2009 Readers Poll
2009 Critics Picks

Sandy Carson

Best 12-Bar Vintage

Who better to share vintage trade with the world than a man who sings the blues? Sonny James knows vintage down deep in his marrow and channels it to Austin through the shifts and shirts of days gone by (some still with their original tags!) and a microphone collection well broken in by heartbreaking melodies in 4/4 time.

Sonny's Vintage
2928 Guadalupe #104

Best Art on the Spot

You don't need to have wads of cash to get good art, and in this piece-of-crap economy who has the expendable money anyhow? Tucked away in dozens of highbrow art destinations across the nation (including the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City and locally at Mercury Design Studio), Art-o-Mat repurposes retired retro-fab cigarette dispensers to spew individually crafted, bite-size artworks for 5 bucks. While you can chose the artist, you never know exactly what you're going to get. Over the years we've gotten pewter cast saltine crackers, refrigerator magnets, and, yes, even a Condoleezza Rice pin cushion. Oh the absolute joys of sewing! Representing the craft-based idiom are the always joyful (and mirthful) Science Bear Arcade mini-stores-in-a-box produced by the Palfloat collective. We hear tell there are SBAs located all across this fine city, but the one we enjoy is located in Lava Java. Second-aid kits filled with beads and baubles, comics by World Salad, Nerf margaritas, trash casseroles, and Ziploc baggies packed with items – clues – found by "courtroom janitors." Any item in the SBA boxes is less than 5 bucks, and they're worth heaps more in the sheer joy of the hunt.

Mercury Design Studio
209 W. Second

Lava Java
2901 Medical Arts Ste. B

Science Bear Arcade


Top to bottom: Art-o-Mat and Science Bear Arcade   John Anderson

Best Cowboy Regalia, 2000

With eager waitstaff who look like they're on their lunch break from the rodeo, minus the dust, this is the place to go for Texas belt buckles, cowboy hats, and boots. Did we mention boots? Miles of them, each more two-steppable than the last. An urban cowboy's (or cowgirl's) dream.

Allens Boots
1522 S. Congress

Best Homegrown Incense

Is your room stinky? Need a unique way to impress your date? Mista Boombastick has been peddling his homemade incense in Downtown Austin for at least 10 years. Look for him on Congress Avenue or Sixth Street on weekends in the early evening. Or text or e-mail him to find out where he is setting up shop. With unique scents like Butt Naked and Freaky, you can't go wrong.


Shelley Hiam

Best Local Hardware Store and More

You might as well live in Mayberry R.F.D. when you walk into this hardware store on Manchaca Road. Rural? Perhaps not in the way you might think. The array of products and services here almost rivals the big boxes – and, oh, the service. Caring and friendly, there's even a handyman who can come to you and do repairs.

Neighborhood Hardware
9924 Menchaca Rd.

Best Local Shoppers

Attention, shoppers! Shifting 10% of your spending to local stores would add 3,000 jobs to the Austin economy, and it's as easy now as when your great-great grammy bought a pelt at the trading post. The Austin Independent Business Alliance has made their IBIZ shopping districts the place to stock up (just look for the sign of the armadillo in shades). Don't think small business means big prices: The $10-a-year Go Local Card gives you the incentive to dump the chain stores in favor of hundreds of discount-offering Austinites. Seems a little bit of something local in your basket means a better future for Austin shopkeepers.

Austin Independent Business Alliance
PO Box 49545

Go Local Austin
80 Red River #215

John Anderson

Best Locally Made Organic Night's Sleep

Finding the perfect mattress is a task that can completely consume those in need of sleeping arrangements – so much so that all they can think about are sleep numbers, fillers, and foams. All the Sturm und Drang makes sense as we spend at least one-third of our lives in bed. For more than 25 years, the Guerin clan has been selling quality mattresses to Austinites in need. The mattress store started phasing out the national brands in favor of its own beds, made in-house. If you're looking for the best mattress in Austin, you can do no better than the SleepWorld latex mattress, especially its naturally made organic version – meaning no polyurethane – which makes conscientious buyers want to curl up right there in the showroom – as we did – but that must happen a lot. Zzzzzzzzzz.

8501 Burnet Rd.

Best New Artsploitation Venue/Gallery

Failure is not an option. Failure T-shirts and slyboots streetwise Krink bomber markers, however, are, with locally grown hip-hop and neu-wave artworks, John Gomi's exploding plastic inevitably cool Kozik-y thingamawhatsits, and owner Marc Zuazua's Downtown-hepcat cool as well. Both the tiniest and coolest new music and art venue to come up from the gutter since, well, Gomi. Huzzah, yo!

The Fifth Gallery
305 E. Fifth

Best Place to Find Hidden Treasures, 2005

Whether you're furnishing your home or business office or movie set, TOPS is a must for those on a budget or into recycling. Featuring an ever-changing stock from area office, store, and hotel close-outs and auctions, TOPS is the place to find a preowned Herman Miller chair or Steelcase file cabinet at half the price of the big-box stores. Other items include cubicles, executive desks, computer accessories, bookshelves, office art, and, yes, even Enron souvenirs. TOPS also rents items for conventions and movie sets. The East Fifth location is a true warehouse, and it has other Austin locations as well. While you're shopping, check out the gem and mineral store, Nature's Treasures, which shares the locations.

Texas Office Products & Supplies
1100 E. Fifth, 512/472-1340
2307 Kramer, 512/833-7777

Best Place to Find King/Prince of the Monsters

Owner Jim "Prince" Hughes has been imagineering the kaiju eiga mindsets of punk rockers, Japanese monster fans, and tin toy collectors for nearly three decades, and Atomic City remains the single coolest store in the state of Texas, bar none. Aisles upon aisles crammed with movie memorabilia, animé ephemera, Brit-punk T's, and shockingly brilliant gear for every rudeboy/rudegirl may make you want to lie down and take a nap afterward (or take the way-back machine to the nearest Clash gig), but we guarantee you your dreams will never be the same.

Atomic City
1700 San Antonio

Best Pride Riders

We spent the better part of last year collecting crap to throw, dedicating the entirety of our myriad Mardi Gras adventures to brokering deals with Louisianans and Galvestonians for bags of beads in bulk. We even discovered a supersecret source for unicorns in pink purses. But when our plans for a massive float build to roll us through the summer's Pride Parade fell through, the fine fellas at Five Star Auto Group came to the rescue with a flotilla of lovely, gently used (and if you're in the market, reasonably priced) convertibles and even a truck to seat our rowdy armada of raucous rainbow revelers. The Five Star boys even brought enough shirtless twinks to fill a day care, but the more the merrier in a parade, no?

Five Star Auto Group
7500 Burnet Rd.

Best Thing Since Strut

Neiman Marcus' last whuuut? This resale shop is Strut's newest baby, offering killer kicks for $5-10. Gasp! The saucy, girly items that didn't quite make the cut at Strut's multiple locations go to Hush Hush, right next door to Strut's South Lamar location. Clothes, jewelry, and shoes, all for supercheap and all well worth the wait. The cherry on top of this banana split? Hush Hush will buy and sell your old getups, too.

Hush Hush
2208 S. Lamar

Best Top Shop for the Top-Heavy Gal

Wanna stand taller and lose 10 pounds with the snap of a bra strap? We know, we know: It sounds like the stuff of crackpot TV offers, but that's just what the lovely ladies at Petticoat Fair can do for you and yours with their free, discreet, and downright chummy fittings. After 35 years, they're old hands at the bra biz – and our girls look new again, decked out in Petticoat's pretty, lacy things.

Petticoat Fair
7739-M Northcross

Best Use of Space, 1997

Using the approximate space of an efficiency apartment, owner Hank has managed to pack in 75,000 varieties of beer and everything else you can possibly imagine, from pipe cleaners to water pistols to food products to toiletries. And the guys that work the counter are poetry in motion – the perfect mix of standoffish band dudes, smart-ass geniuses, cute longhairs, and Noam Chomsky experts. It's more than a six-pack; it's an adventure.

Pronto Food Mart
4301 Duval St.

Most Dangerous Store for Graphic Design Addicts

Not dangerous in the sense of physical harm, but dangerous to your wallet's integrity: This emporium of visual goodness is elegantly chockablock with limited-edition art-books, coffeetable compilations of graphic exotica and industrial design and wild-style street art, thick die-cut paper and intricate spot varnishing, lo-res skater zines, Dunnies, Munnies, and Kozik bunnies, and it boasts a bona fide gallery for outsider originals and typographic mastery. Manager Russell Etchen is your towering ginger guide to much of what's best about having eyes and the knack for pattern recognition.

Domy Books
913 E. Cesar Chavez

Swankiest Corner Store

It's so chic you could die. But … how can a corner grocery be chic? By offering enough of everything to cater to almost anyone's discriminating palate. It doesn't matter whether you're looking for potato chips, organic milk, or a bottle of Veuve, the Royal Blue Grocery's two locations will surprise you with their selections. While the Third Street location is more of a convenience store, the Nueces location at the 360 condos has a kitchen, fresh flowers, and Mo's Bacon Bar – a chocolate and bacon confection that is a must-try.

Royal Blue Grocery
247 W. Third, 512/499-3993
360 Nueces, 512/476-5700
609 Congress, 512/469-5888
51 Rainey Ste. 120, 512/480-0061
301 Brazos #110, 512/386-1617

Critics: Services
2009 Intro

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