously, they really do carry an "arousing carbonated drink" with such an entertaining name.) It's hard to stump the folks at Pop the Soda Shop. But why would you want to, when discovering wacky new sodas is this fun?
Francine Sumner didn't mean to become a successful jewelry designer. She just didn't want to fork over a lot of money for that cute "mommy jewelry" she wanted, namely the hand-stamped silver discs with kid names that every mom worth her station wagon is wearing around town these days.
Sumner learned how to make her own, then started selling it at local stores like MADE art boutique and About Face.
And then she got into Twilight — Stephenie Meyer's vampire novel series for young aduts — and started making jewelry based on the characters created by Meyer, herself a local mom. The Twilight jewelry, like the books, has flown off the shelves. You can find it on her Web site or at Changing Hands bookstore. We love the "good vampire" and "bad vampire" necklaces, as well as the "Go Ask Alice" motif. And the "bite me" charms are, well, to die for.
Ten years ago, if a restaurant were to charge $5 for coffee, it would have been laughed out of business. That's why Toshi's Roast in Surprise nabbed our vote this year — because if a cuppa Joe is going to cost as much as a decent burger, than it had damn well better be imported from South America and roasted in-house using a $15,000 machine. Owners Randy Miller, a former California juvie probation officer, and his wife, Marie, were clever enough to create a niche market for themselves, offering Asian-themed blended drinks like the popular Black Dragon Mocha, plus a selection of Japanese teas. The result is an upscale and trendy coffee house that brews a solid cup of coffee, whether it's the cheapskate's Americano or a fancy latte that's actually worth the five bucks.
In our often-sheltered, middle-class world, nothing's worse than waiting in line for a cup of coffee. And though there are plenty of mainstream and mom-and-pop shops in town serving caffeinated goodness, there always seems to be a queue moving at a snail's pace. Grrr. That's until Conspire began serving coffee out of its off-the-radar house in the Evans-Churchill district. The indie biz, formerly known as C.O.L.A.B., is an artist-run store that sells all sorts of handmade fashion, visual art, and coffee with (yes!) zero to little wait. (At least, before 'Best of' hits the streets.) We're so happy every day knowing that we'll get our morning fix when we need it.