Browsing Cactus is overwhelming at first. The more you flip through every record and CD, the more you realize truly how long it would take you to finish. Not only does Cactus's expansive library include all your essential classics and alt-rock chart-toppers, but the staff also has a good eye for local gems — and excels at promoting them with album release parties. Those events are one of the store's great draws, featuring not only local acts, like Buxton and The Mighty Orq, but also touring acts, like Wild Belle and Titus Andronicus's Patrick Stickles, who play on the store's small stage and interact with the crowd in an intimate setting. You don't need an excuse to go — but if you want one, the beer is often free.


Big Kat's is about as old-school as they come. Spinning customers in black metallic chairs on black-and-white checkered tile, the barbers offer traditional cuts, pomade styling and hot-towel straight-razor shaves. With Ramones posters and skateboard decks on the walls, the place kind of feels like the inside of a drummer's garage. The walk-ins-only policy means you might have to wait a bit, but no worries: This barbershop's equipped with an old fridge, so you can sip on beer or root beer to pass the time.

READERS' CHOICE: Cutthroat Barbers

Walking into an e-cig supply store, especially for vaping newbies, can sometimes be a self-esteem-crushing experience. Not so at The Vapor Gypsy, which is staffed with super-friendly and erudite employees who aren't going to denigrate you or thrust their vape-filled nostrils into the sky. Prices are very fair for starting-from-scratch set-ups and juices, which include a weekly 50-percent-off flavor of the week, and the staff is schooled at pairing juice flavor with rookie and veteran vaper. The colorfully decorated shop — which also sells replacement parts and e-cig accessories as well as handbags and jewelry — recently expanded its lounge room and its already exquisite tasting bar.

Walking into Game Over Videogames is like regaining your childhood. The store carries titles, systems and accessories from across the long history of gaming, everything from ColecoVision to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. You can make good money on trade-ins if you've got in-demand titles like the classic Final Fantasy discs, and Game Over is a fantastic place to find lesser-known gems that rarely make it into the download stores. Nowhere else in Houston feels so much like a temple to electronic fun.

The Dennis behind Dennis Auto Service Center is Dennis Moustakis, who got his start in the auto and petrol business in 1973, moving to the Galleria area about a decade later with purchases of Texaco and Mobil gas stations. He still comes to the repair shop every day, and enjoys a good discussion about global events, and he maintains an incredibly cerebral book collection in the reception area. Nephew and co-owner Robert Zaharatos handles most of the operations now, diagnosing problems and managing the garage. He's not one to trash-talk other mechanics, but you'll recognize his distaste for shoddy work through his quiet brooding. You couldn't ask for a better repair shop.

READERS' CHOICE: Christian Brothers Automotive

Shopping for friends and family takes time — one year we had to go to two different stores just to find a King Cock 8-inch Squirting Dildo and a Mangina Stroker — talk about a hassle! What if there were a place where you could find all the greatest toys, lingerie, naughty costumes and fetish gear under one roof? And what if that place were an established, landmark business right in the heart of Montrose? You see where we're going with this: Since 1982, Erotic Cabaret has helped keep the kink alive, spicing up relationships new and old. You won't feel weird going in there, either — it's totes professional.


This ten-time Better Business Bureau "Winner of Distinction" leans more toward the high end, and its proximity to Memorial and Tanglewood means the place has bailed out more than a few of our tonier neighbors, which is great news for us. A recent stop showed three artworks valued at around $18,000 apiece. Other, more affordable objects reflect the diversity and decorating style of multiple swankiendas. There are designer handbags, furs, antique coins, Limoges and Swarovski, but the jewelry case is the big draw, spanning the entire length of the store and including fine timepieces by Cartier and Breitling. The folks at Wright Pawn are also experts at jewelry design and repair, which makes this pawn shop infinitely more convenient than a trip to the Galleria.

Last year's winner retains the title, and we swear it's not because we got sidelined with a bad case of the munchies and didn't research further. This unassuming little shop has some of the friendliest, most knowledgeable folks we've ever had the pleasure of discussing various and sundry glass instruments with. And there's a lot to discuss, because while the shop looks small from the outside, the selection is vast and the prices are right. The folks behind the counter have a real passion for their work, and for making sure you get the best customer service possible. We have a feeling that, after your first visit, this will become your go-to joint.

READERS' CHOICE: Heights Head Smoke Shop

David Rozycki

When you think back on your wedding day, you don't remember the minutiae. You see the cinematic version, well-edited with a gorgeous soundtrack, full of scenes you'll remember forever. Majestic Metro makes quite the setting for those memories, the former downtown theater giving the big day an immediate hint of nostalgic glow. Sure, you could get married at an event center or out in the middle of nowhere, but the Metro just feels epic, from the city lights outside to the big screen inside. The location and the building give you tons of room for interesting wedding photos — and if you want to make your perfect day last a little longer, Market Square Park is just steps away.

READERS' CHOICE: The Bell Tower on 34th

We call this one the little store with a big vision. Formerly named Wines of America, this Inner Loop mainstay now stocks some of Houston's most exclusive bars and clubs. From its origins in 1984 specializing in domestic wines, this oenophiles' paradise now offers up quality wines from around the world: France and Italy, natch, but also off-the-beaten-path regions like Uruguay, Switzerland and Slovenia. Houston Wine Merchant stocks a few spirits and accessories, so it also serves as a quick stop for a housewarming gift on your way to the big do, plus the store offers local delivery for special orders and gift baskets. Putting it at the top of our list are the Friday evening and Saturday afternoon tastings, which make being adventurous easy and fun, and oftentimes the winemaker or vineyard owner is present for added provenance.


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