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

Spec's downtown, the epicenter of it all, the giant rabbit source from which all other bunnies flow, is kind of like an enormous playground for grown-ups. Row upon row and aisle upon aisle of wines, beers and libations, arranged by type, subtype, region and subregion, sparkle under the fluorescent lights. Staffers' knowledge runs deep. Plus Spec's offers cash discounts and 11-hour flash sales, and the Tuesday tasting events are pretty happening. For those with more refined palates, the rare-liquor selection includes the Macallan Fine & Rare Collection, Hennessy Paradis, the hard-to-find Port Ellen single malt whisky and the ultimate cognac, Louis XIII.

READERS CHOICE: Spec's

The jewel of the East End, this historic cemetery is one of the largest in Texas and serves as the perpetual home for blues great Lightnin' Hopkins, arts patrons John and Dominique de Menil, former U.S. senator Lloyd Bentsen, early Houston developer Jesse H. Jones and infamous pickaxe murderer Karla Faye Tucker. Bordered by Brays Bayou and with a lake in its southern section, the cemetery contains more than 100,000 graves and features beautiful Tiffany stained glass and a carving of the face of Jesus that appears to follow the viewer with its eyes.

It's no surprise that Buchanan's is celebrating its 30th year in the Heights area, with its winning formula of hiring friendly, knowledgeable staff and its emphasis on native plants and organic gardening. Customer service is key, from handy take-home reference sheets about seasonal plants to accessible and communicative staffers. Sprinkled throughout Buchanan's are whimsical and colorful metal sculptures, garden accents, decorative signs and pottery, making it easy to imagine your own backyard escape. Buchanan's offers regular seminars and workshops on topics as varied as setting up drip irrigation, prepping a fall garden and creating a butterfly habitat, and helps sponsor the nonprofit organization Urban Harvest, which fosters community gardens, education and farmers' markets.

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