Best Liquor Store 2009 | Total Wine & More | Shopping & Services | South Florida

Just because Total Wine is a chain with 55 locations nationwide doesn't mean it's anything less than a tribute to the glory of booze. Walk into any one of its five South Florida locations and you'll find a playground for adults — albeit an expertly categorized and impeccably labeled one. Wines from every imaginable region are separated by country and varietal, so despite there being more than 8,000 bottles on hand, it's easy to find gems like a $17 bottle of critically acclaimed Terredora Falanghina (just head to the Italian section). Equally extensive is Total Wine's selection of beer: peek through the by-the-bottle collection of craft beer and you may come away with rarities like Brother Thelonious, a dark, strong Belgian ale that pays tribute to the late, great jazz pianist. Or check out the packaged section, where you'll find deals like a six-pack of Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA for less than $10 (most places sell the four-pack for as much). The bargain-bin prices extend to the enviable catalog of spirits, entire walls packed with hundreds of vodkas, gins, tequilas, and more. And as if to prove that no taste can be too refined, Total Wine caps it all off with a 12-foot section of the cheapest damned boxed wine you can find anywhere. Now that's a store that has all its bases covered.

Here's a story about a woman and her car. How the sunny streets of South Florida aren't pedestrian-friendly. Or car-friendly. How when her car kept overheating, she learned she needed a new radiator, water pump, and thermostat. And how she couldn't afford to pay the estimated $1,300 to fix it. This is when Ernesto the mechanic entered the story. Ernesto has been running J. Ko's Auto Repair with his son, Giovanni, and his daughter, Jackie, for the past six years. This is the point in the story when Ernesto became the people's mechanic. He asked to keep the car around a couple of days — maybe he could find an alternate, cheaper way to fix it. Ernesto figured out that cheap fix: He added a fan to the radiator that stopped the car from overheating. It cost only $150. That's when the woman decided this was the mechanic for her.

Masha'Allah! Look at all the selections. Of course you have all your fantastic, hard-to-get Middle Eastern foods and drinks. Crackers, snacks, packaging with funny pictures and words you may or may not understand — but love all the more. And before you shop, of course you'll stop for a meal at the restaurant next door — Lebanese-influenced dining and perhaps the best service in west Broward. But the best reason to go to Al-Salam is its amazing selection of hookahs and hookah tobacco. Hookah bars are one of the hottest new nightclub trends, but those places are ripping you off. There, you'll pay $20 for a bowl of the best mixed flavors. At Al-Salam, you can get two boxes of tobacco (each box is good for at least a dozen bowls) and three rolls of charcoal for about the same price. Or buy an entire hookah for under 100 bucks. Now go in peace.

See the guys at the beach waving their metal detectors over the sand. See the guys with kiteboards flopping around in the waves. Now see those guys get owned by Carlos Segnini and Oscar Aranguren of South Florida Powered Paragliding
, who are puttering over everyone's heads in their motorized flying machines. The men's formula is this: lawn chair + motor + parachute = something like a personal jet pack, only mellower. Segnini and Aranguren have backgrounds in engineering and aviation and are even certified to teach by the United States Powered Paragliding Association; Segnini says he's flown so many times, he stopped counting 15 years ago. During a five- to ten-day course, newbies can learn from the masters how to do both a running "foot launch" and a "trike launch," how to land on the sand as though drifting onto a cozy pillow of lamb fuzz, and possibly even how to buzz their friends lying on the beach, heh-heh. Eventually, perhaps, they can break the world record of 18,000 feet — a limit imposed not by paragliders' abilities but by the FAA, designating higher airspace only for jets. The powered paragliding course costs $1,500, but it's more worthwhile, Segnini says, if you make an additional "investment" in a powered paraglider for yourself — for just $7,000 to $10,000. Of course.

The whining. The nagging. The incessant need for coddling. Sometimes your spouse just drives you bonkers — the kind of insanity that only strolling through a labyrinth of home goods can cure. Of course, you still have the tykes to contend with. It is tedious mornings like these that demand freedom — and honey, that's why IKEA's Small Land exists. Geared toward children who are potty-trained but haven't yet gotten too big to cuddle (height requirements are between 37 and 54 inches small), the pseudo-forest allows you the opportunity to deposit your child in exchange for a pager, much like the kind you receive waiting in line at Chili's. That soon-to-be-blinking beacon of freedom guarantees you one hour of free child care, so make the most of it. While your lil' one is being slipped through various tiny doors — an identification door, a shoe removal door, and, finally, one that plops him into a playland of Lysol-ized surfaces — you're high-tailing it to the café for a 99-cent breakfast and the morning paper. Let the calming wave of grownup conversations wash over you, purifying the experience, while you take a decadent amount of time adjusting the sugar quantity in your coffee. You don't have to worry about your child's safety. He's now joined a legion of IKEA youth in coloring exercises, Disney movies, and exploration of the off-smelling ball pit. Sure, when he grows up, it might take years of therapy to associate these things with his fears of abandonment, but right now, that's not really your problem. You've served your time and earned your hour. Sip your coffee until that pager buzzes.

Recycle, reuse, reupholster is your mantra, especially since you became a homeowner. Rather than making another frantic excursion to the Home Depot, try exploring Habitat for Humanity Re-Store's labyrinth of nesting supplies. It is there, in that glorious warehouse of potential, that you'll find oddly shaped doors, avocado-colored sinks, and pile upon pile of tile — all waiting patiently for the right fixer-upper to discover their inner beauty.

With a bit of creativity and many coats of paint, you'll triumphantly solve home-repair dilemmas on a pitiable budget, with merchandise marked down 80 percent from retail stores. Consider it your way to get ahead in the housing race: When the housing market levels back out, you'll want yours to be ready to sell first — avoiding that apocalyptic traffic jam of (former) Floridians gunning it to North Carolina.

Among the things universally found irresistible: bacon sandwiches, a free pass of wacky tobaccy, and cute-ass puppies. We're talking the teacup kind that you find at Petland — those little balls of fur that just about fit between your index finger and thumb. They're so precious that you just might fork down the thousand bucks for one without thinking about what you're supporting. According to the Humane Society of the United States, Petland's pups come straight from Midwest puppy mills. They get there, the Humane Society says, via pet brokers who ship them en masse to Petland stores, where they may live for months in solitary cages before some schlep comes along to buy one. Look away from their cuteness, friend, because your purchase just might support an industry that rivals Dick Cheney in evilness.

You are a cubicle soldier, bravely battling work's demons for five long days each week. By Friday, you've slain the dangerous busywork dragon down to a mound of ash while retaining a jovial demeanor, and your energy is depleted. This is the day you receive your grand reward: The pies have arrived. The most delectable treats in Broward aren't found in Las Olas' rows of swanky eateries. They are ordered through the charming website of Miami's own self-taught pastry diva, Alex Van Clief. Her fruit-filled empire, Purple Pie Co., started through the basic properties of supply and demand. She would bake pies and bring them to dinner parties, but soon everyone wanted one... or three. Before long, a business grew. Once you consume her adorably packaged and deliciously crafted edibles, you quickly understand the phenomenon. Her crusts are doughy and crispy and laced with cinnamon, sugar, and other necessary comfort spices. And her seasonal varieties of fillings — pecan, blueberry, and apple — are untouchably delicious. Alex makes each pie with a renegade crafter's twist; she'll add alphabet dough messages on the top upon request. So birthday greetings, inside jokes, or just a triumphant "hang in there" can all be yours for the cost of a pie, which ranges from $15 to $20. Having a gals' night? Get a six-pack of individual pies baked in teeny-tiny Mason jars, topped with purple-and-white checkered fabric. The 20 bucks spent is well worth the reward. Order them early in the week (48 hours' notice is required) and then snag them at Pink Ghost each Friday. After five grueling days of being shackled to the office vending machine, you'll finally indulge in the brass ring of desserts. You've earned it, Little Soldier.

In the somewhat unlikely cutesy locale of downtown Delray, this small but sharply curated store has become the go-to spot for kids from northern Broward and Palm Beach counties. The name of the game here, really, is rock — and specifically, all those gloriously messy offshoots that derive from punk. Looking for a split 12-inch by a couple of obscure hardcore bands? If it's not in the healthily stocked, neatly organized vinyl bins here, the helpful folks at Backbone can likely track it down for you. Probably the best thing about this place, though, is its recent expansion to include an all-ages venue adjoining the store. It's bare-bones, sure, but features an active rotation of local bands as well as the occasional big-name traveling act like Shai Hulud. And thank goodness, because kids don't have too many fun, safe places to hang out in the area and drink a cheap Red Bull. Thanks, Backbone!

This Broward County institution announced its closure suddenly this past winter through an email notification about a clearance sale, and the cries of horror were nearly audible. Nearly every Gen-X and Y music geek in the tricounty area had made a pilgrimage at some point to the store, which was South Florida's original temple to independent culture. It had all the classic record-store fixin's, including dusty vinyl, locally produced CDs, and perhaps overly knowledgeable employees. Through its nearly 30 years in existence, Uncle Sam's remained dedicated to hosting kick-ass in-store performances, even operating a separate, adjoining Loft at Uncle Sam's venue for a few years earlier this decade. Blame iTunes, blame PirateBay, blame the big, bad economy in general — either way, a piece of local music history is gone. RIP. But all is not lost — at least the Miami Beach location remains open.

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