Starbucks

Less than four years ago, this Starbucks opened between two locally owned and vastly superior coffee shops — Stork's and Java Boys. Since then, the corporate storefront has been competing for one-third or more of Wilton Manors' coffee dollars and waiting for the competition to fold. Before Starbucks, the property housed a charming little café that served a perfect salmon Florentine breakfast and good booze at night. And before that, it was home to another neat breakfast joint, Health Nuts Cafe, and two pubs (one English, one Irish). All of these places enhanced the neighborhood and helped make Wilton Manors the quirky, lovable town it is today. By feeding our dollars to the wholly unnecessary Wilton Manors Starbucks, we help make this town more bland, more like every place else. So stop spending money there. Right now.

Gold Coast Roller Skating Rink

Remember the old-school brown skates from your childhood days at the roller rink? Recall the disco ball and the Moonlight Skate? Remember how they always trucked in cases of beer and liquor... Hey, wait a second! That nifty little addition has only been part of the skating experience since the Intoxiskate party launched under the radar a couple of years ago. A $5 entry fee (and $2 skate rental) gets you six hours (!) of rink time, from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. And games at 11! But wait! That's not all! The weekly party is fun enough, but in a spectacular bonus that could be matched only by a set of Ginsu knives, the peeps behind Intoxiskate kick things up a notch with a themed blowout once a month. For Saint Patrick's Day in March, there was a Beer Pong tournament; in April, the cause célèbre was Underwear Night. (Yes, it is what you're thinking: Sexy people. In hot pants. On wheels.) The most remarkable part of all this? Organizers report that even with partygoers fueled by vodka and Hokey Pokey, injuries are no more frequent than your average, sober roller-skating casualty rate. Amazing!

Tate's Comics
Tate's Comics

It's safe to say Tate's Comics is a dynasty in South Florida comics. We have handed it Best Comic Store for about the past 73 years, but it's not because we're lazy. It's because of conversations like this that happen inside the sacred walls of geekdom:

"But look at her boobs; they're so fake-looking."

"She's made out of PVC."

"Obviously, but they're just so fake-looking, and why would she wear that if she's fighting dragons?"

"She fights demons."

"Oh, sorry, but they're still fake-looking."

There's a feeling you get when you walk into Tate's — an instant sense of dorky camaraderie, like everyone who walks through those doors is your friend. Those who can't tell the difference between toys and collectibles, who can't see beyond the pictures to the content — those people are the outcasts in these hallowed walls, and it takes a special store to instill that feeling without seeming elitist. Tate's isn't a store — it's a haven, and it's a place of respite from a harsh world. It's a place where superpowers are the norm, and no pop culture reference is too obscure. Tate's is heaven.

It happens — without fail — at the most inconvenient time possible. You've spent weeks working on a project, report, or dissertation that was due yesterday, and just as you begin booting up, your machine turns on you, emitting a series of ill-fated beeps and assuring you that your labor is lost in a netherworld of binary code. Now what? Where will you find an honest computer repairman who understands your situation, especially through your uncontrollable weeping? You are not: (1) rich, (2) working without time limits, or (3) educated in computers in any way. Fortunately for you, in the past year, an amazing, independent, computer fix-it shop set up camp in Fort Lauderdale. Nestled nearly unnoticeably between Firm Fitness Center and Office Depot in the Park Plaza on the Curve, this secret den of geekdom is populated with cool dudes — the kind you'd hang out with in real life and not just with your avatar. They'll diagnose the problem quickly for a minimal fee, then provide you with all of your options: from rebuilding the worn-out part on the cheap, replacing it with new stuff, or explaining that you're better off buying a new machine. Also, the turn-around time is so impressive that you might still make that deadline, without your boss being any the wiser.

The Scuba Club

They don't call the Scuba Club a "country club for divers" for nothing. It may not boast a croquet lawn or polo grounds, but it does feature a swimming pool, a deep tank, classrooms, locker rooms, a boat dock, a gear shop, a photo lab, a picnic area, a one-bedroom hotel suite, and even a steam room, all on site. And yet, you don't have to be Thurston Howell III to sample these lovely amenities; mere mortals can go to scuba camp (classroom instruction, pool work, and five ocean dives) for a totally affordable $300. Weekend boat trips are just $35. Not to mention, the Scuba Club employs the most capable staff around. Why, J.D. has a degree in diving; Ernie can "put a radiator in a BMW faster than most people eat lunch," and Wayne has been bringing novices back from the deep safely for ages and ages. (I swear, he pulled me from the jaws of a sea wombat in 1997!) If only they had a couple of cabana boys who'd go around with trays serving après-dive cocktails... What's that, Ernie? You're working on it?

The Gym 111

Located right in the thick of downtown Delray's restaurants and nightclubs, the Gym 111 is a decidedly metropolitan experience. Other gyms buy up cheap strip-mall space in the suburbs, then pack the floor with loads of cheap equipment and a few cheaply paid employees — the better to offer cheap rates to the droves of gymgoers they hope to attract. By contrast, the Gym is a relatively small (7,000 square feet), second-floor walk-up. But it somehow feels both spacious and intimate — maybe because there are only several people working out and because the staff is friendly. (Must be the health benefits!) It gives the Gym the vibe of a neighborhood café. All this is by design. "We only want 350 members," says Jason Snyder, the Gym's director of sales and marketing. "I know every single member's name. That's our thing here. If you have too many members, you can't achieve the customer service level we want." The Gym, which opened last fall, currently has about 200 members. It sports an array of shiny new state-of-the-art equipment. Its trainer-guided programs emphasize real-world movements — not just to gain strength but to get the kind of balance and coordination that athletes strive for. At $72 per month, it's roughly twice as expensive as the corporate gyms, but it may be the difference between going to a place you enjoy versus one you dread. Or to put it another way, the difference between paying regular visits to a place that boasts of "billions and billions served" or one that advises you to make reservations.

I remember walking into Peace Pipe for the first time. My school uniform might have been the reason I got carded. But what almost got me kicked out was a friend who used the word bong. Everyone knows, in an age when government agencies are ridiculously spending taxpayer money to raid things like head shops, nobody sells bongs. They carry tobacco-smoking water pipes. And it's good to know that, in the substance-using communities of South Florida, things don't change. Like how on my last trip, I got carded upon entry and how, even in adult life, Peace Pipe is still where I go to buy the best bongs.

Total Wine & More

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.

Al Salam Restaurant

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.

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