Sola Coffee Bar
We'd heard so much hype about Sola Coffee Bar that we didn't want to go. There was no way the place could live up to expectations. But it did. Simple and spare, serving our favorite Cartel coffee and spinning the Black Keys (literally — on vinyl) this is one groovy coffee house. There's organic agave nectar on the counter next to the milk and sugar, but the vibe is decidedly laid-back — our sweet barista gave us tea leaves to sniff 'til we'd found just the right one that made the perfect peach iced tea for an impossibly hot day. Even considering the weather, we couldn't help leaving Sola feeling just a little bit cooler.
Ye Olde Pipe & Tobacco Shoppe
For Rick Hopkins, owner of Ye Olde Pipe & Tobacco Shoppe, cigars have been in the family for more than 30 years. Since beginning work at his father's downtown 'gar shop at 15, Hopkins smoked his first stogie at 19 and eventually took over the business in 1996. From best-value bundled cigars to premium puffs like Padron and Romeo y Julieta, beginning blunters and aficionados alike can find their supreme stick by chatting with friendly staff or strolling the humidor, then light up in the shop's large, non-membership smoking lounge, where they can sign up to smoke and socialize at Ye Olde's next monthly cigar-tasting event.
Traders Smoke Shop
The sheer size of Traders Smoke Shop gives it an advantage over the competition — the shop's located in what was formerly a furniture store, so Traders has more than 500 square feet and two big showrooms to display their wares. Such wares include dozens of hookah-tobacco flavors, a stockpile of bladed weapons, and stoner T-shirts that say things like "Hooked on Chronics worked for me" and "Keep on the grass." But it's the staples of any good head shop — stuff to smoke and things to smoke it in — that really sets Traders apart from other Valley head shops. Not only does Traders stock more than 20 kinds of specialty tobacco, but it also carries a plethora of "herbal incense," containing JWH chemical compounds and known as "legal weed" or "synthetic marijuana." And for those who need equipment, Traders' "glass room" houses hundreds of custom blown-glass pipes, hookahs, and water pipes, all of high quality and reasonable price.
Brew Your Own Brew
The Brew Your Own Brew store isn't very big, but somehow it manages to have everything a home brewer needs in stock. It has the equipment (air stills, fruit mashers, fermentation vats), and it has a wide selection of ingredients, from fruit pastes for wines and yeasts for beers to "make-your-own" cheese kits and starter liquids for homemade sodas. BYOB even carries a variety of colored glass bottles, new bottle caps and wine corks, and adhesive labels. There's a selection of books near the register on home-brewing wine and beer and knowledgeable associates on hand to wax enthusiastic about your brewing project and to offer advice. And if there were any doubts that Brew Your Own Brew is serious about the homebrew craft, one step inside the "grain room" will dispel them. Here, you can buy bulk grain for making your booze, including base malts, flaked oats and rice, maize, barley, and even unmalted wheat berries. If you want to home-brew wine or beer but aren't sure exactly what you want to make, a stroll through Brew Your Own Brew will probably give you dozens of ideas.
Su Vino Winery
Scottsdale's latest twist on the wine scene lies in a bona fide winery squeezed into the heart of Old Town. Su Vino offers the typical wine tastings and happy hours of any wine joint, but the real sparkle they serve is the ability to blend, bottle, and cork your own wine. Their "wine consultants" assist brides, families, and corporations with tastings to create their own custom blend, come up with a name, and label it in small batches for a reasonable price. They'll even help design your personalized label with photos and logos. Hey, we'll take a bottle of Cabernet over a fruit basket any day.
Tower Liquors
Drive-thru liquor shops can be singularly seedy affairs — and God knows East Phoenix, from Indian School to McDowell Road, is full of plenty of dubious examples. But even though Tower Liquors falls smack dab in the middle of this milieu of grungy alcoholic functionality, it's truly a gem: a spotlessly clean, perfectly organized shop that offers everything from Jose Cuervo to pickled eggs. The icing on the cake? The building is a Mid-Century Modernist's dream, with the kind of design details that inspired haughty hotspots like the Vig and the Parlor. During the day, it may not look like much; at night, we dare you to drive past its bright neon sign and not feel the gemutlichkeit. All that and cheap tequila, too.
Smokin' Lingerie
The seedy stucco strip-mall digs of Tempe's Smokin' Lingerie make it look like the kind of place you'd expect to buy cheap polyester thongs and rolling papers. But Smokin' Lingerie's best-kept secret is that it's home to one of the largest S&M toy collections around. This is where local doms and subs (that's dominants and submissives, for all you non-kinksters) come for supplies they need quicker than Internet shipping allows. The shop carries tools to set you up as a power player, from six-inch stiletto heels that you can crush into your sub's sternum for foreplay to ball gags and The Gates of Hell, a Mad Max-style torture device that restrains a man's, er, manhood. Into fetish play? Try the latex body paint. Don't have a partner? Ask about the self-gratification machines. And should you have more questions on BDSM, Smokin' Lingerie has a collection of "educational" videos to clue you in to the lifestyle.
Tuff Stuff
When you're one of the last remaining original custom leather stores in the country, a hard edge goes along with the hide. Through the steel bars and past the motorcycle in the display window, the interior of Tuff Stuff Leather has been home to reasonably priced vests, pants, belts, bondage wear, and more for more than 20 years. With most items manufactured on-site, leather lovers can start small with a studded arm band or biker hat, browse gear like body harnesses and collars, or take it tailor-made with a pair of custom "501"-style leather pants. Screw tender — when it comes to leather, it's Tuff.
Revolver Records
Vinyl junkies who need a fix come to Revolver Records for two reasons. First, the store has a big selection of records, all separated by various genres. Of course, they have the standard sections like rock and country, but the smaller bins — those labeled punk, industrial, metal, and hip-hop — have a sizable selection, too. Volume and organization make Revolver heaven for casual browsers, but another reason this store's so popular with record collectors is its plethora of rare and imported albums. It's easy enough to find The Eagles' Hotel California anywhere (even Goodwill), but if you're looking for, say, the British import 12-inch pressing of Alien Sex Fiend's Ignore the Machine, a limited-edition Jimmy Eat World picture disc, or even a first pressing of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie soundtrack, you've got to go Revolver.
Hoodlums New & Used Music
There are a lot of great record stores of varying degrees of indieness in metro Phoenix. Hoodlums excels not because it has the biggest selection or the choicest obscurities — it's solid, but not spectacular, in that regard — but because it's the best version of what we think a record store needs to be in an evolving marketplace deeply affected by the steady march toward digital-only distribution. Hoodlums isn't just a place to pick up silver slivers of plastic and old concert posters; it's a meeting place that always goes the extra step toward engaging customers as a community, whether it's staging a seemingly unending string of signings, small shows, art shows, or screenings of music-related movies. They've even held a few micro music festivals. In that way, Hoodlums has followed the path of its next-door neighbor, Changing Hands Bookstore, becoming a treasure to the Valley. You can buy CDs anywhere, but it's a rare place that can make you feel like part of the local music community, and Hoodlums is such a place.

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