BEST PLACE TO RENT A SINGING COWBOY AND DANCING HORSE 2003 | Gary Sprague | Shopping & Services | Phoenix


Gary Sprague

You've gotta love an entertainer who provides a résumé for his "trusty mount," Steel. Here's an excerpt: "Everyone loves Steel. He has been known to go up and down stairs and ride in elevators. He has even done the national anthem on ice for the Phoenix Coyotes hockey team. His ultra-soft coat and gentle personality make him a delightful and welcome visitor." The pretty white horse is just half the act, though, rearing and twirling on command as Gary Sprague croons our favorite songs from Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. Since 1987, Sprague and Steel have been entertaining locals and visitors at area restaurants, and on weekends in Old Town Scottsdale. It's just too fun -- Sprague twirls his six-shooters, plays guitar, and dances with Steel. So we were beyond gleeful to find that we could hire the duo for private performances, too, with Western music, humorous cowboy poetry, funny tall tales and educational presentations. And because Steel (and Sprague, too, we guess) is so well-behaved, we can even have them perform indoors. This is truly the West at its best.

Tuff Stuff leather is one of the few remaining original custom leather stores in the country. Offering custom chaps, vests, jocks and more for 20 years, Tuff Stuff fabricates much of its inventory on the premises. Craftsmen make a sleek and affordable line of leather floggers, which helps maintain the store's philosophy of making bondage available to everyone. For less than $100, customers can purchase a complete starter restraint package, perfect for individuals and couples curious about the lifestyle but not yet ready to invest in an $1,800 leather body bag. Owner Bob De Jardine also emphasizes that, apart from the cock and ball toys, nearly all Tuff Stuff's items can be used by men or women. De Jardine carries a full line of harnesses, cock rings, art, whips, hoods and blindfolds, as well as racks of more traditional leather vests and pants for more formal occasions.

From pale ale to the ale pail, if beer production requires it, these "home fermentation specialists" have it. While beginning brewers may find the inventory overwhelming -- siphons, stopcocks, yeast, hops (whole and pellet), malt extract, blueberry flavoring -- liquid courage is easy to come by. Beer-brewing and wine-making kits pack all the necessary equipment (booklet, bucket, hydrometer, thermometer, etc.) into a single box. An initial investment of $108.50, plus a month's worth of patience, turns five gallons of water into 53 bottles of happiness. So pick your poison -- American cream ale, cerveza-style amber, Irish stout, Weizenbier -- and just brew it.

Many makeup junkies gladly made the pilgrimage to the Las Vegas Sephora until the European beauty chain finally set up shop at Scottsdale Fashion Square earlier this year. With a sleek, spotless black-and-white interior, no-pressure staff and aisle after aisle of high-end products, Sephora is laid out like the proverbial candy store. Best of all, the items aren't locked inside glass display cases -- everything is out for perusal, ready to be tucked into handy shopping baskets. Testers are available for everything, from Cargo lip gloss to Stila blush to bold eyeliners from Sephora's own complete line of cosmetics, and plenty of cotton balls, disposable applicators, alcohol and makeup remover are on hand for shoppers' adventurous beauty experiments.
Local bibliophiles have an almost cultlike affection for Changing Hands, and rightly so. From the carefully arranged tables of new books on display to employees' thoughtful comment tags for favorite titles, it's obvious that this place genuinely celebrates reading. It celebrates the authors, too, hosting top names such as Anthony Bourdain and Garrison Keillor, while also showcasing local and young writers. With the Wildflower Bread Company adjoining it, there's hardly any reason to leave the store; visitors can fuel up on frittatas and pastries, then participate in a book group, take in a lecture or workshop, or simply head back to the stacks for blissful browsing.

Readers' Choice for Best Bookstore -- New Titles: Borders Books & Music

We went looking for kitchen cupboard door handles and came up wanting. Finally, a contractor pal sent us to Clyde, an off-the-beaten-path treasure trove we'd always thought was only open to tradespeople. In fact, Clyde has been selling knobs and toilets and sinks and a hundred other household fixtures to do-it-yourselfers since 1967. Its gallery of things to screw onto drawers and cupboards and doors left us gaping: Literally hundreds of shiny tugs and knobs and hinges beamed out at us from carefully organized wall mounts, categorized by rooms where they might belong and tidily numbered for quick ordering ease.

Crystal octagonal knobs? Pewter library pulls? Hand-painted ceramic handles shaped like wee soccer balls? Our decision was made easier by knob-savvy staffers who can recite knob styles and dole out warm advice about what to buy. The friendly, knowledgeable staff treated us as if we were old friends who'd dropped in with good news. We had: We found our thrill with Clyde, and can't wait to return.

We're so happy when it rains in the Valley -- those few and far between wet days make us feel like we're getting a taste of Seattle. And we get absolutely excited when we get fog. That usually only happens once or twice a year, but when it does, it transports us to sultry San Francisco. Not that we don't love our own Arizona sun; we do, but sometimes it's nice to feel another cosmopolitan ambiance.

So imagine our delight when we discovered that we can have our very own fog, on demand, any time of year our damp little hearts desire. Thanks to the folks at Arizona Fog Wizards, all it takes is a high-pressure pump and motor module connected with high-pressure, 1,500 psi hoses, stainless steel tubing with aircraft welded stand-offs, and high-pressure mist nozzles (don't ask, just leave it to the pros). The fog created through the misting system lowers the air temperature 20 to 30 degrees, which is great. What we really like, though, is the look -- billowy mist, moody, Casablanca-style haze, vapory lace dancing through the air and clouds licking the ground.

Most people have fog "installed" to add drama to their pool, spa, waterfall or fountain. We're too poor to go whole hog like that, so imagine our joy to find that there's also a "mist rose." It's a small system designed to look like a flower that puffs spurts of fog wherever we set it down. Next time we have a party, we're going to see how they work in the house, maybe set in front of a strobe light or something.

Hey, it sure beats dry ice.

Tucked away in midtown Phoenix, Red is a ruby for those looking for retro style. This is a small furniture boutique that has an eclectic selection of rare finds including Eames, Wakefield, Miller and Knoll. You will certainly find that exquisite piece of 20th-century furniture that you've been looking for. This jewel also offers on-site reupholstering with a wide range of fabrics from contemporary to modern, as well as restorations. It's the perfect place to glam up your pad or to get that piece that you remember from childhood.


Movies on Central

You're looking for Wild on the Beach. Or Desperate Living. Or that little French film that you can never remember the name of -- the one about the girl who only eats empty cereal boxes. You won't find any of these delightfully obscure titles at local chain rental stores, with their stacks of just-released-to-DVD feature films and wall of dreadful mass-appeal movies. This funky shop has all those and more, and it's the "more" that keeps us coming back weekend after weekend. We love the store's wall of John Waters films -- it's the only shop in town that carries the filthy filmmaker's entire output -- and the room full of cult movies (when's the last time you saw The Boy in the Plastic Bubble? Or The World of Henry Orient? Or anything starring Mothra?). The chatty, knowledgeable staff never wags a finger at us for our late returns. Maybe they understand that once we get our hands on these delightful, hard-to-find films, we hate to let them go.

Readers' Choice for Best Video Rental Store: Blockbuster Video

Sometimes we think our pet has a better life than we do. We knew for sure we were getting a little nutso when we decided that our crazy schedule was putting too much stress on the pooch, so we hired a doggy concierge to keep him entertained. Golden Paw meets all our canine concerns when we're too busy, with services including pet sitting with overnight stays (GP is a member of Pet Sitters International, "Professional Pet Sitting Excellence Through Education").

Okay, providing that kind of care is probably normal. But Golden Paw also coordinates pet field trips to parks "for health and socialization," shopping for pet groceries, pet spa treatments and massages, health care and "stylists" from the Valley's "top" vets and pet groomers, personal shopping at pet boutiques, pet travel arrangements, pet videos and, of course, pet birthday party planning.

It's no surprise that this service focuses on the high-dollar areas of Paradise Valley, Gainey Ranch, north Scottsdale, the Biltmore and Arcadia. It is surprising that to contract their attentions, we and our pet have to undergo an interview. Hey, if it really is a dog's life, we want to be our dog.

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