Best Of :: Shopping & Services
In the world of liquor stores, Spec's is the undisputed ruler in Houston. The jewel in the crown is the company's Midtown location, which can be described as a magical place packed full of interesting beers, spirits, cigars and specialty foods. Every aspect of this store is top-shelf, with low-priced selections of your favorite tequilas and whiskeys; specialty beers such as Saint Arnold Divine Reserve; and those fancy-schmancy bottles of things that you see only in the movies, unless you can afford them. The staff is always both well-informed and friendly, and if by some remote chance they're out of what you need, no worry; they'll find it for you at one of their 70 other locations.
READERS' CHOICE: Spec's Warehouse
The feeling you get when walking into a barber shop shouldn't be the fear of getting another bad cut. You can definitely put your anxiety aside with the staff at Cutthroat Barbers. They specialize in straight razor shaves and fades. Need a beard trim? They've got the warm towel prepped and ready to go. The classic look and feel of the shop may make you forget that you can book your appointment online. Every cut comes with a complimentary beverage, usually on tap. Two locations.
READERS' CHOICE: Big Kat's Barbershop & Shave Parlor
Some pawn shops have a way of making you feel sad and creepy, about both the world and yourself. This is not one of them. Bellaire's Money Mart is a big, bright, clean store with friendly, laid-back salespeople and a huge, organized inventory of jewelry, electronics, instruments, tools, handbags and other stuff that's all in great condition. Whether you're buying, selling or seeking a short-term loan, you're bound to have a decent experience, and none of that "Wait, did I just get ripped off?" second-guessing that happens at too many other stores of its ilk. Don't pawnder any longer — go see for yourself!
READERS' CHOICE: Shaw's Jewelry
You've heard of a comedian's comedian? An actor's actor? Well, Dr. Melanie McKinnon is a chiropractor's chiropractor. She counts several other chiropractors among her patients. A native Houstonian, McKinnon has been cracking bones for more than 25 years. She's had special training in alternative pain care methods and neurology. (Dr. McKinnon has a Diplomate in Neurology.) She uses the Gonstead, Diversified and Activator methods to treat sciatica, whiplash and all manner of vertebrogenic disorders. Rehabilitation and corrective exercise sessions and massage therapy are offered on site under McKinnon's supervision. Wary of X-rays? So is she. Sure, they're needed sometimes, but sometimes they aren't, so why be exposed to the unnecessary radiation?
If you like to make noise with shoes and you want to do so in a place with other adults, then Tap Happy hits the spot. The adult tap dance studio started out as a single introductory class in 2008, but it has grown into a host of classes offered up by Sara Draper and the other teachers who have been signed off to teach in the Sara Draper method — that means you'll be learning old-school tap while being taught to make noise with shoes while holding your hands at the proper angle for each step. Whether you've taken dance classes all your life or are only now getting to live out that childhood fantasy of being Shirley Temple, Tap Happy has something to offer you.
When Cactus Music stops deserving to be called Houston's best record store, we'll stop doing it. In the past year or so, the vinyl stock at the Shepherd Plaza mainstay has probably doubled, reason enough to give them this year's award. The frequent in-stores with free Saint Arnold's you may know about, but here's some neat stuff about Cactus you may not: Cactus was founded in 1975 by Don and Bud Daily, son of legendary Houston record-label owner and jukebox supplier H.W. "Pappy" Daily. It has been in its present location since November 2007, after the original space next to the Alabama Theatre closed about 18 months earlier. Between record-company promo cutouts, historical photographs, framed 45s, oversize album covers and periodic installations, it's almost as good of an art gallery as it is a record store. It doubles as a gift shop par excellence, too, with all sorts of music-themed knickknacks and novelties. Even if you're just browsing, it's much more fun when a local luminary is spinning in the Record Ranch, which often happens weekend afternoons (and selected other times). And no true Houstonian is complete without at least one Cactus T-shirt in his or her wardrobe.
READERS' CHOICE: Cactus Music
The store is packed to the doors with clothes, jewelry, hats and shoes that have somehow survived long enough from the '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s and on to end up in this gem of a place in the Heights. It's basically a vintage mini-mall with different vendors offering up their finds. We still get giddy seeing all the racks of clothes just waiting to be pawed through in search of a '40s-era rayon swing dress, a canary-yellow bikini from the '60s or the perfect 1900s real velvet dressing gown. You can wade in and dig through the entire stock if you're so inclined, or — once you've learned your way around — you can just head straight for the booths that specialize in the eras of clothes you're after. You get what you pay for, so prices will go up based on the condition and rarity of the items, but they aren't astronomical, and you can score some amazing finds with a little luck and good timing.
READERS' CHOICE: Buffalo Exchange
According to the Briar Shoppe website, this Houston institution was born from a $500 loan from legendary Texas attorney Richard "Racehorse" Haynes to single mother Alice Amason, who had trouble getting a loan to open a tobacco shop because, bless her heart, the poor thing didn't understand it was a man's industry. Fast-forward 53 years, and it's a wonder to behold what that $500 created: one of the most impressive walk-in humidors in the city, with nearly 100 different labels, featuring everything from Alec Bradley to Zino. And the Briar Shoppe is especially well-known for its professional and courteous staff, who can help you find just the right cigar, whether you're a novice or an aficionado. Don't forget to check out the impressive selection of cutters, cases and other accessories, as well.
This sprawling bazaar bills itself as "A Texas-Size Marketplace," and this is one time where the hyperbole is warranted: It features more than 100 acres of goods — we're talking art, jewelry, auto parts, bicycles, electronics, comics, housewares and everything in between. Since 1989, Traders Village has basically set the standard for flea markets in Houston — if it exists, chances are it's here, and for a price that won't make you feel like a chump. It's fun to go even if you don't have anything in mind — it's like a window-shopper's paradise. Check the calendar for special events, like concerts, cookoffs and even a Native American Pow Wow.
READERS' CHOICE: Traders Village
Heights Cigar Lounge calls itself "Your den away from home," and for those who enjoy a good cigar, it certainly has all the amenities. You can visit and engage in good conversation with fellow customers over a few smokes while lounging on comfortable leather recliners or sofas; the great selection here also makes Heights Cigar Lounge the place to frequent when you need some good stuff to go. The lounge's huge walk-in humidor has just about any kind of cigar you might be looking for, as well as plenty of smoking accessories like cutters, lighters and home humidors; most of the inventory is geared toward cigar smokers, but a few brands of cigarettes are sold here as well as tobacco for pipes. The owners are friendly and knowledgeable and will patiently answer any of your questions to help you find the right cigar for you, without any arrogant, elitist cigar-smoker attitude.
Designer Kate de Para is both an artisan and an artist. The textiles and women's clothing she designs are simple, elegant and forward-thinking. With an MFA in fibers from the Savannah College of Art and Design, de Para creates responsibly sourced textiles that are dyed and printed in her Houston studio (that's her artisan side). For a time in 2015, pieces from her Evens clothing line are hanging in a museum (that's her artist side). De Para's among the 35 Texas-based designers participating in the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston's "Texas Design Now," an exhibit of cutting-edge fashion, accessories and furniture being created across the state.
Parking lots are the worst. Our most base, selfish selves come out in them. An event ends and we all pour back to our vehicles, ready to declare war on each other just so we can get into traffic a few seconds sooner. While the METRORail has been real handy in helping fight parking-lot chaos at NRG Stadium, the new lines and their stops at the Convention Center/Minute Maid Park, BBVA Compass Stadium and TDECU Stadium open up a whole new world of options when it comes to attending major sporting and music events. Being able to move around most of Houston by rail is probably decades down the line, but these latest additions take what was a solid service and begin to make it something really special.