Best Of :: Shopping & Services
In 2002, the Village of Merrick Park did what no other shopping mall seemed capable of doing. It broke the stronghold the Bal Harbour Shops had on luxury goods. If you wanted to drop outrageous amounts of money on ready-to-wear items from the world's top designers, you had to travel to the small town near the Broward County line, quite a trek if you lived in Coconut Grove, Coral Gables, or Pinecrest. But the Village of Merrick Park cut travel time to a few short minutes and borrowed heavily from its Bal Harbour counterpart — an open-air layout, high-end eateries, and an atmosphere decidedly non-mall. And with stores such as Neiman Marcus, Betsey Johnson, Gucci, Tiffany & Co., Jimmy Choo, and La Perla, Merrick Park is a worthy competitor for high-end clientele. Besides, it boasts one of the few Borders bookstores still left.
When your party-animal level reaches such a high point that only an explosion of '80s sequins and shoulder pads can do it justice, or when your art-gallery day job requires you look like a '70s Lolita adorned in ruffles and soft chiffon, only one store can adequately quell your ravenous vintage appetite. Tiny, well-organized, adorned with a huge black-and-white print that quotes Alice in Wonderland, and filled with quirky details (care for a collection of doll heads?), the Rabbit Hole is an expertly curated and moderately priced potpourri of secondhand goods plucked from New York City flea markets, Los Angeles vintage warehouses, and other corners of the world where cool and original live (and where the husband-and-wife owners, who are also photographers, travel). If a bunny called this shop home, it would be the type that sports nerdy, oversize glasses; hops around in old-school combat boots; and refuses to eat carrots because "they're so conventional." In other words, exactly the type of rabbit we like.
Given that most of the used bookstores left in Miami are in strip malls and half of their stock comprises multiple copies of the same wildly popular romance and teen novels, Fifteenth Street Books could easily be mistaken for a book museum. The store, which occupies the original site of Books & Books, is lined floor to ceiling with wooden shelves brimming with actual, real, bona fide literature and grand art books featuring lavish reproductions. Climb the hardwood stairs to the sun-filled second floor and you'll find collectibles and limited-edition prints, not hidden in some showcase, but on shelves to grab and actually peruse. Scour the store and you can find some real gems, such as a copy of a first edition (albeit a later printing) of Naked Lunch in its original, though well-worn, dust jacket for $20. Heck, that's almost what a new, tacky-looking paperback of this modern-day Inferno will set you back at Borders, if you can find a Borders, that is.
Believe it or not, there's better treasure at your local Goodwill store than just macramé owls, velvet Elvises, secondhand underwear, busted-up ham radios, and cracked souvenir ashtrays from places you'll never visit. Of course, we're talking about highly collectible vinyl. Basically, as baby boomers age, enter nursing homes, and fall into open graves, they need to get rid of their awesome stockpiles of old records. And often, the easiest and most efficient way to free themselves of these extremely precious worldly possessions is simply donating them to a nonprofit thrift outlet like Goodwill. So hurry! Go pick through the '60s generation's vinyl leftovers. Sure, it's not all gold and platinum. There's a glut of stuff such as Neil Diamond's Hot August Night, Hall & Oates's Abandoned Luncheonette, and multiple copies of every single Herb Alpert album in the universe. But look hard through the junk and you'll eventually find a few rad rarities, like Velvet Underground's White Light/White Heat, or curios such as a chicken-grease-smeared first pressing of Christmas Day With Colonel Sanders. And when you're paying only $1 per LP, this kind of killer find makes you feel like an especially slick looter.
With gas prices this high, even the most motor-loving among us must be considering the benefits of switching, at least on occasion, to self-powered transportation. But maybe we're not ready to shell out top dollar for a new bicycle. If you're looking for a used bike or used parts, check out Tamiami Cyclery. The small strip-mall spot has been in business for decades and looks like it, but you'll find a menagerie of vintage frames and rare parts at good prices. Plus the staff is always polite and knowledgeable.
Not to sound like yuppies, but we feel like we're in danger of contracting tetanus whenever we enter most bicycle shops. We always have to climb around some ancient, broken-down tricycle — maybe right by the door is not the best place for that — to get to the oil-blackened bike dude. We're carrying our own bike, which has a flat tire, so it's like a claustrophobic obstacle course. The pedals of our bike always scrape against the skin of our legs, which for some reason is obscenely painful. And there are five people in line in front of us, but the bike dude is busy telling his semihomeless assistant the story of how he dropped out of Oberlin to pedal the Serengeti. All 4 Cycling USA offers a reprieve from this grubby malaise. The year-old shop is spacious, sparkling-clean, well-staffed, and welcoming. Prices are reasonable: $35 for a tuneup, $6 for a new tire tube ($12.41 if they do the labor), and $270 for adult beach cruisers. High-performance bikes include luminescent titanium beauties that would spur Lance Armstrong to peel off his spandex shorts and masturbate. Of course, that would cause him to be politely told to leave, because unlike at those dirty-ass stores we were talking about before, pleasuring oneself is not allowed at All 4 Cycling USA.
What Miami needs more of is a YMCA culture. We're not talking about men wearing construction-worker or police-officer or Indian-chief costumes while making letters with their arms. We're talking true YMCA culture, like those in cities such as Cleveland or Baltimore: blue-collar dudes and wealthy-commissioner types working out in the same gym and then sweating together in the steam room, grumbling about the local quarterbacks' professional inadequacies while thumbing through soggy sports sections. (Editor's note: This was written by a male who has no idea what happens in female steam rooms because he's pretty sure the Cinemax movie he watched on the subject was not accurate.) Yep, in the Rust Belt, the YMCA is where the plebeians mix easily with the fat cats. But in Miami, the rich people work out at a posh health club that looks like a Moroccan whorehouse (let's call it Pavid Carton), and the poor people get ripped in one-room gyms featuring crude paintings of barbells on the walls. That's why we're pretty happy about the YMCA Village of Allapattah Family Branch — how gloriously uncool is that name? — opening its doors. There's no steam room to hobnob with a nude and sweaty city mayor, but it is otherwise truly a gym for the people: Membership is $34 for a single adult, $44 for a couple, and $50 for two adults and as many kids as you have. Yep, kids: They're like people but smaller, and they get really emotionally invested in ice-cream cones. Bet you haven't seen any such creatures at Pavid Carton, huh, fancy-pants?
Some people would argue that the best Jim is Jim Carrey. Or Jimmy Johnson. Maybe even Jiminy Cricket. But workout junkies in Kendall know the number one place to break a sweat is Thump Fight Gym, hidden in the lushly green Kings Creek Shopping Center. Since 1997, this seemingly rugged boxing gym — decked out with a ring, ample bags, and a loudmouthed coach — has been the perfect place for any gym rat. There are treadmills and stationary bikes for the hamster-wheel/exercise-machine set, weights for the beefcakes, yoga classes for the hippies, and spinning, CrossFit, boot camp, TRX, Thai boxing, and Brazilian jujitsu classes. What's more, this gym has a strong family vibe. Not only does owner Steve Arintok throw an annual barbecue for all gym members and staff, but also he's on site every day greeting each person by name. "Hello," heavyweight boxing and kickboxing champion James Warring. "Hello," IBF featherweight champ Stacey Reile, and if you give this place a whirl, "hello" to the future Jim "Cinderella Man" Braddock. Membership rates are $39 to $75 a month.
The musk inside the training room is overpowering. Dressed in black T-shirts and training pants, a couple dozen students simultaneously perform a series of devastating combinations of hooks, uppercuts, and roundhouse kicks aimed at imaginary opponents. Their instructor, Julio Castrillo, walks among his students, watching their form, making sure their fighting stance is perfect, their pivoting effortless, their follow-through ferocious. "Always keep your hands up!" Castrillo shouts. "Always guard your face!" Six days a week, sometimes twice a day, Castrillo leads grueling training sessions in the art of krav maga, a self-defense fighting style developed by the Israeli army that emphasizes endurance and precision. From perfecting joint locks to escaping headlocks to timing a well-placed knee to the ribs, the curriculum at Miami Lakes Krav Maga is enough to turn the meekest kid into the baddest brute on the block. The monthly membership is $120, plus a onetime $200 fee for the T-shirt, training pants, and fight gloves. Throughout the year, the school also holds training seminars for $35 to $50 for members and nonmembers.
"One sunny day, the God of Gun and the God of Rock had a drunken night of pleasure after too many shots at Mansion in South Beach. They named the result of their sacred, drunken union Pantera, and it was good." Maybe that's not exactly how Pantera Guns & Guitars came to be, but it might be close. This little store is chock full of pistols, rifles, revolvers, and "axes of evil" (the musical kind). Pantera also has a special "ladies' section," complete with pink guns, pepper spray, and mace (because a girl must defend herself by any means necessary). Worried about an earthquake, nuclear fallout, or complete breakdown of society? Pantera has a fully stocked selection of survival gear. And because the world hasn't yet reached total anarchy, classes are available so you can get your concealed-weapons permit (none required to carry a guitar). Pick up a Glock 38 and a Dean Hardtail Pro and look at you — you're living like a rock star, baby. And that rock star's name just happens to be Nugent, as in Ted.
Being a ninja in Miami is hard. Not only is it really hot under that black uniform and mask, but there are hardly any tall buildings to scale. And even when you find one, everyone assumes you're another MMA fighter acting like an asshole. So where do you go when you're a master in the art of stealth and seeking a supportive community of like-minded ninjutsu practitioners who understand your struggles? A strip mall in west Miami, of course. That's where you'll find MAC Sports Supplies, a small mom-and-pop shop owned by martial arts experts who are more than willing to offer an open ear and an array of numchucks, swords, hand claws, ninja garb, and other training gear at reasonable prices. We would tell you where it is, but you'll just have to use your espionage skills. What, the address is listed above? You're good, ninja, you're good.
Say the ghosts of Frédéric Chopin, Jean-Baptiste Lully, and Antonio Vivaldi were all spending a weekend in Miami and performing a once-in-a-postlifetime concerto at the Arsht Center to benefit the Greater Miami Youth Symphony. Where would they go to find sheet music and tune their instruments for the night? Probably the place that carries South Florida's largest collection of sheet music — more than 21,000 titles — and employs an in-house luthier. Allegro has been part of Miami's music community for more than 50 years and specializes in string, brass, and percussion instruments. The folks here also teach music to children and adults alike. It's a brick-and-mortar nirvana of all things music. Whether you want a $20 tambourine or a $7,000 — and beyond — violin, the store probably has it in stock. If not, they'll order it — and give you a damn good price in the process.