If you want a Wal-Mart-sized selection of guns, go to Cabela's. But if you're looking for a gun to place under your pillow and you want the man who sells you that gun to treat you like a friend and not just another customer, go to Ray's Hardware and Sporting Goods. At Ray's, the men behind the glassed-in counters understand that buying a gun is a personal decision. Some gun owners want a pearl handle on their six-shooter. Others want a chrome-plated sawed-off shotgun. And some want the same model gun Robert E. Lee used during the Civil War. At Ray's they've got all that and more, which is why this is the favorite spot of elephant hunters and SWAT team leaders.
In the Brazilian Amazon the locals favor a thick red juice that tastes best when it's served in a wooden bowl. The juice, called acai, comes from little berries that grow high in trees. Until recently, acai wasn't available in the United States--even finding it outside of the Amazon was tough. Now you can buy it online in powder form. But the closest thing you're going to get to the real stuff is bought in pulp. Locally it's at Coisas Do Brasil. They also sells candies unique to Brazil, such as bananas sprinkled in sugar.
We were gonna mention the Virgin Megastore in Mockingbird Station till we remembered, yeah, that sucker's a furniture store now. Then we thought, oh, well, how about Tower Records on Lemmon Avenue? It's never taken home one of these coveted accolades, and it does have a pretty decent import section. Then we remembered, oh, yeah, Tower's in bankruptcy and probably not long for this world. So we're going to settle on an old favorite, and not just because bits and pieces of some of our collections now reside in the racks. Seriously, this is supposed to be the best, right? So what else do you call a store (two, actually) that stocks everything new, used and in-between (we call 'em "imports") and has room enough for more local discs than former Observer music editors' shelving units? Don't get us wrong: Good Records is great, absolutely, and tops when it comes to the in-store. It just doesn't have the stock, and cool only gets you so far when you want and can't have.
A&R Records, open since 1969, occupies a squat brick building in a part of town where it's necessary to keep the front door locked at all times. Inside, there's all the equipment needed to make a CD, a cassette or a record. What makes A&R special is that it's one of the last places left that still makes vinyl. The closest vinyl plant, according to the company's vice president, is in Nashville. A&R has pressed records for Prince, Beyonc and more local acts than they can name. Currently they do most of their work for hip-hop artists and DJs. The plant is usually open until 3 p.m., and the manager says he's more than happy to give tours.
Celebration Station
If you ask us, kids these days already know too much stuff. We blame it on those Internets, or maybe MTV. And that is why we love Celebration Station. The family fun zone is not educational, nor is it culturally significant. Not one brain cell will be taxed during an entire day there. Kids can drive bumper boats and go-karts, play paintball and miniature golf, hit the batting cages and the pizza counter. And when they're tired of getting hot and sweaty from physical activity, they can head inside and feed tokens into the arcade games in exchange for little yellow tickets. Come to think of it, there may be a lesson to be learned: No matter how hard you try or how much money you spend, you'll forever be 40,000 tickets shy of taking home that awesome lava lamp.
So a drunken night in a limo with confetti, a stocked bar and seven of your closest friends was not the best time to wear a white skirt. Now it makes sense. We use Freedom Cleaners in the Old Town shopping center because they can fix anything. They don't make promises, but they haven't let us down yet. Whether you're bringing in a sackload of work shirts or a party-battered white skirt, they smile and ask about your day. We actually believe they care. These people are nice, and we love them--almost as much as that white skirt.
We've never been so disappointed with Borders Books and Music as we have in recent months; bet you didn't know they gotta wear uniforms at the West Village location, which is an enormous turnoff. And Barnes & Noble, well, a chain's a chain, and it ain't no damned good unless it's on a bike, bud. Which leaves us, as always, with the perennial fave, the hometown hero that's been offering books, new and used, for pennies on the dollar ever since people actually read. We're as much in love as ever with the mother ship on Northwest Highway, which always has something to sell us even if they're out of what we came for in the first place. It's the quick stop that turns into the day trip, especially as the weather cools and the hot chocolate's tempting us from the Black Forest Caf in the corner; never has dusty lit tasted so cocoa-y. And the vinyl bin provides the best deals in town; picked up a Bloodrock debut the other day for a couple of bucks, or a fraction of what eBay suckers are plunking down for the acid-rock head trip. Other bargains await around every corner and in every crevice; go now, before we pocket what you seek.
Hotel St. Germain
Weird one, isn't it, for the local to write; should have outsourced this one to an outta-towner (like, say, John Travolta, who can be found in the Four Seasons in Las Colinas as often as a drunk golfer, or a movie-studio publicist who has to baby-sit celebs as they make the rounds pimping product). We've heard bad things about the W, alas. And as much as we love to drink at the Belmont, well, it's still a motor hotel; trendy's fine, but what's the thread count? Which leaves us considering the Holy Trinity: The Mansion on Turtle Creek (softest beds ever, not to mention softest handscan't, and won't, explain), the Adolphus (sweet suites, and if it's good enough for Borat...) and the Melrose (or is that the Stoneleigh...oh, what's the dif?). Not one of 'em tops the Uptown retreat that looks, feels and acts more like 19th-century Paris: the Hotel St. Germain, which is so exclusive it has only seven suites, most with Jacuzzis and every one decorated like royalty's about to walk in, lie down and take a nap. And the restaurant's one of the best in town. So we hear. Like we can afford $650 suites. C'mon.
Look, we don't know the first thing about fancy jewels; just don't kick us in ours, that's all we gotta say on the subject. But this much we do know about William Noble: His stuff is rare, fancy, expensive and among the best bangles and baubles sold anywhere in the United States. His two-decade-plus run in the Highland Park Village attests to that; you don't stay in the highest-rent district in town that long selling crap to chumps. So what's Highland Park Village owner Henry S. Miller doing leasing space to Fifth Avenue carpetbagger Harry Winston, better known as the jewelry-maker to the stars? Making a killing, yeah, but also looking to injure a local who's been around for a good third of the Village's 75-year run. Trust us: This ain't going over well with the jet set, which loves its Billy Noble--SMU grad that he is, nice kid--and would probably spread the wealth were Winston further away...like Rodeo Drive and not Mockingbird Lane.
Olla Podrida closed down exactly 10 years ago this summer, and if you're not from around these parts, let us explain how much of a heartbreaker that was for some of us natives. See, it was an oddball mall at Coit Road and LBJ Freeway built, from what we hear, out of abandoned airplane hangars. Best we can recall, the inside was wood, wood and more wood; our hazy memories recall the place looking like a pirate ship. And it wasn't your average mall, but one filled with artsy-craftsy kiosks--glass-blowers, landscape artists, people who made things with rope, candy-makers--in other words, everyone who sooner or later wound up at the West End Marketplace till it shuttered earlier this year. Well, Olla Podrida is now the home of Akiba Academy and Yavneh Academy--schools for the Chosen People, as opposed to, oh, the Da Vinci Academy, which is a school for the Accepted People, and there's a big difference. The Hebrew learnin' facilities purchased the mall three years ago, tore the place down and built in its place some fancy new kosher digs. Oh, but Olla Podrida lives: There's a band from Austin with the same name (more or less--it drops one "l") featuring David Wingo, who writes the music for the movies of David Gordon Green, who's from Dallas. And the circle is complete.

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