Legend has it that Fred once threw a couple out of Rudyard's because they ordered only water. All right, so it sounds a little harsh. Actually, it's comforting. The world is full of bartenders who are willing to give you free water, listen to your stupid problems and shake their heads sympathetically. But not Fred. He's too busy serving your pathetic ass some cold beer to mess with that nonsense. If you need a quality drink and some witty banter and you need both right away, Fred is your man. Plus, he's a bartender you can trust because he actually drinks the bar's liquor and hangs out there when he's not working. You'll usually find him throwing darts, dressed in his well-worn Montrose Beer and Gun Club T-shirt. Yes indeed, Fred is a drinker's bartender if ever there was one. Just don't order only water.
The founder, owner, operator and sole employee of Bugs & Burglars is Roy Law Elliot, a Houston native who has also been, at one time or another, the owner of Doctor Doom's Garage of Mystery (a legendary Volkswagen repair facility in Berkeley, California), a counterculture T-shirt silk screener (12 designs are in the permanent collection of the Oakland Museum of Art), the confidant of underground cartoonists and the husband of, at last count, six very interesting women. That, however, does not give the full picture of the man, who comes up with more ideas in the course of a morning than most men do in an entire lifetime (he also has a business card for an enterprise called Neptune, which has the slogan "Inventions While You Wait"). His bug treatments are guaranteed for one full year and annihilate all the usual Houston invertebrates. The "Burglars" in the company name refers to an Elliot invention: a steel structure built around a door frame, thus rendering the front door sturdy enough to withstand an attack by a small medieval army. But don't take our word for it.
There is nothing quite like Christopher's in Houston. The creation of the husband-and-wife team of Christopher and Donna Massie, this 6,000-square-foot, single-venue operation offers rare wines that sometimes are allocated by growers and importers to less than one case for the entire state of Texas. French wines are showcased here, as Massie himself has lived and worked in French vineyards and is a certified sommelier with more than 15 years of experience. Other countries and, of course, California are also represented. The inventory usually runs to about 50,000 bottles, so there is likely to be something for every serious oenophile. And the inventory is properly stored, a detail that unfortunately not many Houston wine retailers attend to with the required rigor. On Saturdays, "Customer Appreciation Day," there are tastings and lectures on the products for sale.

This cheery newcomer, way out west on Memorial at Kirkwood, is targeted at Houston's 40,000 plus Russophone community. Even if you know less about Russia than, say, a Republican ambassador to Moscow, you can still profitably explore the spiffy, well-lit aisles for unusual goods like Cornelian cherry compote or smoked Latvian sprats. The extensive cold cases offer caviar by the pound and preprepared take-out foods for the modern career devushka who no longer has time to prepare piroshki for her family. There is a wine room offering Latvian beer, Crimean dessert wines from the old Massandra winery, once owned by Czar Nicholas II, and some Moldavian wines, portlike, that one of the three owner-operators says is ordered -- 4,000-liter batch at a time -- by HRH Elizabeth II, no doubt for serving at the larger Buckingham Palace functions. Another side room offers various Russian tchotchkes (a Russian word that has come into English via Yiddish) for gift giving and collecting.

Before Metro decided to tear up Main and Fannin at the same time, we used to like to run down to the flower district north of the Medical Center to pick up a dozen roses if we were in love, in trouble, or both. But now that the area resembles Kosovo, we find it easier to swing by Jana's in the Heights, where the prices are much more reasonable than at many local florists. Just don't tell your sweetie.

For decades this Montrose mom-and-pop institution has been doing what everyone hates to do: your laundry. Get your clothes in by 7 a.m. and you can have them back by 5 p.m. Your shirts will be on hangers, and everything else will be neatly folded and packed in a plastic bag. Special orders -- like letting your blue jeans drip-dry on hangers, with no crease -- are also welcome. If any items need dry-cleaning or repairs, the folks here will send them out for you. Your mother never treated you this good.

The two most important words when it comes to thrift store shopping are quality and quantity. Value Village is both. Those of you who are pros at this kind of shopping will fall to your knees and thank the thrift gods above that this store exists. Rookies at fossicking have no fear: It's well organized (a special category exists for "Ladies Better Dresses"), and racks of ridiculously cheap clothing go on forever. But it's not only the abundance of old athletic T-shirts or the peculiar overflow of men's work coveralls that make this a mecca of thrifting. This store is stocked with trinkets and treasures that you probably could purchase with the change in your pockets. Perhaps it's an ashtray made of orange glass that reflects the light just so. Or maybe it's the airbrushed portrait of a magical unicorn affixed to a piece of fake oak. Sure, some might call it junk, but those are the same people who think it's perfectly normal to spend $100 for a pair of khaki pants at Banana Republic.
You can tell right away that Dynasty Supermarket is an authentic Asian market when you walk in, because of one telltale sign: It stinks like fish. There to the left are the fish swarming in overcrowded tanks, and in another tub crabs crawl over each other, spitlike bubbles forming as they breathe displaced from water. Soon they will become someone's dinner. Dynasty is a midsize store that houses just enough of everything: fresh veggies, bags of dried squid, canned baby corn or straw mushrooms, jugs of soy milk, fresh sticky rice wrapped in leaves, and snacks like shrimp chips and Pocky, a Japanese icing-dipped breadsticklike thing -- trust us, they're addictively yummy. And the bonus: The in-house barbecue shop serves up fragrant Chinese-style barbecue pork and daily lunch specials starting at just $2.50.

Sure, we're the types who would tend to go for the independent bookshop over the big chains, but there's good reason to praise this subsidiary of Barnes & Noble. Unlike, say, the shopping center housing the River Oaks Borders, which ended up plowing down the century-old Ale House to make room for a few dozen more parking spaces, the Bookstop used a local landmark to its advantage. The concession area of the converted movie theater now houses the checkout stands, and the impressive balcony doubles as an in-store coffee shop, making this spacious building the snazziest place in town to browse for your tomes. Their selection is huge, and they always keep a good stock of titles, both current and time-tested.

Whole Foods Market
The problem with soy is that it's kind of boring in its natural state. That's why you need to get to a place that will take this brilliant source of protein and transform it into countless mouthwatering, delicious edibles. Okay, so Whole Foods doesn't actually do the transforming. But it does sell the stuff in all of its glorious incarnations. Whether it's fake buffalo wings and "chicken" nuggets or those strange-sounding "tofu pups" (hot dogs made from soy), Whole Foods Market offers quite the variety of soy stuff. And we haven't even mentioned the many different options of soy milk (vanilla, chocolate or plain!). For the soy neophyte, Whole Foods is no doubt the most convenient, accessible way to learn about the wonders of the food that has been credited for lowering cholesterol, fighting kidney disease and even easing menopause's hot flashes. And with the selection at Whole Foods, it's not so(y) boring after all.

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