Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Anybody with a soul will argue that too many Inner Loop bungalows have been bulldozed to make room for that architectural atrocity of the 21st century, the McMansion. But like it or not, builders will keep at it as long as our fair city keeps growing. At least the folks at Benssons Builders are trying to construct something lovely from their Hardi-Plank dreams. A real mom-and-pop operation, the business is owned and operated by Steve and Lynda Anderson, along with British designer Sarah-Jayne Smith. They have been constructing sensibly sized, affordable "cottage homes" in the Heights for a few years now. They feature all the typical amenities, including granite countertops, hardwood floors and postage-stamp yards. And the charming exteriors have the tincture of a sweet home in, say, San Francisco or Boston. Best of all, Benssons stand by their homes. They seem to like nothing better than making their clients feel right at home.
With the Houston 420 chain taking over this town, we searched far and wide for a head shop with quality selection, good prices and a friendly staff. (And we'll let you draw your own conclusions from that statement, thank you very much.) We found what we were looking for out on 1960, which isn't so surprising, really, when you consider how much smoke suburban kids toke. Rock 'N Roll It has just about everything a smoker needs: pipes, bongs, papers, vaporizers, dugouts, scales and clips. It's also got its fair share of extras, like beads, posters, stickers and T-shirts. But what we can't get enough of is the store's selection of inexpensive blown glass. All glass pipes break sooner or later, no matter how careful you are or how sturdy they're made, so you might as well buy yourself a cheap piece and puff away without worry. After all, that's what smoking's supposed to be all about. Smoke N' Toke, RIP.
Reader's choice: Bizarre Bazaar
Practically a living legend in the world of tattoos and piercing, Tiger John is a big enough authority to have spoken at the Houston Public Library on the history of tattoos and related health issues. Rather than opting for cookie-cutter stencil work like so many "artists" out there, Tiger John makes one-of-a-kind designs that exhibit the work of a true artist. His eye for detail is astonishing, especially when we look at his flash of Celtic images, intricate patterns composed of endless interwoven knots. Asian images are shaped and poised in just the right way to accent and compliment the contours of your body (a skill that is an art form within an art, really). His work might cost a bit more than some random joint in a strip mall, but it's folly to bargain-shop for something that will adorn your body even after death.
Wines, ports, lighters, pipes, chewing tobacco, pipe tobacco, and don't forget the cigars. The folks at this convenient boutique in Rice Village don't just work here. Ask them a question, any question, and they'll fill you in on the details. What corona will best complement a Fonseca Bin 27 Porto? Which blend has the fullest body but with hints of vanilla? Are there lighters designed specifically for pipes? What humidors are available to the light smoker on a budget? These people delight in the challenge of a good query. And when you're out of questions, they'll gladly snip the tip of your stogie for you, so it's ready when you are.
Have you seen Comfort & Joy, the offbeat comedy about a popular Scottish DJ who goes through an identity crisis after his shoplifting girlfriend leaves him during the holidays and he gets stuck in the middle of a feud between two rival ice cream magnates? If you haven't, you're not alone. The movie has been out of circulation on video for years, and the chances of it hitting DVD in the States are close to nil. Thank God there's a VHS copy waiting to be checked out at this Audio Video Plus location, otherwise known as the city's video vault. Whether it's uber-obscure flicks, Russ Meyer's T&A classics or HBO stand-up specials that were released during the '80s, it's available at Audio Video Plus, which reportedly has more than 60,000 titles backlogged and ready for rental. This is truly the spot in town where VHS tapes go when they die.
Reader's choice: Blockbuster Video
We know it's hot in Space City. For much of the year, venturing out on the streets is no fun because, frankly, the streets aren't air-conditioned. Some days, it's a shame we have to be outdoors for any reason, and this is especially true when we have to run mundane errands like picking up the dry cleaning. Dry Clean Super Store at the corner of 11th and Shepherd has the answer: a drive-thru. The service is quick and friendly, and they also turn out superclean and fresh clothing. You can pay when you drop off, to make the pickup even faster. And the best part is, you'll never have to leave your car.
Readers' choice: Pilgrim Cleaners
With the price of clothes these days, many DIYers are creating their own one-of-a-kind fashion masterpieces. And sewers in the know get their threads at High Fashion Fabrics. Within its gigantic 30,000-square-foot showroom, there's a wide selection of patterns to choose from, as well as fabrics and materials of all textures, including vinyl, faux fur and satin. High Fashion Fabrics has more cotton colors than a box of Crayolas and lacy fringes of just about every variety. Tina Knowles, Beyonce's mother and stylist, shops here for stage-outfit fabrics, making it possibly the only place in town where you can find the same fabric that gets stretched across Beyonce's ass, at a very reasonable price.
Has this ever happened to you? You head over to a huge magazine rack at a supermarket and are confronted with yards and yards of magazines, and every single one of them sucks. About one in five features the same celebrities; it's a sea of TomJenAngelinaBradTaraParis. And then most of the rest of them are narrowcasted toward hobbyists: Gun Psycho Monthly, Knitter's Illustrated, Scrapbooker's Gazette. That's not the case at Brazos Bookstore, where the relatively small magazine section contains a plethora of civilized magazines, journals and periodicals, both from the United States and abroad. So whether you're looking for your copy of Harper's, Mudfish, The Believer or Adbusters, Brazos has you covered. Just don't go in there asking for Motorhead Bikini Babes Quarterly.
As you're passing all those car dealerships on I-10 after a shopping trip to Katy Mills, the phrase "a little drive will save you a lot" will echo in your mind. Whether you just purchased a pair of designer shoes or those worn-and-washed jeans everybody's wearing nowadays, most likely you got them for a fraction of the price those Inner Loop suckers paid at some River Oaks boutique. Nearly 100 stores at Katy Mills are outlets, which means starving fashionistas can buy cool clothes and accessories for bottom-of-the-barrel prices at places like Off 5th Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus Last Call, Nine West, Banana Republic, Kenneth Cole, Guess? and Polo Ralph Lauren. Even bookworms can find an apple of a deal at Books-A-Million. In light traffic, the drive takes a little over 30 minutes from downtown. And the extra gas money spent getting there will be marginal compared to what you save at the end of the day. Driving a hard bargain never came so easy.
Newly arrived from Boston, the single-named Lai is already making noises on the local psychic scene. The Norwegian native has been featured on television here and in Canada, and she uses a full array of metaphysical tools to help her clients: tarot, past-life readings, "straight psychic" stuff. Remarkably perceptive, she uses all her talents to tell you things about yourself you never knew. If you've been at loggerheads with your boss, you don't even have to feed her information -- she volunteers your past-life histories. Wondering why you didn't get promoted? Lai knows you tortured your boss -- he was a young, virgin girl and you a sand baron -- in Persia thousands of years ago. Some think Lai's own past life was as a gypsy.
Frustrated thrift shoppers at the Washington Avenue Salvation Army Store inevitably wander across the street to marvel at Mid-Century Pavilion's mother lode of cool, retro furniture and find ways to convince themselves that Mid-Century's prices won't break their budget. (Most likely, the budget was left behind at the Salvation Army, anyway.) Mid-Century's space-age-bachelor-pad furniture is the main attraction -- tables, chairs, sofas and lamps that look like they were ransacked from the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey -- but customers can accessorize their purchases with vintage jewelry, clothing, kitchenware and objects, such as a vintage deco Bakelite ashtray ($395), which no self-respecting bachelor should live without. Hint: Don't be afraid to haggle.
Readers' choice: Star Furniture
Sometimes we all need a break from chicken-fried steak and baby-back ribs smothered in mesquite barbecue sauce. And, well, some of us don't like to eat dead stuff. So when your inner hippie's stomach starts grumbling, hightail it to Rice Epicurean Markets. These classy joints are part of Houston's oldest family-owned supermarket chain, founded in 1937. The first Epicurean Market opened in 1988, with a mission to offer more than the usual fare. Although the folks at Rice Epicurean were the first market to carry Krispy Kreme doughnuts in Houston, you really ought to check out their health food selection. Silken tofu, extra-firm tofu, tofu lasagna, Dr. Soy snack bars -- they're all here. And with fair prices, there's no excuse not to give their broad selection a shot.