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2015CriticsServices

Best Artsy Dentist's Office
Alpine Dental, Dr. Merrill & Linda Russell

The waiting room of Alpine Dental near the University of Texas is full to the rafters with paintings and jewelry designed by Linda Russell. Peruse it while you wait for dental hygienist Linda to clean your teeth. Then her husband Dr. Merrill Russell will be ready to advise you on the future of your chompers. Did we mention that he doesn't have perfect teeth? Somehow that's reassuring, as is the ever-friendly atmosphere. At least once a year the office turns into an official art show with wine, cheese, and laughter. Ask to be put on the invite list.

Alpine Dental, 2915 Medical Arts, 512/477-9282, www.austinalpinedental.com

Best Brows to Max Throwing Shade
Brow Bird Austin

Without the right browline, you’ve got nothing in the art of throwing shade. Our Lady of Brow Game, Jax, has been waxing, plucking, and tweezing the masters of Austin’s shade team for years. Bring to her your overplucked, your drawn-on, your filled-in, your mono, and your bushy, and walk out with a look that can be thrown across a room with panache … and the most subtle arch.

Brow Bird Austin, 1107 E. 11th, www.browbird.com

Best DIY Construction & Design
Krista Ernst, One Handy Mutha

Krista Ernst is a petite person, a single mom who can wield a saw as easily as Julia Child with a spatula. Her DIY attitude developed into a business called One Handy Mutha. Her popularity started with projects in Travis Heights and is now spreading throughout the city. She's an expert cabinet maker, landscaper, house painter, and plumber. Want to learn from her while she works on your project? No problem, she's got you covered. From your yard to your home, little projects to huge ones, Ersnt is your gal.

One Handy Mutha, 512/585-2107, onehandymutha.com

Best Eye Gym
The Optometry Center for Vision Therapy

Looking at computer screens and reading tiny type strains our eyes and can lead to fatigue and headaches. In children especially, learning problems can be the result of undetected vision problems. That’s where the team at the Optometry Center for Vision Therapy offers a real eye opener. Go in for a complimentary consultation and see what trouble your eyes could be causing you. The doctors oversee an individualized in-office program with a vision therapist who sends you home with exercises to help with lazy eye, dyslexia, autism spectrum disorders, and much more. Their program vastly improved the quality of life for one of our visual artists who was unknowingly suffering from eight different eye disorders. Bonus: The staff is incredibly attentive and friendly. Here’s (to) looking at you, Austin!

Optometry Center for Vision Therapy, 6836 Bee Caves Rd. #100, 512/614-1640, www.ocvt.info

Optometry Center for Vision Therapy, 10601 Pecan Park #201, 512/401-0400, www.ocvt.info

Best Guitar Teacher to the Stars
David Pulkingham

Robert Plant, Patty Griffin, Alejandro Escovedo: The common thread is David Pulkingham. He’s become Austin’s favorite guitar teacher – if you can get him. When he’s not on the road, he’s a warm, patient, and inspiring guitar teacher to students of all ages. Flamenco to rock & roll, from the Continental Club to Carnegie Hall, Pulkingham’s what famed producer Tony Visconti calls “the complete guitarist.” Griffin says, “He scares me, he amazes me, he moves me to tears. Doesn’t get better [than Pulkingham] in my book.”

David Pulkingham, 512/913-4262, www.davidpulkingham.com

Best Haircut & Barber
R Salon

When Roxana Wise was growing up in Mexico, she would sneak into her dad's car to go to the barbershop with her brothers. Now, many consider Wise Austin's best-kept secret barber/stylist. R Salon offers fantastic hair services in a quiet, intimate, and chic atmosphere in a small historic house off of South Lamar and Mary. Wise's business partner and sweetheart, Kristina Baker, is the house colorist. Part-time stylist Monika Bohm flies in every few weeks from England to take care of customers. The trio can wrangle your tangles and make you the best coiffed in town.

R Salon, 1706 Evergreen, 512/447-7467, www.rsalonaustin.com

Best HydroFrolic
Organic Spa

The poet/philosopher Lao Tzu may have put it best: "Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it." If you'd like for your skin to be as soft, flexible, and irresistible, may we recommend putting your face in the good hands of the folks at Organic Spa for one of their relaxing and reviving Hydrafacials? The treatment involves hydradermabrasion: a tiny scrubby at the end of a long, vacuum cleaner-like apparatus that utilizes water and potions and is run all over the face, back and forth, to gently clean the skin – and oh, dear lord, does it feel sooooo good! In addition, this full-service spa offers a variety of skin-care, hair-removal, and massage options to round out a full day of pampering.

Organic Spa, 12850 Research, 512/627-7243, www.organicspamassage.com

Best Medical Expansion
Clark-Brown Family Care Clinic

Not to get political – people's lives are at stake after all – but independent health care is about as rare as a certain political party supporting the affordable variety. Dr. Cheryl Clark-Brown is the rare independent, and her practice is expanding. Her clinic includes and collaborates with acupuncturist Anne Cusick; patients here get the benefit of both western and eastern medical philosophies as well as the warm and genuine bedside manners of both practitioners. This year, they've expanded into the next-door offices and added necessary staff to meet growing needs. With neighboring pharmacy East Austin Medicine Shop opening this fall, the area's options for independent health care are looking good.

Clark Brown Family Care Clinic, 2113 E. MLK #101, 512/391-9700, www.clarkbrownmd.com

Best No. 1 Most Knowledgeable
Monica at Wheatsville

Like little rays of sunshine, the front desk folks (don't call ’em "greeters") at Wheatsville Co-op are bright, warm, and ready to help you find your way. All day they answer questions that range from deep ("Where do you keep the Ox Bile?") to desperate ("What's on today's hot bar???"), always on point and always with a smile. We're sure all of these Helpful Hannahs (and Henrys) on staff are as amazing as the one we seem to encounter the most: Monica, at the original location on Guad. You can count on this shining beacon of brilliance to be exactly what that award title says – likely due to the fact that she's really smart and enthusiastic, but definitely because there is a sign hanging over her head that says so.

Wheatsville Food Co-op, 3101 Guadalupe, 512/478-2667, www.wheatsville.coop

Wheatsville Food Co-op, 4001 S. Lamar, 512/814-2888

Best Pharmacy Expansion News
Vina Pharmacy and East Austin Medicine Shop

The rumors are true. A real-life, fully functioning pharmacy is finally moving back into the space left vacant by Hospital Pharmacy on MLK in East Austin. A huge vacancy was left in the hearts of neighbors at the passing of longtime owner and pharmacist O.C. Houston. After the shop closed, a certain chain drugstore finagled a deal to keep competing pharms out for two years. Well, two years is up. Bye, blockade. Vina Pharmacy, a totally independent local shop owned by pharmacist Debbie Huynh, whose flagship is located near the mammoth Chinatown shopping center on North Lamar, is going to bring their great, personalized service, medication compounding and flavoring, and (get this) free delivery to some folks who need it very much.

Vina Pharmacy, 11207-A N. Lamar, 512/977-8844, www.facebook.com

Best Place to Keep an Eye Out
Blue Moon Optical

Blue Moon Optical provides a clear path to style and, well, whatever's in front of you with eye exams and a mixture of refurbished and never-before-worn eyeglasses; most frames in the small shop are unworn deadstock from the Forties, Fifties, and Sixties that was never sold by retailers. The shop's owner, Patrick, also repairs, restores, and adjusts eyewear.

Blue Moon Optical, 121 W. San Antonio St., San Marcos, 512/982-9242, www.bluemoonoptical.com

Best Pooch Professors
The Canine Center for Training & Behavior

After the untimely passing of renowned dog behaviorist Lee Mannix in 2010, his former staff picked up the torch to continue helping dogs and people find inner peace. From basic obedience to behavior consultations, canine sports, and even camping trips, these experts will help you build a stronger bond with your canine buddy. A recent move means the team has 14 acres of space to accomplish their plans for growth and expansion, and offer more classes and seminars to give you the tools and training you need, as they say, to be more fun than dirt.

The Canine Center for Training & Behavior, 11400 Hwy. 290 W., 512/721-8496, www.morefunthandirt.com

Best Public Servants Who Made Sure Love Won
Dana DeBeauvoir and the Travis County Clerks

When the SCOTUS decision on same-sex marriage came down on Friday, June 26, euphoric couples with stars and tears in their eyes were eager to exercise their new legal right and tie the knot. But love couldn't win without the Herculean efforts of the Travis County clerks who participated in the jubilation by extending hours to accommodate the 300-plus couples who swarmed the clerks' office that day. Dana DeBeauvoir extended the 5pm closing time and promised that people in line by 6:30pm would have their official paperwork completed, which meant many a clerk didn't clock out until well after 10pm. The office served citizens during the Fourth of July weekend as well, thereby ensuring that love and freedom indeed won in Travis County.

Travis County Clerk's Office, 5501 Airport, 512/854-9188, www.traviscountyclerk.org

Best SouthPop Preservationists
South Austin Pop Culture Center

Preservationists of Austin’s ruggedly eclectic heritage, “SouthPop” serves as the preeminent museum of our city’s music culture. Chief among collections of exalted ephemera are works of poster artists, from Jim Franklin’s Vulcan-ic psychedelia and Armadillo Art Squad sketches to colorful prints by Kozik and Kuhn. Concert photography and musical artifacts are also safeguarded at the Planet K annex, outside of which a memorial wall honors departed local heroes. “Open by appointment or by chance,” SouthPop is operated by veteran culture guardians Leea Mechling and Henry Gonzalez. Ask about the three numbers that unlock the universe: 709.

South Austin Popular Culture Center, 1516-B S. Lamar, 512/440-8318, www.southpop.org

Best Threading
Chez Shiraz

The idea of having hot wax around one's eyes can send even the toughest fashionista into convulsions. But, after an unfortunate over-plucking episode that left a set of brows looking like a penciled-on, hot mess, we knew we had to find an alternative. A friend suggested threading. (Insert confused look here.) After some research, we were sold! Threading is an ancient method of facial hair control involving, yes, threads. Chez Shiraz is home to Shiraz, a master esthetician – friendly and warm, quick yet precise. Her own goddess beauty is her best billboard. Been going to her ever since; even tossed our tweezers (she insisted). Do your eyebrows relate to this story? Call Shiraz. She'll coach them back to life in no time.

Chez Shiraz, 858/922-8500, www.vagaro.com/chezshiraz

Best Training to Keep Fido Safe in the Woods
Winter Kennels

Whether your four-legged best friend is an occasional hiker or ready for field trials, no one wants their first encounter with a venomous snake to be their last. Dogs are naturally curious about snakes and not always naturally fearful. With a little training, a dog can learn real quick that snakes are bad. Different kinds of snakes emit a different odor to dogs; the training can cover the three most common poisonous snakes. It’s an inexpensive clinic that can save you and your pet a lot of grief.

Winter Kennels, 2509 DeSoto, 512/263-2416, www.winterkennels.com

Best Way Home After a Natural Disaster
Paul Kleypas, Mr. House in a Box

Paul Kleypas is the dapper manager of the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store on South Congress, but when natural disaster strikes, Kleypas transforms into "Mr. House in a Box." He coordinates delivery of complete, brand-new (not used) sets of furniture and household goods to disaster survivors in Central Texas – sofa, table, beds, dishes, linens, and everything in between – so they can focus on rebuilding their lives. Kleypas' legendary kindness keeps the program going and the donations flowing. Between the Bastrop County fires of 2011, the Halloween floods of 2013, and Memorial Day weekend floods of 2015, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul will have provided over 1,000 "Houses in a Box" across Central Texas by 2016.

St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store, 1327 S. Congress, 512/442-5652, www.svdpusa.org

Most Wonderful Wordsmith to Wow Your Vows
Spike Gillespie

The woman is a wonder of wit and words, so let's lift a few right off her website to share what makes her different from other wedding officiants out there: "The most important thing for you to know about me, and why couples like working with me, is that I never forget it's not my wedding." Spike Gillespie is known for many things, for her Office of Good Deeds Kick Ass Awards, her no B.S. blog about Austin real estate, her books, and her writings at this very paper in the Nineties, including penning many a "Best of Austin" back in the day. Despite the amount of respect we already have for her, seeing her in action at the Spider Hitched mass gay wedding event, after SCOTUS declared gay marriage the law of the land, slapped us upside the head with renewed adoration. And that's how you'll feel when she reads your vows aloud. You may now kiss the wedding officiant.

Spike Gillespie, www.spikegillespie.com

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