Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Technically, at least, Italian gelato is better for you than regular ol' American ice cream. Like they used to say of Miller Lite back in the day (and may still do, as far as we know), it tastes great and is less filling. Indeed, gelato uses less milk fat during its production (the FDA mandates at least 10 percent milk fat for ice cream), and it doesn't pump as much air into the frozen treat, leaving gelato with a far smoother consistency. Of course, you're not supposed to eat gelato by the bucketful, either, which is what we do whenever we're in Chandler, stopping by the best gelato shop in the Valley, for as much of its pistachio flavor as we can eat. The quality of Angel Sweet's product is very high, due in no small part to the fact that the investors behind this gelato reputedly own the U.S. license for Mondogelato, a famous gelato maker whose product they fell in love with during a fact-finding mission to Italy. Of Angel Sweet's 20-some flavors, we adore the coconut, the peanut butter, the hazelnut, the zuppa inglese (which tastes like eggnog), and the berry explosion of frutti di bosco (fruits of the forest), tangy from the seeds of a half-dozen berries. Talk about la dolce vita, this is it! But, alas, we haven't noticed any dramatic weight loss since we've begun stopping by for our weekly gorges. Can't figure out why.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We love to drink, and thanks to Plush, now everyone knows it. The Tempe clothing and accessories store knows folks like beer. Whether you're a patriot (Samuel Adams), a foreigner (Guinness) or simply a cheap bastard faking it as a hipster (Pabst Blue Ribbon), Plush Clothing has what you need to dress as a beer lover while not coming off as a drunk. Of course, if you are drunk, wearing a Mickey's belt buckle will make ordering at the bar easier when your speech is slurring. The store carries items like Coors Light hats, Pabst Blue Ribbon belt buckles, Schlitz shirts and Rolling Rock mouse pads -- all in the name of beer pride. Oh yeah, and Plush has non-beer-related clothing as well. So if you need a belt to put that fancy red Olde English belt buckle on, the sober staffers at Plush can hook you up.
Located in a battered 1950s-era strip mall in central Phoenix, Gifts Anon is like a Hallmark store for the rehab set. Twelve-step-program-themed paraphernalia, some of it sad and strange, fill the aisles here: teddy bears emblazoned with the Narcotics Anonymous logo; blankets embroidered with the Serenity Prayer; and, of course, Harley-Davidson-licensed coffee mugs and tee shirts with messages of encouragement for those trying to stay clean. Racks of greeting cards offer terse congratulations for sobriety anniversaries ("You made it 30 days!"), and shelves of self-help books are arranged under section headers like "Cocaine/Crack," "Anxiety/Phobias/Stress," and "Money Issues."
Our favorite item: the comic book titled "Attack of the Relapse Man." The juxtaposition of gift shop sentimentality with topics like sex addiction and alcoholism makes for endless tragicomedy, but only those of us without compulsive tendencies are allowed to giggle.
One of the few independent businesses that has survived Sunnyslope is High Society, a "smoke 'n' stuff" shop that has sat in the same strip mall for 21 years. Sure, other smoke shops -- especially the big chains -- have more pop culture kitsch, like Korn posters and porcelain ashtrays with pot leaves on them.
But this is the place that sold posters of The Cramps and T.S.O.L. back in '85. And when it comes to, uh, tobacco paraphernalia, High Society's original collection of glass bongs, hookahs, bubblers and hand pipes remains the most colorful, smooth-hitting, and reasonably priced in the Valley. High Society even has a guy who blows custom glass pieces on Fridays, and a "black light room" for your viewing pleasure.
As far as we're concerned, High Society smokes the competition.
Having a bad hair day? Why not do what all the celebs do when they don't feel like messing with all those follicles and all that hairspray? Slip on a falsie. The place to unearth such wonders is Panorama Wigs. With more than 3,000 wigs in stock and a personal stylist on hand, you're destined to walk in as a foxy brunette and glide out a fiery redhead, toting a blonde bombshell in a box under your arm. All these shimmering locks are affordable, too. From a quick-fix 'do priced at just $25 to an extravagant coif at $120, you can go incognito to work and spend the day counting colleagues who trip over your new beauty. When it comes to fake hair, think Panorama -- because you're worth it.
It started with "manscaping" on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and The 40-Year-Old Virgin sealed the deal. Back hair has always been a problem in certain circles, but now male body hair in general is as out of style as a mullet. You can shave or pluck, gentlemen, but really, the way to take it all off is wax. It won't be cheap, and it will hurt, but you can minimize both factors at Carsten Institute, where a student will be happy to pour hot wax on you and rip it off, along with your body hair. Don't worry, this won't be some first-day kid. Carsten -- best known for its affiliation with Aveda products -- puts esthetician students through two to three months of training before setting them loose on your hairy hiney. Come to think of it, that's the only part of the body we didn't think to ask about, when we procured a price list. But here's a rundown, sans butt:
Back: $35. Chest: $35. Arms: $15. Legs: $50. Bikini: $25. Yes, you read it right -- bikini.
Take our advice: Pop a few over-the-counter painkillers first. Beauty is a pain.
Finding hair-care products for a woman of color can be frustratingly difficult in any area of Phoenix, except -- by virtue of its more diverse population -- the west side. Fortunately, there's BBB Fashion, a cavernous clothing/jewelry/hair marketplace located in an old strip mall at 52nd Avenue and Indian School Road. Here, amid long aisles packed with gels, pressing oils, wigs and hair extensions ranging from trackless braids to pricey fusion treatments, a dry-haired beauty can find all the necessities the local Walgreens, Target and even Sally's seem to believe nobody in Phoenix has ever even heard of. Are you gellin', Wal-Mart?