Uncle Sam's Music
BEST USED-CD STORE Uncle Sam's Music 1141 Washington Avenue

Miami Beach

305-532-0973

www.unclesamsmusic.com Uncle Sam's is beginning to become a lock for this award, but as long as it keeps its bins stocked with one of the most diverse musical assortments around, we're hardly going to begrudge it local supremacy. Indeed, any N section whose contents run from New Order to Laura Nyro, and from the New York Dolls to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band -- all at $7.99 a pop -- gets a big thumbs up from these quarters. And sign language is the communication of choice at Uncle Sam's, with rows of listening stations allowing you to slap on a pair of headphones and preview selections to your ears' content. But not just CDs: You'll find a wide array of dance-oriented vinyl here, with a steady stream of DJs jostling past the lava lamps, vintage lunchboxes, and incense -- heck, it's like an old-fashioned head shop in here -- to nod along in time to the latest club offerings. Sure, you could go online. But will iTunes or Napster sell you Skittles, fake tattoos, and a twelve-inch record with your CDs?

BEST FLORIST Ruben's Flowers 3248 Bird Avenue

Coconut Grove Ruben's flower stand was last year's winner in this category; it deserves the honor again. In the face of construction, invading millionaires, increased non-flower-buying traffic, annoying self-righteous neighborhood activists, and an ambulance which arrived not to transport a patient but to crash into Ruben's display of Easter baskets, the gentlemen of Ruben's Flowers remain unfazed and constant. The flowers themselves -- from as far away as Ecuador and Holland and as close as South Miami-Dade's Glaser Farms -- are inexpensive and uniformly fresh and beautiful, but it is the Ruben's duo who are dewy. Hiring homeless people to do small chores for food, cash, and shelter from the sun or rain for a few hours, watching neighborhood children get off the bus and walk home from school (and keeping a vigilant eye on neighborhood houses) and beginning each day with a lusty chorus of day-ohs, Ruben's Flowers is a strictly cash, old-school business. To their extra added credit this year, they have remained neutral in the heated Home Depot debate, allowing naysayers to hang signs in their yard and pro-Depot militants to deposit heaps of the same signs collected from various Grove locations in their trash.

Readers´ Choice: Pistils & Petals

BEST REASON NOT TO GO TO COCOWALK Mr. Moe's 3131 Commodore Plaza

Coconut Grove

305-442-1114 Every Thursday night legions of inebriated college punks swarm the streets of Coconut Grove in a holy quest for drunken shenanigans. Perhaps owing to the copious amounts of chemicals percolating through their bodies, they find reason to converge at the doorstep of this log cabin watering hole. They are greeted by a rude, mullet-sporting door monster whose only concern is his own status as the man. As he creates in his mind the exclusivity of a chic South Beach nightspot, he arbitrarily allows members of the herd entrance. Inside is just as bad. Apart from the fact you might get roughed up if you look at owner John El-Masry the wrong way (it has been known to happen), this place caters to jockish frat boys in all their macho glory. This, in turn, causes nothing but headaches (not the hangover kind) as patrons are forced to sift through a testosterone cesspool with only a prayer of actually making it to the bar to order a drink.

Jamba Juice
BEST JUICE BAR Jamba Juice Various locations in Miami-Dade County

305-948-9919 In Miami the ubiquitous cafetería window provides the obvious choice for a quick pick-me-up. It's much easier to find a cafecito in this town than a glass of fresh-squeezed carrot juice. That's why Jamba Juice deserves kudos for offering a healthful alternative to your average sugar-loaded caffeine bomb. It is "corporate," but in terms of convenience (four locations in Miami-Dade County), quality, consistency, and courteous service, it really can't be beat. In addition to smoothies, the menu offers fresh juices such as carrot, orange, orange/carrot, orange/banana, Vibrant-C (a special blend), and matcha green tea (shaken with OJ or soymilk), known for its energizing properties and antioxidants. Jamba also serves up shots of detoxifying wheat grass (grown in South Miami), their version being surprisingly smooth, not bitter. If everyone drank this stuff, Miami would be a better place.

Books & Books
Courtesy of Books & Books
BEST BOOKSTORE Books & Books 265 Aragon Avenue

Coral Gables

305-442-4408

www.booksandbooks.com It's not just about the books anymore. If a bookstore -- any bookstore -- doesn't have the title you're looking for, it can be ordered for you. And if that's too much hassle, most bookstores also have Websites through which you can order virtually any title still in print. In fact some bookstores exist only in Website form. No, these days it's about other amenities, and on that score Mitchell Kaplan's Books & Books flagship store in the Gables is way out in front of the pack. The store's charming indoor-outdoor café is now really a restaurant, and a good one too, which also happens to have a decent list of affordable wines. Intelligently curated art exhibits rotate on a regular basis. Musical performances by uncommon artists, many from foreign lands, are a treat in the courtyard. And of course the Gables store is the premier place in all of South Florida for authors to read -- Best Reading Series in this very issue. Oh, and the staff is knowledgeable and helpful, just in case you actually want to buy a book.

Readers´ Choice: Books & Books

BEST VIDEO STORE New Concept Video 1671 Meridian Avenue

Miami Beach

305-674-1111

and

959 West Avenue

Miami Beach

305-674-1113 With its expansion to a second South Beach site -- and Blockbuster's drastic elimination of VHS tapes, including tons of films that have yet to be issued on DVD -- New Concept has become an even more important oasis for cineastes. While New Concept has also fully embraced the DVD format, they've kept around plenty of foreign and gay-themed VHS tapes. That supply is supplemented by plenty of new releases not found elsewhere, as well as a full rack of movie magazines (this is one of the few local places to consistently stock Film Comment). And there's also a neatly arrayed adult section (gay and straight), which is something not found at Lion Video (the only competitor for this award) or, obviously, at any Blockbuster outlet.

Mack Cycle and Fitness
BEST BIKE SHOP Mack Cycle & Fitness 5995 Sunset Drive

South Miami

305-661-8363

www.mackcycleandfitness.com Here's the problem with selecting a "best" bike shop: These days no single retailer carries all the major manufacturers -- Cannondale, Giant, GT, Raleigh, Schwinn, Specialized, Trek -- much less even a fair sampling of the hundreds of boutique brands. Blame it on a form of commercial bullying: Competing suppliers force retailers to choose among a limited number of brands in order to get the best prices. You choose your supplier and take whatever he carries and that's pretty much it. So the criteria for "best" must include more than simply brand names. This is where Mack Cycle & Fitness comes in -- it's trustworthy, reliable, and reasonably priced. The family-owned shop has been in business more than 47 years and is abundantly staffed by a crew of knowledgeable people who are quick to lend assistance. Sometimes, perhaps, too quick. If you want to browse undisturbed, be advised to make that fact known at the outset. But there is no staff more experienced anywhere in Miami. Currently the store's main brands are Trek, Specialized, Cannondale, and Schwinn -- each of which offers numerous models.

Readers´ Choice: Fritz´s Skate, Bike and Surf

BEST TOILET GRAVEYARD Bargain City 1160 NW 79th Street

North Miami-Dade

305-691-1000 Buy Anything, Sell Everything is the motto at Bargain City. While that may be the goal at this down-home alternative to Home Depot, the inventory is dominated by sinks, stoves, refrigerators, doors, windows -- all used. Out back: the biggest collection of pre-owned toilets in town, lined up like so many tombstones in the subtropical sun. Get them while supplies last, which is likely to be a good long while. Or instead of just tossing your old toilet out, haul it to Bargain City and get a few bucks out of it. Open Monday to Saturday (8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.).

BEST FURNITURE STORE FOR CELEBRITY SIGHTINGS

Details at Home

BEST FURNITURE STORE FOR CELEBRITY SIGHTINGS Details at Home 1711 Alton Road

Miami Beach

305-531-1325 In 1988, when Perry Tortorelli and Rick Raphael opened their home furniture and design store, South Beach was not quite the glamorous destination it is today. The first incarnation of their store reflected the vibe of the era. "It was on Twelfth Street, near the Marlin, and it was only 500 square feet. I was actually sewing sundresses in the back," Tortorelli laughs. "We were selling incense, director's chairs, handmade clothes, and the cheapest stuff, because the Beach was really bad back then." The little business thrived mainly because of the design savvy of the owners, but thanks in part lie with their celebrity connections. Raphael was Gloria Estefan's traveling hairstylist in the heyday of the Miami Sound Machine, and Tortorelli made his name in advertising and the fashion industry. As South Beach became bigger and hotter, these business pioneers shifted gears. In 1994 the store moved to Lincoln Road and Tortorelli began interior designing for famous people. One of his first jobs was for retired MTV founder Les Garland. Other customers: Rosie O'Donnell, Lenny Kravitz, and shoe designer Donald Pliner (a beloved regular). Tortorelli: "Gianni Versace used to buy Rococo mirrors like they were going out of style. Gloria and Emilio love anything related to Cuban nostalgia. And recently Iggy Pop came in. The guy is such a rebel, it's unbelievable. He bought this really beautiful Italian cowhide dining suite. He just sauntered in, no shirt, cowboy hat, big ol' Bentley convertible outside, and said, öI want that.'" When the Dalai Lama came to Miami, Tortorelli designed his personal spaces. "He wanted coral, and he bought an amazing bronze statue of a horse running," Tortorelli says. At Details' 7000-square-foot space on Alton Road, high rollers can plunk down credit cards for high-end furniture, like a 1948 Eames La Chaise ($6200). But plebeians can also pick up chic (but affordable) items like scented candles, soaps, or a Burmese hand fan ($18). Part gift shop, part furniture store, Details has something for just about everyone.

BEST COMIC-BOOK SHOP Outland Station 12540 SW 120th Street

Kendall

305-252-1176

and

Outland Station Annex

Shops at Sunset Place

5701 Sunset Drive

South Miami

305-668-3515

www.outlandstation.com For more than ten years Outland Station was situated in a brick-and-stone storefront on Red Road, two blocks east of South Dixie Highway. Dusty cardboard boxes overflowed with almost every comic book produced by D.C., Marvel, Dark Horse, and those Image guys, whose independent imprint gave birth to Spawn, the Savage Dragon, and The Maxx, antiheroes on quests for redemption. Over the years Outland's owners added action figures and memorabilia to their stock, becoming one of the few comic-book stores to offer customers advance orders for collectibles based on forthcoming releases. Earlier this year Outland relocated its fantasy realm to West Kendall, doubling its space. (The recently opened Annex is located near the old Outland spot.) Outland Station's venerable line of products remains intact. Displays reveal that this place still stays a step ahead, with items keyed to movies like Sin City and Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith. Twelve-inch dolls of sadistic movie slashers Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Leatherface stand on one of the counters. Hard-to-find Batman figures designed by Jim Lee and Kia Asamiya hang on one wall. If you can't find what you're looking for, simply ask Eric or Frank, Outland's congenial apprentices, to take a special order. Both Outland locations also host trading-card competitions Friday nights and weekends.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®