Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Like dropping acid or flying to the moon, scuba diving is one way to leave the planet — or at least feel like you have. Humans, somehow, have learned how to temporarily become sea creatures, which seems like an exquisite prank on Mother Earth. To make sure the joke's not on you, the right equipment is crucial. That's why Aquaknots, a small, owner-operated shop just south of Miami International Airport, is the place to get started. They offer a wide range of budget and elite brands, including Sea Scuba, Sherwood, and Akona. Masks range from $50 to $100, and spear guns go for $75 to $400. Diving classes are available in both Spanish and English and are taught by an experienced instructor. Because underwater, in a blanket of darkness, you'll hear nothing but the sound of your breathing. Which sure makes the right equipment seem a matter of life and breath.
A freak five-minute tropical storm tore through your back yard in Hialeah, knocking over your wood fence like Matt Mitrione pummeling Kimbo Slice. You had left your dogs on the patio, so they got swept away in the deluge and drowned in a nearby canal. Pieces of Spanish tile zoomed off of your roof and crashed into the windshield of your vintage Chevy Impala, shattering it into a spider web of cracks. Just as you were about to call your insurance company, you got served with a foreclosure notice. Forget the recession. You have some serious demons spiraling around you. Time to march over to Botanica Yoruba and get yourself an ultra-grade despojo, or spiritual cleansing. Located in the heart of the land Raul Martinez built, Botanica Yoruba has helped many souls find peace through the powers of the Cuban orishas. And in case you don't want to get lost in the maze of Hialeah's confounding street system, check out the botanica's online store, where you can choose books from Yoruba's vast library of Santería literature ($4 to $50), purchase exquisite porcelain urns ($55 and $95), and order various spiritual bath concoctions ($1.25 and $2). You'll be able to sleep soundly again.
You're a wannabe South Florida survivalist, so naturally you've made sure the family bomb shelter is sufficiently stocked with bottled water, canned goods, AA batteries, and other basic hurricane supplies. But honestly, that's not good enough. With the apocalypse almost upon us — Hello, 2012! — it's high time you began stockpiling nonstandard stuff such as double-strength nylon rope, fighting knives, stainless-steel handcuffs, emergency germicidal water tablets, fire forks, blister kits, disposable urine bags, and shit buckets. Face it — the next couple of centuries are gonna be tough, and you have only 919 days left till the Mayan calendar hits doomsday. Our advice: Get some help from the old-timers at Jet's Florida Outdoors. In business since 1955, when worldwide nuclear war seemed inevitable, this store's bushwhacking staffers are exactly the kind of gritty end-of-days experts you need. They'll hook you up with all of those aforementioned items for $192.92 plus tax. Then they'll point out the million ways in which you failed to fully imagine the dirty-bombed, zombie-ridden, sci-fi future. Like, what about a 32-ounce bottle of human scent killer? You know people will be food, right? Just go start the countdown, you amateur.
Napoleon Bonaparte allegedly wrote his mistress to arrange a love tryst, saying, "I'm coming home — please don't wash." The magic word behind lust is pheromones, those elusive, odorless chemicals given off in response to sexual stimulation or even romantic fantasy. And while your partner might insist you stay ripe, 99 percent of the population would like you to scrub clean from time to time. What to do? Appease the mate or give in to the crowd? Fortunately, there are soaps, made right here in Miami, that emit powerful wafts of virility while getting rid of that nasty BO. Smelling like a six-pack doesn't sound alluring, but the Beer Soap Company concocts cleansers out of shea butter; manly scents such as tobacco, caramel, and leather; and bottles of frosty beer. Try the choc bock beer soap ($6.50), made with Sam Adams Limited Release Chocolate Bock; Canadian hops beer soap ($5.50), made with Molson; and for the more sophisticated palate, aquadementia beer soap ($5.50), which includes Blue Moon Belgian white beer.
"What is the use of a book without pictures or conversation?" If you agree with Alice, your Wonderland is waiting on Lincoln Road in South Beach at precisely 1111, a number some believe is a passageway to another reality. If there are few volumes in this clean, well-lighted place, most of the tomes seem larger than life, making you feel like you shrunk after taking a swig from the little bottle that read "Drink Me." Pick up a copy of Pancha Tantra, Walton Ford's sinisterly twisted depictions of furry and feathered beasts, for $1,800, or if your pocketbook has shrunken, there's always the trade edition for a mere $70. If you opt for sex, the six-volume, 3,506-page Hugh Hefner's Playboy will set you back $1,300. But, hey, it "comes with a piece of Hef's silk pajamas, worn by the man himself!" Our favorite is GOAT: Greatest of All Time, a $4,500, 792-page Muhammad Ali picture book that Der Spiegel called "the biggest, heaviest, most radiant thing ever printed in the history of civilization." (The "Champ's Edition," which goes for $15,000, comes with the Jeff Koons sculpture Radial Champs, comprising two inflatables and a stool.)
It's becoming increasing difficult to find a good used bookstore. The only secondhand shops staying alive seem to be next to fast-food joints in minimalls and trade in cheap romance novels. So you have to try extra-hard to find an old-fashioned store with curious out-of-print volumes lining tall shelves, spilling onto the floor, and hiding in nooks and crannies. In other words, the kind of place you'd never find in the clean confines of cyberspace. To reach Dunbar Old Books, you need to navigate blind streets that twist into a quiet industrial zone with no sidewalks. Proprietor Mary Ann likes to stay out of the way — she does most of her sales online and doesn't keep a strict schedule. So she'll probably be upset to learn her store has been named, hands down, the best used bookstore in town. Just make sure you call first. And please don't say you heard about it here. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday.
It's no secret that Miami is a pretty Cuban-centric town. So it's refreshing to find a Spanish-language bookstore with entire shelves dedicated to literature and politics from Colombia and Spain (though there are two shelves filled with books by Cuban writers). Named Revistas y Periódicos for its vast selection of newspapers and magazines from across the Spanish-speaking world, the shop has a wide selection of quality books — including an array of popular titles for children and young adults, as well as entire shelves filled with religious and spiritual tomes (from astrology to Zoroastrianism). You'll find all the staples plus harder-to-find authors such as the magnificent Spanish writer Enrique Vila-Matas.
Dear John: If you're reading this note, you've already realized I've packed up my Twilight poster collection and left. Dr. Feinberg was right. You'll never change. You almost seem proud of the fact that you're the youngest person to be diagnosed with senile squalor syndrome. But I know it's all a big scam just to get on Hoarders. Here's a tip: Your piles of garbage are too neat, too clean. And if I ever see your fat face on the show, I'll call A&E and reveal you as the fake you are. I told you the last time you added another ferret to the ferret farm in your walk-in closest that it's either me or those snaky rats. Well, John, I think you've made your choice. P.S. I poured olive oil on the keyboard of your new MacBook, so if you want to get in touch with me, you'll have to actually set pen to paper and write me a letter. I could find only this college diploma to write this note on, though, so you might want to stock up on stationery at the Scarlet Letter. If you want to keep in touch, I recommend the box of 20 Crane & Co. monogrammed stationery cards for $19.
At 2 a.m., Purdy Lounge expels you from its grimy innards, three shots of tequila and a PBR later. The Venetian Causeway spins across the glimmering water as you stumble outside. The night is young! But for what? You're not hungry. And, you're not ashamed to admit, it's a Tuesday. Mirage-like, the soft glow of burnished wood catches your eye as you amble south. Is that a... guitar shop? Open at 2:15 on a Tuesday morning? It's no lie. Inside, smiling behind the counter, is Marty — South Beach's only resident guitar god, a white-haired master of every style and owner of every vintage. Marty owns the building, and after a successful career in real estate, he can afford to run the South Beach Music Exchange as he sees fit. Marty likes bar hours. So he's open Thursday through Sunday from 8 p.m. till 3 a.m. And he's plenty happy to teach you a chord or two on the slide electric or to tune up your mandolin. There are quality new acoustics for less than $300, and there's a 1920s metallic hollow-body hanging on the wall. Marty's refuge may not be a mirage, but a great music shop open for night owls? That's magic at work.
It's impossible to imagine now, given the range of designer colors one can buy, that in the early 17th Century, that artists such as Caravaggio, Rembrandt, and Velazquez didn't have an affordable or stable blue to use. Ultramarine, which is extracted from lapis lazuli, was more expensive than vermilion or even gold. Artists had to cough up a princely sum to have the blue pigment imported from Afghanistan. That's never been the case at Jerry's Artarama, the 20,000-square-foot West Miami art supply emporium featuring almost anything the fledgling or seasoned creative type might ever need to succeed. At this sprawling one-stop depot, you can find everything from acrylic and oil paints in every designer shade from the world's top brands to brushes and palette knives. You'll also find canvas, stretched or in rolls and made from cotton, linen, or jute. Plus pens and markers, encaustics, ceramic and pottery supplies, water colors and pastels, airbrushing supplies, easels, portfolios, and even a custom framing shop tucked in the back. Budding Picassos can take weekend easel painting classes conducted in English, French, or Spanish for $25 a pop, not including supplies. To top it all off, Jerry's boasts the type of cut-rate prices, sometimes ranging from 50 to 75 percent off, and savings on hard-to-find items that would inspire the likes of the old masters to turn cartwheels in their graves.
Ten acres of rare tropical plants? Check. Shrubbery that looks like artwork? Check. Butterflies and hummingbirds? Check, check. Big, gorgeous orchids? Check again. The smell of fruit in the air? Check, drool, check. In a hidden South Dade nook? Check (your directions). About 115 types of bamboo? Check... that out. A bunch of feisty nursery cats? Check yourself. Jade vine, bonsai trees, shrubs, and water plants? Checkout line. Totally reasonable prices? Here's a check. Open daily except Thursday.
In the past few years, designer Christophe Decarnin has revitalized French fashion house Balmain by introducing exaggerated, almost Klaus Nomi-esque shoulders into many of his frocks. Recession be damned — fashionistas have been spending big dough on Balmain. In fact, a gray cotton sweatshirt that would otherwise be unremarkable save for the angry shoulders and deliberate deconstruction will cost you $2,450 at South Beach's newest luxury boutique the Webster. All apologies, but if you haven't yet recovered from the price, steer clear of the 20,000-square-foot store located in a historic former hotel on Collins Avenue. You might be in for a serious series of fainting spells. The trio that founded the store has a professional pedigree that includes stints at some of France's most storied houses, magazines, and boutiques, so it's safe to say they can attract a discerning, international clientele. Besides, this once was a land of unrestrained glamour. Do you really want to live in a South Beach where there aren't designer sweatshirts for sale that are worth the equivalent of a down payment on a car, recession or not?