Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Earlier this year, Gren Radcliff's toy store for big kids moved from a cubbyhole inside of The Firehouse art collective into a beautiful and more visible location inside of Pravus gallery. We don't want to tell Radcliff how to run his business (and no offense to the good people at The Firehouse), but we think the decision was a freaking amazing career move because now there's more room for all those designer toy critters. Our favorites are the customizable vinyl Munny figures that local and national creative types have dolled up into awesome art pieces. The store, which is open seven days a week, also features the occasional First Friday exhibit as well as a toy-of-the-month club.
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.
It's easy to forget about this downtown gem — but every time we remember it's there, we wonder why we don't go more often. True, it's located in a part of town that's usually busy only on game day, but it's worth stepping off the beaten path (by which we mean Roosevelt Row and/or Seventh Street) for a cup from this place. Royal Coffee serves it up just how we like it: fast, friendly, and strong. Like a lot of downtown coffee shops, it also moonlights as an art gallery and hosts special events on First Friday. It's smack dab in the middle of what will (um, probably) someday be the "Jackson Street Entertainment District" and we hope Royal weathers the construction so that when downtown Phoenix becomes the new Mill Avenue, we'll totally have bragging rights to this spot. And so will you, if you follow our advice.
If coffee shops were people, Fiddler's Dream would be an aging hippie who just wants, like, music, freedom and peace, man. Despite its weekend-only hours and Quaker meeting-hall digs, we love Fidd's because it's a true community in a city of 5 million-plus people. The $1 brew's pretty solid — not complicated by a dozen chocolate, caramel, or seasonal-flavor extras — or you can opt for equally cheap tea, juice, or soda. The nonprofit volunteer organization hosts live acoustic music on Fridays and Saturdays. And by acoustic, we mean kickin' it old school. No speakers. No mics. Just regular folks, chatting about life and love over a cuppa joe while a guitar plays in the background. Exactly what a neighborhood coffee shop should be.
Mighty Cup is housed in an awesome vintage home with funky furnishings, serving up a mean cup of joe (along with teas, espressos, and other high-octane drinkage) with a groovy, laid-back vibe. But there's more than just beverage action to be had, as the works of local artists adorn the walls, and the place packs in the patrons on different nights of the week with spoken word on Thursday, as well as a variety night (featuring a mix of open mic, karaoke, and comedy) on Fridays. Local musicians such as singer/songwriter Steve Bailey performs at Mighty Cup on Saturdays.
Being stuck in Phoenix, sans vehicle, sucks. That goes double if your ride is in the shop and you're relying on your folks, who live in east Mesa, to drive you around. Ugh. Where to go? Hightail it (rather, get them to hightail you) to Ground Central, an indie coffee shop tucked away in one of those corporate shopping centers that so often begets pleasant surprises in this city. After we ordered a tasty caffeinated beverage and a fine pastry, plopped down at one of the spacious tables, and busted out our laptop to work on the free Wi-Fi, we wanted Mommy and Daddy to leave us there all day. Even if you're computer-less, there's plenty of eye candy at Ground Central, where you can watch national news on the TV and folks from the neighboring health club ruining their workout by ordering gut-busting sweets. The hang is open seven days a week.
The Orange Table is almost invisible compared to high-profile neighbors like SMoCA and AZ88, but we kind of love that about it. You can stick with coffee — the menu's complete in that arena, and no one will mind if you hang around all day, on the patio or inside. But trust us, you'll want a nosh. Everything here is tasty in a made-from-scratch way, and it's a real toss-up as to which meal of the day is best — breakfast, lunch, or dinner — so our advice is, stay for 'em all.
Looking for coffee in all the wrong Tempe places? Get your bean-loving butt to Cartel. Walk through its cheerful black-and-white tiled foyer into the mellow-but-hip high-ceilinged space, and you will swear you've died and gone to coffee heaven. And that's before you taste the espresso, which, in our humble opinion, is among the best in the Valley. Want a cup of regular coffee? They'll make it for you on the Clover 1S machine, which has five customizable options and brews one cup of coffee at a time.
Open since January and tucked into the same complex on University that houses several other local independent businesses, including Wet Paint, this gem of a shop is owned and run by husband-and-wife team Jason and Amy Silberschlag. The Silberschlags are both native Arizonans — he's from Tucson, she hails from Wickenburg — and both coffee freaks with a conscience. Their business model was coffee roaster with espresso bar, which still applies; they roast small "hand-crafted" batches of beans purchased from just two places in South America, including a family-run farm in Guatemala, and distribute them wholesale around the Valley. But the espresso bar has taken on a life of its own. There's a steady stream of customers, changing art on the walls and a regular event on Final Friday — usually live music. "It's become the neighborhood living room," Amy says.
Just like our living room — if it were way cooler and served coffee so good you wake up the next morning craving it.