Spec’s Fine Wines, Spirits and Finer Foods
Jeff Balke

When you're looking for a good bottle of wine, it's best to head over to Spec's. Nowhere else in town can compete with the sheer breadth of selection offered at the Midtown location, the crown jewel of the Houston liquor-store empire. The store is huge, with the wine aisles making up a significant section, and the employees are incredibly helpful. They'll track down that particular bottle you're seeking or match you up with the right vino whose name you don't know yet — all you need is a vague inclination of what you're after. If you want to add a little cheese to your wine, they've got that, no problem. And if you are catering to someone who (for some strange reason) isn't into wine, there's plenty of beer and liquor, too, so everyone wins.

In late May, Houston got a HERO. No, not the Enrique Iglesias kind — the nondiscrimination kind. City Council passed the Equal Rights Ordinance 11-6, creating nondiscrimination protections not just for sexual orientation and gender identity but also for race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, military status, disability, religion, pregnancy and genetic information. Woo, that's a long list, and that's a good thing. Houston is a great city, and everyone should get equal opportunity — at least under the law — to enjoy it. Plus, even Shreveport, Louisiana, has a nondiscrimination ordinance, so the most diverse city in the country should have one, too.

There are running stores and then there's Luke's Locker. We love this place because the staff is a crew of super-fit and extremely helpful running experts. They have all the gear you could possibly imagine and a few things you never thought actually existed. Plus, the salespeople know their stuff. Consult them, and they'll look at your foot and watch you trot up and down the main aisle of the store as many times as it takes to be sure you get running shoes that will get you through your marathon and not destroy your feet.

Retropolis

Walking into Retropolis the first time can be overwhelming. The store is packed to the gills with clothes, jewelry, hats and shoes that have somehow survived long enough from the '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 polka-dot bikini from the '60s or the perfect 1920s red 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.

Ever since Jeremy and Annie Bulloch opened their shop off West and Highway 6 in 2011, it's been an exceptional hub of geek culture that gets bigger and better. Poised to have double the floor space in the very near future, 8th Dimension is not only chock-full of the best local and national comic titles, but also maintains a premier game room that sometimes runs all night and has food delivery right to the table. Lately the Bullochs also have started hosting concerts for acts like the Doubleclicks, and they've instituted a widely successful series of ladies' nights that are always packed.

One of the crown jewels of the Galleria area, this boutique has been serving Houstonians' naughtier sides for many years. It's truly one-stop shopping — you can get your traditional one and three-fourths-inch red ball gag, kiwi-strawberry lube, French maid's outfit and an Adam & Eve Easy Anal Buddy on your way home from work for that romantic evening with your partner. Or if you just want to spend the night alone curled up with a good movie, you might want to check out a contemporary or classic DVD from the shop's impressive library. And keep this place in mind for bachelorette parties and birthdays. (Two words: penis balloons. You're welcome.)

One of the reasons we love this place so much is that everyone here is interested in antiques as fun, stylish pieces, as opposed to dusty, staid museum relics. As discussed on the store's website, some people immediately equate "antique" with hand-crocheted doilies and a "floral teacup and saucer." But take a quick glance at Carl Moore's inventory, and you'll find pieces that could really spruce up your place, like maybe a Scandinavian long case clock (c.1800) or some funky-looking iron and leather armchairs from France (c.1940). Check out the extensive selection for yourself, and you'll see what we mean.

We love this place so much, we can hardly wait for Halloween. A random Tuesday will do. With costumes ranging from superheroes to Jazz Age flappers, from theatrical garb to mascots, Party Boy has something for just about every occasion. The prices are right, and the staffers are courteous, knowledgeable and ready with suggestions if you're not sure who or what you want to be. Party Boy has what you need for a memorable birthday party or thematic bar crawl. What are you waiting for? Let's get the party started.

There may be no better place than Asgard to let out your inner geek. Or even your outer one, for that matter. That's because Asgard hosts weekly tournaments for games like Magic: The Gathering, with plenty of tables for you and your fellow knights, elves and wizards to enjoy an afternoon of spell-casting and sword-clashing. You can also shop online, or hop on over to the forums to chat with your fellow gamers. There's a good chance you'll pop in for the latest cards, figurines and other supplies only to wind up with some new gaming pals.

Jason Poland got started cartooning playing Mario Paint on Super Nintendo, and from there graduated to doing Robbie and Bobby for The Daily Cougar. Now it's easily the most amusing web comic in the city. Call it a darker version of Calvin and Hobbes for the Cartoon Network generation. That's as good a description as any, and it shows off the playful dichotomy Poland brings to the comic. One second it's as lighthearted and irreverent as Family Circus, and then the next it's like one of those Bug-Eyed Earl anecdotes from Red Meat. The web format gives Robbie and Bobby an edge and room to explore the format, and Poland uses every inch of that space.

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