Punk rock veteran Chris Critic started Critical Recording Studios five years ago to promote affordable recording for Miami bands. His motto has always been "By musicians, for musicians." The live drum tracking booth and microphone placement prove he knows what a drummer is looking for in a recording environment. The studio has recently expanded with departments dedicated to hip-hop, R&B, EDM, and the broadcast industry. There is state-of-the-art digital recording technology, vintage analog gear, and a stable of engineers and in-house producers who help create the sound you're looking for. Studio rates range from $39 to $150 per hour for packages that can include mixing and mastering. Beats can be leased for $30 to $50 or purchased for $200 to $500 for exclusive rights. Additionally, 24-hour rehearsal spaces are available for $8 to $30 an hour. Free consultations are encouraged, and a monthly open house includes a tour of the studio and a free recording session for a single for first-time visitors. Critical Recording offers a professional environment for musicians who want top-flight results.

Alex Constantinidis was born to teach guitar. His parents were top concert pianists and teachers in Ohio. They began his training in intensive classical and jazz piano theory at a young age. He attended Boston's prestigious Berklee College of Music, graduated from the University of Miami School of Music, and has been teaching guitar and keyboard lessons in Miami since 1982. He also loves rock 'n' roll. His Venezuelan wife, Sylvia, has two master's degrees in piano theory and composition from UM and is close to earning a doctoral degree in that subject from Boston University. She is an accomplished contemporary classical composer who has had pieces premiered all over the world, has a new album on iTunes, and is on the board of directors of the National Association of Composers of Venezuela. She has also written widely on composition. The two offer guitar, piano, violin, and vocal lessons that you simply can't get from a 23-year-old kid in a storefront "music school." The Constantinidises charge $35 to $65 an hour for serious musical instruction in various styles for all ages. Call 305-285-6887

There are more than a thousand bottles on the shelves of Happy Wine in the Grove, the second store in the Happy Wine empire. (There's also a location in West Miami: 5792 SW Eighth St., 305-262-2465.) It's billed as a tapas restaurant with a menu covering all the basics, from tortilla española to chorizo soaked in vino, but the real fun begins when you peruse the assortment of international labels representing every corner of the world, from France to Germany to New Zealand to the United States. Cardboard cases overflow with bottles, creating a maze of wine, but friendly employees are more than happy to guide you through it. Ask them to point you in the direction of 90-plus rated bottles, many of which are remarkably well priced under $20. In addition to educational monthly winetastings, Happy Wine even hosted a casual affair with celeb vintner Antonio Banderas while he was in town for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. From a $1,100 vintage bottle of 2001 Harlan Estate Napa Valley Cabernet, awarded more kudos than almost any other Californian Cab, to a $16.99 bottle of 2009 Château Puech-Haut Prestige from the French Languedoc (given 93 points by Robert Parker), this wine store in Coconut Grove offers a truly happy assortment for enophiles.

Aventura Mall
Photo courtesy of Aventura Mall

Quiz time! Which came first: Aventura Mall or the City of Aventura? If you answered the latter, you'd be wrong. The mall opened its doors in 1983, while the city wasn't incorporated until 12 years later. That's right: This is a shopping center so massive they literally built a city around it. In the late '90s, Aventura Mall really came into its own via a major expansion, and in 2008, a new Nordstrom and more retail space sent the place right over the edge of sanity. And the mall isn't finished devouring real estate. Next up are more luxury retailers, some of which are fleeing the haven of Bal Harbour Shops. Case in point: Louis Vuitton, a longtime tenant of the ritzy open-air mall, set up shop in Aventura in July. Aventura Mall boasts an enormous variety of products and services on three floors and 2.7 million square feet of retail. With anchor stores such as Bloomingdale's, Macy's, and Nordstrom, and shops such as Diesel, Y-3, All Saints, M Missoni, Apple, and many others, you're guaranteed to get lost in a sea of commerce.

Leggenda Bridal

The employees at Leggenda Bridal Boutique are superbly accommodating, even if they won't let sweaty male New Times correspondents try on the dresses. Owner Sandra Zacharias has been in the wedding business for more than 20 years. Her boutique began as a bridal accessories shop before expanding into the Miracle Mile institution it is today. She now runs the store with her daughter Yanitza, and the focus on family is not limited to the staff; Leggenda dresses not only the bride but also all ladies attending a wedding — from the flower girls to the mothers of the bride and groom. The store's goal is to provide dresses for every special occasion in a woman's life, and it's not uncommon for customers at bridal appointments to bring pictures of themselves in prom dresses they purchased at Leggenda. The staffers know it won't be long before they are fitting the daughters of their brides for prom dresses. Leggenda tends to stock younger, trendier designs while also keeping prices affordable: Bridal gowns run $900 to $4,000, mother-of-the-bride dresses cost $600 to $1,200, and quince dresses are $600 to $1,200.

Hello? Yeah, stupid, it's me. You are never going to believe this. Me and Jose went to Cracker Barrel, you know, the one in Florida City? Yeah, right, well, we got lost on the way there. Whatever. You know how the addresses in Homestead don't make sense, and we were stoned as balls anyway. Well, we found this awesome thrift store, like, in the middle of nowhere. I got an Alf T-shirt, and Jose bought a Mothers of Invention album — original vinyl! Not only that, but I also found an original Punky Brewster lunchbox! Jose got some stupid G.I. Joe dolls, whatever. And I found these kick-ass heels and, like, three supervintage purses. Now, get this, we paid three bucks for everything! Holy shit, right? Whoops, maybe I shouldn't say, "Shit." The shop is on church grounds!

When you finally grow up, it's time to tear down your silly "room accents" from Target and invest in some pieces worthy of a page in Coastal Living magazine. Actually, that's just one of the many publications that have showcased some of the unfailingly tasteful finds for which people from all over the world flock to Stripe. The front room is color-coordinated in beachy whites, beige, and natural wood tones. The back room is home to antiquities and some modern objects in darker, denser hues. Exquisite French cast-iron-framed mirrors, dandelion chandeliers, tables made of coral and wrought iron, Norwegian lounge chairs in oak and leather, Fornasetti coasters made of seashells, life-size Italian ceramic greyhound sculptures, vintage metal birdhouses, vintage "tractor seat" stools, and authentic tribal beaded headdresses are just the beginning of the list of stuff to peruse in this dazzling den of elite artifacts. You could spend anywhere from $25 to $30,000 in this hub of antiques and collectibles. But even if your budget isn't boundless, Stripe is worth a visit, if just for the experience. Unlike some of the proprietors at other renowned antique spots on North Miami's "20th Century Row," owner Eric Cody is informative and friendly, even if you don't stroll in wearing $3,000 shoes.

This strip of shops near Biscayne Boulevard in North Miami is one of those I-can't-believe-it treasures that's nestled in a surprising spot. North Miami is better known for its corruption-entangled mayor than for its great shopping, but this strip brings a touch of affordable class and homey history that deserves a nod and a visit from anyone considering purchasing a chair or a fancy mirror that looks like a bejeweled birdcage. There's ITS Antiques, owned by Francine Peltz, a kindly woman who's been bringing rare and collectible antiques to Miami for more than 15 years. Aubery specializes in chic French furniture from the 1950s to the '70s but also offers a host of cool modernist paintings. April Antiques, just next door, features quality wood furniture and is owned by Jim Hodgdon, a friendly old guy who made his first furniture sale when he was a boy of ten. Finally, Cliff Sneed, who's been in the antiques biz for upward of 20 years, has rococo-style dressers, vintage nightstands, highboy chests, and time-tested tables and chairs that are so densely packed into his Golden Era Antiques that walking through the doors is like embarking on an antique-furniture expedition.

Home Design Store
Marty Quintana

Despite the Magic City's carnival mesh of cultures, many furniture shops here are more vanilla than Topeka. After your eyes glaze over from a slog through the big-box furniture stores, all the dressers and cabinets look the same. Here's the antidote: Home Design Store. The family-run business culls pieces from several countries, such as India, China, and Indonesia, and aims to make your home décor unique. The products are solid wood, with a selection including teak, mahogany, elm, and Indian rosewood. And the prices are right, considering your home will look like it was furnished by J. Peterman after a voyage to the Far East: a rosewood table from India will set you back just $599, a stylishly weathered nightstand costs $369, and a sweet jade-hued ceramic Buddha straight from China is $299.

Matthew Miller has been blowing glass since he was 15 years old. He started as a shop rat at the University of Miami's Art After Dark program and then apprenticed with the best of the South Florida "art glass" community. He's the right-hand man of sometimes Miami-based Rob Stern of the world-renowned Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle. In 2005, Miller started his own company, Nickel Glass, and ever since has been filling custom orders for private clients, interior designers, and fancy hotels, as well as repairing high-end glass pieces from Murano, Italy. No other custom blower in Miami shows the full-time dedication to the craft it takes to be master of the glass.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®