Hello. Welcome to Miami. We see you're reading. That's good. Fundamental in fact. You should know that Barnes & Noble has plenty of locations around town. Borders, too. There's also one bookstore dedicated to gay lifestyle and culture and another devoted to African-American-related publications. And there are plenty of Spanish-language tome purveyors. So you can see we're well read. What? You're not convinced? Then we'll draw our trump card, our proverbial ace in the hole. It's called Books & Books, and we've regularly declared it to be the city's best bookstore. For a reason. Hell, for many reasons. Founded by Mitchell Kaplan in 1982, Books & Books possesses what chains lack: a vision. Kaplan's vision spilled over into the Miami Book Fair International, a highly successful annual festival of words. It pours from the shelves of his two retail outlets, where you'll find books old and new, popular and obscure, big and small. Books for kids and collectors. Books for natives and visitors. Books and books and books (close to 100,000 titles). Magazines, too. Kaplan's vision includes readings and workshops. He invites top authors to meet their readers at his stores. This year's visitors included Tom Brokaw, Elmore Leonard, and Tony Bennett. In January he launched a Website (www.booksandbooks.com). He understands that books are not just the product of an industry, but little worlds you can live in for a while. Books & Books is the travel agency to those worlds.
The organization may be a bit idiosyncratic (a cache of early Nineties copies of the lit mag the Paris Review were shelved in the travel section) but seek and ye shall find here. A recent Sunday-afternoon browse snagged inexpensive paperbacks of noted local author Fred D'Aguiar's The Longest Memory, as well as Denis Johnson's Fiskadoro and John Hawkes's Second Skin. A tour of the nonfiction stacks was rewarded with Hunter Thompson's Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 and a thick, hardbound edition of the Warren Commission Report. Should your bibliophilia require you to seek sustenance, Kafka's features an in-house café and -- no Luddites here -- rentable Internet-linked computers. We have to admit, though, that there's a better place in Broward County: Robert A. Hittel Booksellers in Fort Lauderdale.
Need a hockey stick used in the 1996 Stanley Cup final and signed by the Eastern Conference Champion Florida Panthers? Or how about a pack of baseball cards for under a buck? Bases Loaded has it all for the avid collector or the peewee ballplayer. Don't be discouraged by the tiny storefront and small interior. The place is loaded to the rafters with signed photographs of local sports stars, framed rookie cards, and collectible clothing. Even the black plastic rats that skittered along the ice after a Panthers' goal during their magical playoff run are available here. For comic-book fans, an entire wall is dedicated to colorful adventures. But don't come early. Owner Kevin Palczynski doesn't open until noon.

Super Heroes wins this category by a whisker. Tropic Comics, just a few blocks down the street, is good, but this place has a touch more variety in underground and indies. If you're a fan of R. Crumb or others who carry on the tradition of alternative cartooning (Daniel Clowes, Peter Bagge, Kaz), this is one of the few spots where you'll find your favorites. The eclectic selection is still a bit thin compared to the scads of good old spandex-clad, caped crusaders clogging the racks, but the store is happy to special-order anything.

It's all been said before: hundreds of domestic and foreign periodicals in stock, 6000 magazines from around the world, and a surprisingly good selection of porn mags and videos. We've picked Worldwide as best newsstand so many times we're sick of repeating ourselves. But until another place this good pops up in Miami (which is not exactly literacy central), this store is your best bet if you're looking for (almost) all the news.
Although Tropic Comics is ostensibly a comic-book shop, Superman and the Incredible Hulk are actually some of the least colorful characters here. Huge vintage movie posters are plastered all over the store's high walls. But don't look for highbrow cineastes' picks. Tropic is a veritable shrine to Fifties and Sixties drive-in culture. There are more zombie flicks on display than you ever thought possible. For starters the perennial greats: Night of the Living Dead, Frozen Dead, and Night of the Walking Dead. The last one is a personal fave because of its poster's screaming warning: "We are not responsible to any person that this film may disturb either physically or mentally!" More sensitive souls might want to snag the poster for Island of Lost Women with its enticing tag line: "They turned a forbidden paradise into a raging hell -- when they dared to love the untouched beauties hidden from the world!" Just the thing to brighten any bachelor's living room.
Blockbuster video stores are perfect for, well, blockbuster movies. But if your taste in film is a bit more adventurous, the rental destination of choice is New Concept Video, where the inviting aisles are filled with enough variety to satisfy any couch potato. Quality new releases certainly abound, but it's in the catalogue that this place really shines. Looking for an offbeat indie cult fave like Ross McElwee's Sherman's March? It's here. How about a French New Wave classic like Jean-Luc Godard's Masculin-Feminin? New Concept's got that one, too. There's also a nice selection of adult films -- both straight and gay -- arrayed behind a tasteful velvet curtain. At least, ahem, that's what a close friend tells us.
"Everybody wants to transfer here," DJ Merlyn says about the attitude of his colleagues at other Spec's toward the chain's South Beach location. It's not hard to see why. Because just about everybody behind the counters is a DJ, the electronica stock is deep, informed, and up-to-the-minute. Stop by on a Wednesday, when the week's new releases arrive, and you'll find a steady stream of club aficionados snapping up the latest drum and bass twelve inchers from London, dishing gossip on the dance scene, and trading info on where they get their records pressed. The turntable-challenged should also take note: This Spec's also has a nice selection of electronica on CD.

Bob Perry's Blue Note Records has held this award for ages, and deservedly so. His store is simply the best one-stop location for almost all the music that truly matters. In the front room you can work your way through the latest hip-hop, reggae, Latin, folk, blues, world sounds, and vintage soul. Move into the second room and it's a rocker's paradise for both postpunkers and die-hard Sixties enthusiasts. A $3.99 vinyl copy of the Meat Puppets' Up On the Sun stares up from beneath the entire Bob Dylan back catalogue while the latest noise seven-inch singles vie for space with Eric Clapton and Beach Boys box sets. Finally stroll into the backroom and you'll find jazz heaven: an informed stock of both the traditional and the avant-garde, from Louis Armstrong to Albert Ayler. Add reasonable prices, free parking, a staff with encyclopedic knowledge, and you have a great place to lose yourself for an afternoon.
Bob Marley is just the tip of the iceberg at this outpost for Jah. Stacks of reggae vinyl abound in this shop, and though the emphasis is on dancehall and the more modern sounds out of Jamaica, there's still plenty of vintage roots on display. A recent shopping stop turned up rare, early-Seventies Tappa Zukie and Mighty Diamonds albums, as well as not one, not two, but an entire stack of still-sealed copies of Culture's 1977 dread classic Two Sevens Clash. Irie indeed.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®