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2003ReadersKids

Best Arcade
TIE: Le Fun, Dave & Busters

With its campus location and loyal slacker clientele, Le Fun has become one of the few enduring local businesses on the Drag. Along with its Wells Branch location, Le Fun specializes in arcade games of all stripes and the fine art of separating kids from their quarter rolls. Primarily an adult establishment, Dave & Buster’s (guests 18 and under must be accompanied by a parent or guardian) is the ever-expanding and popular Dallas chain that promises interactive games and at least one good round of Whack-a-Mole.

Le Fun, 2200 Guadalupe, 512/478-3509

Dave & Buster's, 9333 Research, 512/346-8015, www.daveandbusters.com

Best Birthday Cakes
Lucy's Cakes

Dear Lucy, Please make yourself an anniversary cake. This is the 10th straight year you've won a Best Cakes award from our loyal readers and your loyal sweet-lovin' customers. Congratulations! Hyde Park residents are sad you moved, but folks out on Bee Caves Road couldn't be happier. Love, The Chron

Lucy's Cakes, 5320 Bee Caves Rd., 512/347-8585

Best Bookstore
BookPeople

Looking for those new reissues of the classic Trixie Belden series? You're sure to find it on the second floor of Austin's favorite indie bookstore. Your little BookKid will love the story time, the bright colors, or if they're not readers, the multiple things to climb on while you do your own shopping.

BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar, 512/472-5050, www.bookpeople.com

Best Clothing
TIE: Dragonsnaps, Old Navy

Somewhere in this tie there lies a joke about the Gap, or rather, the gap. Because Dragonsnaps is all about the original style and designers. And Old Navy, well, they leveled the playing field now, didn't they? So really, it's no tie; you can budget for both. Dragonsnaps has that smart, boutiquey feel to it (plus you can pop in next door to Terra Toys when you're done). And Old Navy has that fill-the-cart feel (and all of their many locations are convenient to other fun shopping opportunities).

Dragonsnaps, 2438 W. Anderson, 512/445-4497

Old Navy, 2901 Capitol of TX Hwy. S., 512/328-0953, www.oldnavy.com

Best Clothing Resale
Junior League of Austin Resale Shop

The concept is even better than what Robin Hood plotted. In this scenario, no one has to steal anything: It's donated! With an excellent selection of all sorts of things (be sure to check out the sheets), this is an especially good place to check for gently used kids sporting clothes, especially since they knocked out the south wall and expanded – their kids department has now doubled in size. The staff could not be friendlier. And the location, on wacky Burnet Road, puts you right on the trajectory of about a dozen other thrift stores, so you can plan your big thrift trip around this favorite shop.

Junior League of Austin Resale Shop, 6555 Burnet, 512/459-4592

Best Indoor Fun Spot
Thinkery

What began way back in 1983 as Austin's "museum without walls," hosting child-friendly exhibits at a variety of local institutions, our beloved Austin Children's Museum has not only acquired and decorated those walls, but has grown into a world-class educational haven for kids. "In My Family/En Mi Familia," the current exhibit that runs through Jan. 10, 2004, is a colorful and engaging trek into both family life and the mind of the artist (inspired by the works of Carmen Lomas Garza) and is typical of the museum's high caliber of events.

Thinkery, 1830 Simond, 512/469-6200, www.thinkeryaustin.org

Best Party Place
TIE: Blazer Tag Adventure Center, Austin Children's Museum

Hmm, find new ways of artistic expression or blast away at your friends and loved ones? We can’t decide, either. The Austin Children’s Museum has inspired young minds for two decades now, and these days they offer boffo sleepovers with tantalizing themes like “Dinosaur Mania” and “Grossology!” For the wee-more aggressive set, Blazer Tag provides the ideal stomping ground – shouting and running aren’t merely tolerated, they’re encouraged. Both locales host birthday and group parties that can be intensely therapeutic – for kids and their parents.

Blazer Tag Adventure Center, 1701 W. Ben White #1, 512/462-0202, www.blazertag.com

Thinkery, 1830 Simond, 512/469-6200, www.thinkeryaustin.org

Best Party Supplies
Party Pig Superstore

Party planners can't help but jig at the Pig, the one-stop shop for every single party thing you can think of, plus about 10,000 other things you didn't think of, but, come to think of, heck yeah, you need some of those (and those, and those). Three Party Pig locations will keep you up to your ears in tiaras, pirate duds, monster costumes, and sundry other clever disguises. Want to surprise your spousal unit on a big anniversary? Any fool can buy a diamond. Imagine her surprise when she opens up her brand new fog machine! Yes, the Party Pig can help you with this, too.

Party Pig Superstore, 2900 W. Anderson, 512/454-2518

Party Pig Superstore, Tech Ridge Shopping Center, I-35 & Parmer

Party Pig Superstore, 5601 Brodie, 512/892-2721

Best Place to Commune With Nature
Zilker Park

It says something about our readers' obsessions, their community history, and their focus, that they commune with nature best in the heart of the heart of the city. Zilker is our Central Park, and it's sending us an old message that is heard only as long as it is passed on: In wildness is the preservation of the world.

Zilker Park, 2100 Barton Springs Rd., 512/974-6700, www.austintexas.gov

Best Recreation Center
YMCA

It really is fun to stay at the YMCA. Okay, so you can't sleep overnight there, but with so many branches offering so many classes, so much equipment, and so many opportunities to forge community, you could wander in early and stick around until late. All five locations (six if you count Pflugerville – your call) are accessible with one membership card. Great child care, excellent financial aid, indoor and outdoor pool options, a water park at the East Communities facility, and bustling summer camps, swim classes, and sports for the kids. Oh, and no annual contract, just month-to-month fees.

YMCA Town Lake Branch, 1100 W. Cesar Chavez, 512/542-9622, www.austinymca.org

Best Restaurant
GattiTown

Who needs animatronic hedgehogs singing Motown medleys when there’s GattiTown? All-you-can-eat pizza, big screen TVs alternately broadcasting sports and cartoons, and a sizable cornucopia of arcade games make GattiTown – and its Round Rock cousin, Gattiland – enjoyable-yet-economical destinations for the whole brood.

GattiTown, 7101 Hwy. 71 W., 512/583-8098, www.gattispizza.com

Best Shoe Store
Sandy's Shoes & Toys

Some kids love it for the toys, but our kids actually like buying shoes. (Especially the kind that light up.) And Sandy's is what all stores should be – good quality, great selection, friendly people who like their jobs, decent prices, all that. May it clad the feet of generations yet to come.

Sandy's Shoes & Toys, 2525 W. Anderson, Bldg. 1, #150, 512/452-8697, www.fb.com/sandysshoes

Best Summer Camp
Dougherty Arts Center

Remember when you returned from summer camp with beaded necklaces and your name branded on some piece of leather? Summer camps have become sophisticated, my friend, like the Dougherty Arts Center Summer Camp, where classes for ages 3-12 include lessons in finger painting, art, and video production. Wonder if they check IDs?

Dougherty Arts Center, 1110 Barton Springs Rd., 512/974-4000, www.austintexas.gov

Best Toy Store
Toy Joy

Hand-scrawled sardonic (but good-naturedly so) warnings and didactic recommendations line the shelves here, written up by the clever employees who also are forever stocking more new inventory (Lava Lamps! Day-Glo stickers!) and more new inventory (Satan Ducks! Jesus action figures!) and still more new inventory (Necco wafers! Dino slime!). Toy Joy is the perfect mix of bizarre kitsch and genuine sentiment, filled with offerings to satisfy both the most innocent, not-even-aware-of-the-word-cynicism tot and the incredibly cynical punk rock of heart. With all sorts of wacky selections in between. Plus, man, they play great music.

Toy Joy, 403 W. Second, 512/320-0090, www.toyjoy.com

Best Video Selection
Vulcan Video

The best part of the best selection is all the groovy stuff from your own childhood, or even earlier. Vulcan has helped introduce our kids to Jonny Quest, Speed Racer, and Felix the Cat. An important cultural service, right in your own back yard.

Vulcan Video, 100-A North Loop, 512/478-5325, www.vulcanvideo.com

Vulcan Video, 4411 Russell, 512/326-2629, www.vulcanvideo.com

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