Best Sign Hampden has Jumped the Shark, Stuffed it, Mounted it on a Wall, and Marked it For Sale

Best Sign Hampden has Jumped the Shark, Stuffed it, Mounted it on a Wall, and Marked it For Sale (June 19, 2014)

BEST CONSIGNMENT STORE

Fashion Attic

1926 Fleet St., (410) 276-0817, thefashionattic.com

Jam-packed, dimly lit consignment stores can inspire hours-long hunting and lead to armfuls of slightly soiled, sometimes beaten-up clothes to try on only to find possibly one, maybe two, items worthy of purchase. It’s how Prada flats and IRO silk blouses come to be owned by those of us that can’t really afford them. BUT, amen for the bright, cheery, and nicely appointed Fashion Attic. With clothing arranged by color (after size, duh), incredibly reasonable prices, some vintage thrown in with the Banana Republic and Marc Jacobs, and great sales the minute seasons wind down, Fashion Attic is consignment pretending it’s just a boutique.


BEST GIRLIE SHIT

Sassanova

805 Aliceanna St., (410) 244-1114, sassanova.com

For shopping stops during a mother-and-daughter lunch, or gifts for your sister, bridal party, and new-mom co-worker, Sassanova is the sweet boutique with estrogen flowing through its perfume mister and the words “honeymoon wardrobe” written all over it. From this tiny shop in Harbor East you can get your Calypso St. Barth tunics, Michael Kors wedges and sandals, Orla Kiely shift dresses, simple basics for ear and neck from Marlyn Schiff, MZ Wallace handbags, pretty kitten heels, loads from Tory Burch, and absolutely delicious Yumi Kim tops, plus lip balm and cards so sweet they hurt your teeth.


BEST ACCESSORIES

Handbags in the City

840 Aliceanna St., (410) 528-1443, handbagsinthecity.com

Handbags in the City would be a total nightmare if you didn’t dig all the flotsam that goes along with loving style. Besides racks of designer fashions from Tory Burch, Diane von Fürstenberg, and French Connection, to name a few, every inch of this small boutique is filled with accessories. HBC carries Tom Ford, Dior, and Gucci sunglasses; Michael Kors watches and beautiful suede pieces; what looks like Tory Burch’s whole line of bags for every season; a million designer wallets in rainbow colors; handbags in all shapes and sizes by MCM; Kate Spade preppy bags and ladylike jewelry; and much, much more. Can’t afford a Gucci dress? Hit HBC, buy the sunglasses, and live rich.


BEST URBAN STYLE

PeDX

1715 Aliceanna St., (410) 276-0038, pedxbaltimore.wordpress.com

Confession: We stumbled on this self-proclaimed “Baltimore’s Culture Boutique” way after the dog was outta the gate, so, yeah, PEDX’s been over four years running straight-up street style right under our noses, combining collegiate, breakdance, this strange Hawaiian/leisure look, a smoking-weed lifestyle, camo, indigenous designs, and great effing graphics in T-shirts, sweatshirts, bags, button-downs, hats, dope sneaks, and the coolest socks. Its go-to brands include Flying Coffin, Motivation, Moss, Kilawomp, Boogerkids, Anmlhse, 10.Deep, Official, and Richweirdo—a personal fave. Unfortunately it’s almost all for men—they had one pair of red short-shorts for the ladies last we were there, boo—but since Fells is lousy with women’s clothing stores, this seems all right enough.


BEST STYLE MARRIAGE

16 Tons and DoubleDutch

1021 36th St., (410) 554-0101, (410) 554-0055; doubledutchboutique.com, shop16tons.com

When a couple has been together a long time, no one thinks about what came before or how the future might unfurl—it’s all just a perfect combination of two wonderfully independent parts. Romantic? Yes, but there’s always been a sweetness and nostalgic vibe to both Hampden shops Sixteen Tons, with its urban lumberjack/Jack Kerouac thing, and Doubledutch, with styles always poised to bake a pie, ride a bike, or slow-dance to a ragtime band. Now sharing two floors—she’s on top, natch—of the Avenue’s most attractive address (those front display windows!), 16T and DD sell handsome men’s wear and pretty girl finds with a fresh, modern vintage feel. Congrats!


BEST WOMEN'S BOUTIQUE

Urban Chic

811 Aliceanna St., (410) 685-1601, urbanchiconline.com

A well-curated melange of covetable pieces for your closet, jeans you want to wear out of the store, a few affordable baubles, investment jewelry, some men’s wear, a few shoes, fabulous bags, fantastic sale prices . . . this is what makes a great women’s boutique and Urban Chic has got it all. Housed in a large, cool, industrial space in Harbor East (there’s also a Georgetown location), UC plays to fashion sensibilities and fantasies alike. It carries ladylike fitted day dresses for the office; leather shorts for dating fun; cozy, rich sweaters in foresty hues; the best cottony tees in basic colors; and accessories that make dressing in the morning easier, like scarves and lacy thongs. Brands on steady rotation include AG Jeans, Ella Moss, Obey, and Splendid.


BEST FANCY PANTIES

Polina’s Privé Fine Lingerie

724 S. Broadway, (410) 276-0205, polinasprive.com

If you’ve been buying Target bras that don’t fit and which you give to your sister after three uses and instead have two GapBody bras in rotation nonstop, or if you are hoping and praying that half of your underpants drawer would just up and get holey so you can toss them, it might be time to upgrade your underthings, and Polina’s Privé Fine Lingerie is the place to start getting addicted to nice underthings. Polina’s carries sweet and sexy knickers and brassieres, beautifully wearable everyday jobbers, and Hanky Pankys in all colors. Polina’s’ international selection is all you’ll need to refit your bits in Blush, Mimi Holliday, Huit8, Skin, Elle MacPherson, and Eberjey.


BEST GLOBAL

A People United

516 N. Charles St., (410) 727-4471, apeopleunited.com

A People United has a corner on the global market—literally. What really sets APU apart from other shops selling wares from Asia and India is sheer volume. Their windowed street-level is full of gorgeous fabrics, cotton dresses, woolly sweaters, silver, handcrafted wood carvings, incense, books, soap, bags, music, and much more, while their basement is ridiculously rich with tables, chairs, and shelves in oak, marble, teak, mirror, and metal, plus art and artifacts. More than just bringing beautiful things to Baltimore, APU supports its workers in Nepal and provides school scholarships for that community—which is awesome and makes us feel good about the money we spend there.



BEST BOUTIGUE ON WHEELS

FashN Stop

fashnstop.com

In today’s super-busy society, convenience is important even when it comes to fashion. It was only a matter of time before someone conceived a way to bring the boutique to us, which is exactly what Fashn Stop does. The truck/boutique is about the size of the typical food truck, but the back is lined with actual racks of trendy yet affordable clothing. Yes, it’s set up like a store inside the truck! FashN Stop frequently stops in busy areas like downtown, Canton, and Charles Village, so you can use that coffee break to grab a cute outfit for happy hour.


BEST CHILDREN'S CONSIGNMENT EVENT

Wee-Cycle Mart

Various locations, (410) 989-1926, wee-cyclemart.com

Children grow like weeds, so consignment sales are moneysavers for parents, and Wee-Cycle Mart consignment sales give you the best bang for your buck. Wee-Cycle Mart consists of semi-annual consignment sales that last Friday through Sunday. The sales are organized completely by local moms, for local moms, and are stocked with everything from maternity goods to teen clothing—plus a good selection of large items like cribs, strollers, and bikes. All of the items are reasonably priced, and everything is inspected before going on sale to insure the selection is not crappy. And most of the items are sold for half-price on Sundays. This place is a frugal parent’s paradise.


BEST THRIFT SUPERSTORE

Savers

1925 E. Joppa Road, Towson, (410) 663-7481, savers.com

Gone are the days of sifting through tight racks and shelves of small, funny-smelling neighborhood thrift shops. Located in a former Giant supermarket, Savers is a mega-store with thrift-store savings. The store is clean, has plenty of space for browsing with a shopping cart, and has dressing rooms. The layout is similar to any large merchandise store for the whole family with clothing, shoes, and accessories, as well as toys, furniture, and small home appliances. Savers even offers a shoppers’ rewards card and email list for coupons and promotions.


BEST PLUS-SIZED CONSIGNMENT EVENT

Kurvy Konsignment at K Station

1007A W. 36th St., (410) 400-9113

Vintage shopping can be a nightmare for plus-sized fashionistas. Kurvy Konsignment at K Staton is a dream come true for full-figured deal-finders. The consignment sale caters to women size 12 and up, and like-new items from brands like Torrid, ASOS, Lane Bryant, Ann Taylor, and Monif C. Nestled in the heart of Hampden, Kurvy Konsignment offers everything from high-fashion jeans to chic evening gowns, so this isn’t your grandma’s thrift shop.


BEST GIFT SHOPPING

Trohv

921 W. 36th St., (410) 366-3456, trohvshop.com

It’s so hard to walk out of this two-story mecca of lovely, classic, and witty items for the home and the heart without buying something to love, so when justifying a personal purchase is unfathomable, we buy a gift for another. What to buy? Jesus, where do we start? We want to buy delicious candles, natural textiles in awesome colors, clever barware, adorable kid’s clothes and darling toys, books galore, simple and sweet stationary and the best cards ever, solid dishes and amazing kitchen accessories, art from small to huge, heavenly lotions and soaps, pretty jewels, and tempting vintage funds for someone else. Yeah, for someone else.


BEST PLACE TO BUY A HOSTESS GIFT

In Watermelon Sugar

3555 Chestnut Ave., (410) 662-9090, watermelon-sugar.com

You’ve been invited to Aunt Jennifer’s house for Thanksgiving for the 10th year running. By now you’ve gotten your aunt every crab-themed, Old Bay-flavored tchotchke this side of Towson. What to do? High-tail it down to In Watermelon Sugar in Hampden for funky and affordable gifts that are fun to shop for. Recent finds include hand-painted wrapping paper, neon-pink owl-shaped throw pillows, and—our favorite—authentic Turkish linen hamam towels perfect for the beach. The best part: You needn’t spend more than $25 to impress Aunt Jennifer. In Watermelon Sugar stocks enough cool stuff to make you embarrassed that you even thought of buying another crustacean-shaped Christmas ornament.


BEST VEGAN BAGS

Milagro

1005 W. 36th St., (410) 235-3800, milagrobaltimore.tumblr.com

There’s much to love about a vegan bag: They are lighter and cooler during the warmer months and mucho cheaper than leather bags, they make you feel good that “no animals died for my look,” they can wear better than fabric, and the colors can be just as natural as hide OR as bright as the brightest of hues. Suddenly you aren’t poor in wallet or taste if you choose a vegan bag and our fave Mexican treasures store, Milagro, which has an amazing selection that actually stopped us in our tracks they are so fabulous. We may invest in leather shoes, but once in a while we just want our heart to feel as good as we look.


BEST WOMEN'S SHOE SHOP

Poppy and Stella

728 S. Broadway, (410) 522-1970, poppyandstella.com

God, we love shoes! It’s cool if you don’t, but as we get older, shoe-shopping feels like a thrill AND an investment: no more cheap shoes thank you very much. Poppy and Stella get that and stock a range of well-made shoes from quality brands that go on sale often enough to not break the bank. Gorgeous sandals get marked down in mid-summer, when all of the fall favorite Fryes hit the shelves, and so on through the seasons. P&S go light on the Etsy bird-on-it cute and heavy on the classic-with-a-twist from Sam Edelman, Corso Como, and the like. If you can’t find a pair to drool over at P&S, you may need something stronger than a drinkie lunch with a friend.


BEST BADASS

El Suprimo Records

s1709 Aliceanna St., (443) 226-9628

Dub plates: A lot of people don’t know what that means, but Jack Moore of El Suprimo Records sure as hell does. Throw back the time machine to the golden era of vinyl and bring your own beverage to explore this gem of a record store. The shop’s current centerpiece is the Presto 6N dubplate-cutting machine. This machine is precious, and the Presto 6N harkens back to the Sam Phillips’ Sun Studio recordings from the mid-1950s. Dubplates are the aluminum master plates for pressing records for mass production. Jack has committed to restoring the machine to its original glory. What that means to you is that one day very soon you will be able to cut your own record right in the store. Aside from that, the store is a museum, a shrine of sorts, to all things cool, sporting over 13,000 records, LPs, 45’s, 78’s, plus turntables, and guitars too, all under one roof,. Carve out some me-time and check this place out.

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BEST HIPSTER HAVEN

Hunting Ground

3649 Falls Road, (410) 243-0789, shophuntingground.com

Hampden’s Hunting Ground offers a whole Brooklyn-esque lifestyle with every purchase of clothing, accessories, and home goods. This is not a dig, rather it’s total respect: No shop gets hip better than Hunting Ground—from its location in “the Old Church” to the discriminating collection of clothing in both new and very on-trend vintage (older than 20 years, early ’90s included) varieties. HG sells home goods and books characterized by a specialness, bags and jewelry by uniqueness, men’s wear by the fact that they carry it—and used, to boot. You will find something here that you want, and it will make you think about who you want to be. Affected? No, just the most hipster style arbiters around.


BEST SIGN HAMPDEN HAS JUMPED THE SHARK, STUFFED IT, MOUNTED IT ON THE WALL, AND MARKED IT FOR SALE

Bazaar

3534 Chestnut Ave., (410) 844-3015, bazaarbaltimore.com

The retail and restaurant success-plosion on Hampden’s 36th Street shows no sign of slowing, and now it’s gushing out of both ends of 36th, a well-irrigated furrow of commerce seeping onto Falls Road to the west and Chestnut Avenue to the east, where—perhaps while stretching your legs après-curated cocktail, craft beer, or satiating meal at one of the area’s increasingly upscale eateries—you may find yourself climbing the stairs to Bazaar, a tidy temple of unsettling objets d’art, many suitable for display at the Mütter Museum: Fetal animals preserved in jars, arresting medical illustrations of disfiguring skin afflictions, and all manner of taxidermied creatures waiting for you to take them home, shopping-trophy reminders of the shortness of life after your latest bourgie bounce down “The Avenue.”


BEST ANTIQUES

Sturgis Antiques & Collectibles

3554 Roland Ave., (410) 262-5383, sturgisantiques.com

OK, so you’re in the market for a Civil War amputation set, a French patisserie pushcart from the 1800s, a pennant commemorating the U.S. border wars with Pancho Villa, an ancient opium-smoking stand, an early 1900s psychiatry exam chair, a “Bambino” tobacco tin celebrating Babe Ruth, and a Globe poster for the 2 Live Crew and Heavy D show at the Atlanta Civic Center in 1987. There’s only one place to go: Sturgis Antiques, where Christian Sturgis’ (guitarist and singer in the punk band Advlts) 15-or-so years of working with private estates has yielded a remarkable range of old-timey stuff for sale, including furniture, artwork, oddities, decorative items, advertising, vintage erotica—just about everything you never knew existed. Going there is like going to a very, very strange museum.


BEST SMOKE SHOP

Mount Vernon Tobacco

221 W. Read St., (410) 728-5669

You kids don’t know nuthin’! Vaporizors? E-cigarettes? Fancy hookahs? That ain’t smoking. REAL smoking is clamping a Romeo y Juliet Churchill between your lips while taking in the back nine at Clifton Park. In our day, smoking didn’t involve wimpy little whirring sounds and glowing nightlights at the end of your cigs. That’s why we love Mount Vernon Tobacco. Owned by a tough old dude named Ray, the only thing you get here are good ol’ cigars and great customer service. It’s a tight selection with reasonable prices, and if you’re new to the leaf, Ray might soften up and walk you through your tastes. You’ll find everything from Comachos to a good selection of house-rolled numbers in this little shop. But what you won’t find are faddish fake-smoking implements. Talk about vapes in his store and he’ll throw you out on your ass. Punks.


BEST LATINO MARKET

Cinco de Mayo

1312 Eastern Ave., (410) 522-7646

One of the best things to happen to Baltimore over the past decade is the influx of Latino residents. With that migration comes an abundance of great ingredients at local markets. We love opening our cookbooks and no longer wondering where we’ll find the ingredients to make that mole we’ve been wanting to try. Our first stop is always Cinco de Mayo market in Fells. To us, it seems like an endless parade of amazing spices in small plastic packets, fruits, and homemade chorizo sausage in the butcher case. Viva Mexico!


BEST INTERNATIONAL JUNK FOOD

Punjab Groceries and Halal Meat

345 E. 33rd St., (410) 662-7844

Ever look down at your crab-flavored Utz and think, There must be something else out there? Well, junk-food junkie, there is. Ever tried Lay’s “India’s Magic Masala” chips or their “Spanish Tomato Tango”? No? How about Masala Munch? If you haven’t, you need to get to Punjab. They have a dope selection of chips and treats imported from India which you will fall in love with at first bite. Seriously, your taste buds won’t be able to get their Americanized heads around the unique taste of these chips. Bye-bye, barbecue chips, it’s been fun.


GOODS & SERVICES HALL OF FAME

240 McMechen St., (410) 728-4844, belle.doitbest.com

The Hardware crown for Bestness has been duct-taped onto Belle’s Hardware-head at least three times, and as of now, we see no reason not to bolt it on permanently. Belle Hardware is where we go not just for the right kind of elastic caulk or a certain type of screw that we only need one of, or the Allen-wrench screw-thing that goes onto the thing that then screws into the thing on the hole-cutting saw blade we borrowed because we’re installing a deadbolt and no fucking idea what we’re doing, Belle Hardware is where we go for smart answers to dumb questions and a friendly but all-business staff that knows we love them but really don’t want to hang out all afternoon.


BEST CLASS WARRIOR

Graul's Market and Eddie's of Roland Park

Graul’s Market, 7713 Bellona Ave., (410) 823-6077, graulsmarket.com; Eddie’s of Roland Park, 5113 Roland Ave., (410) 323-5492, eddiesofrolandpark.com

Graul’s Markets and Eddie’s of Roland Park are small, hyper-local family-owned grocery-store chains known for attentive personal service and high-quality products, often made in-store using family recipes. Both are particularly popular among the city’s well-heeled, and not just for Eddie’s famous crab cakes or Graul’s scratch-made bakery cakes with genuine buttercream frosting. This demographic, it turns out, is self-selecting—only the relatively well-off get to shop at Graul’s and Eddie’s, because the markets do not accept EBT (electronic benefits transfer, also known as food stamps, which, in Maryland, take the form of the Independence Card). The working poor—i.e., the one in 10 Marylanders who are on food stamps—are just gonna have to shop at other local high-quality food retailers like Wegman’s and Whole Foods, who don’t discriminate at the payment terminal.


BEST ROADSIDE STORE

The Corner Ice House

8339 Pulaski Highway, Rosedale, (410) 686-4458

The very definition of a roadside stand, the Corner Ice House has been standing on the side of Route 40 East for a very long time. A simple beer-sign-covered shack structure that backs up to a refrigerated trailer, it has the look and feel of true 1950s Americana. Maybe you need a pack of smokes, or a 30-pack of beer for the commute home, or maybe you just need a bag of ice? Simply pull over, walk up to the deck, and tell ’em what you want, and a minute later, you are on your way with your goodies, without ever having to step inside—kinda like shopping on the front porch. It’s the polar opposite of RoFo.


BEST BREWERY

Union Craft Brewing Company

1700 Union Ave., (410) 467-0290, unioncraftbrewing.com

Not only has the Woodberry/Hampden brewery inundated the neighborhood and city with a tremendous amount of quaffable suds, they’ve injected a newfound energy to the community. In April they pulled off the Charm City Folk and Bluegrass Festival, which brought out the likes of national performers Tony Trischka and Tim O’Brien alongside lionized locals Cris Jacobs and Caleb Stine, among several others. Saturday tours draw food trucks and regulars from the neighborhood. That’s to say nothing of the varied styles they peddle to Baltimore bars, including a black lager, a Berliner weisse, a red ale, and a mild—more diversity than any other local brewery. Their staples are first-class as well, as recognized by the rest of the country: Union’s Balt Alt won a first-place award at last year’s Great American Beer Fest.


BEST GIFT TO ZYMURGISTS

Nepenthe

3600 Clipper Mill Road, (443) 438-4846, nepenthehomebrew.com

For apartment-dwelling homebrewers contending with roommates who don’t want their kitchen co-opted for wort-boiling, Nepenthe is the answer. Here, you can buy ingredients for every style you can cook up—from smoked porter to a cherry-infused sour—and you can brew on their stainless-steel system, which is a nice option for neophytes. (Prices are based on level of experience and include post-brew cleanup and two weeks of fermentation time in Nepenthe’s cold room.) The Hampden couple who opened this spacious homebrew oasis were compelled to do so by a dearth of brewing outlets close to the city, and they’ve stocked their store accordingly, carrying both liquid and dry yeasts, hop varieties grown everywhere from Oregon to New Zealand, almost 50 types of malt, and wine-making equipment too. It’s truly a shop to toast to.


BEST TRENDY HOME GOODS

Su Casa

901 S. Bond St., (410) 522-7010, sucasa-furniture.com

Home trends—say, cardboard antlers or ombré—arrive as quickly and last about as long as any internet meme, but they aren’t all terrible. Frankly, anything that gets you out of your hand-me-down, Ikea-decorated funk is a good thing, and Su Casa down near the water offers up a treasure trove of homey trappings that help put your personality in your home even if it means wading through silly ice cube trays that make silly ice cube shapes. They carry sharp organizational tools for your home office, with less bells and whistles and more style; clever kitchen gadgets and attractive replacements for your crappy necessities, like plates, glasses, and dish towels; cool kids’ items; even cooler additions to a bathroom; and mirrors, picture frames, and pillows, all in the latest hot designs.


BEST PET STORE

Pet Depot

2151 Greenspring Drive, Timonium, (410) 561-0931, petdepotmd.com

Ever wish you could go swimming, er, get hydrotherapy, every time you went to the grocery store? Yeah, us too, especially if the pool was conveniently close to the beer aisle. But we digress, because although Pet Depot does not have a beer aisle, it might be the only dog-related thing they don’t carry (yes, like that alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts, our dogs do like beer and are especially fond of Maryland’s own, you guessed it: Flying Dog). They’ve got more kinds of food for your pooch than Whole Foods does for your yuppie neighbor. Toys and balls and everything else that Americans spent $53 billion on in 2012—and they actually do have a hydrotherapy pool for the pooch.


BEST PHOTO LAB

Nations Photo

11103 Pepper Road, (410) 654-3176, nationsphotolab.com

Remember photographic prints? Remember customer service? Just when we thought both had been lost to the impersonal vacuum of the internet, we were directed to a massive photo lab in Hunt Valley. When you walk through the door at Nations, you are greeted by a smiling person and an inside look at the lab through huge windows, which provide a good view of just how the Kodacolor sausage is made. A few of our photographers use Nations because they were fed up with farming out prints to a faceless New York City lab. Nations gets top marks for impeccable customer service and its online photo-submission process. It’s quick, easy, and local. Now if they would just ease up on the baby photos in the front lobby. Man, that freaks us out.


BEST STORE TO SHOP FOR VOODOO SUPPLIES

JericHo Candle and Herb Company

529 W. Lexington St., (410) 539-2456

To get your mojo rising, head down to Jericho Candle and Herb Company and stock up on incense, peppermints, and all other types of metaphysical juju. This dusty, musty, and slightly creepy store has it all. Need to put a spell on a special? Take your pick from a wall of incense, some in aerosol cans. In search of a love potion No. 9? Try liquid ginseng or special candles to help get your groove on. There are glass canisters filled with herbs, and wooden barrels filled with God knows what. Feeling unlucky? Buy a horseshoe or exotic amulet. There’s even a scary cat on the premises. Alas, no voodoo dolls of SRB.


BEST PLACE TO BUY BOOKS AND BEER

Atomic Books

3620 Falls Road, (410) 662-4444, atomicbooks.com

Atomic Books has often won “Best Book Store.” We thought they pranked us when they said, on April 1, that they were opening a bar. But sure enough, the backroom of the best-stocked bookshop in town, which used to be Celebrated Summer (now next door), is now a bar. You can buy, say, a copy of Justin Sirois’ So Say the Waiters, and while away the afternoon over a can of Union craft beer—hoping a Taker might slip in, or that John Waters might stop by to collect his mail (every local bar claims he hangs there, but this is the only one that can claim he gets his mail there). Books and beer is a lifelong dream realized for us. Thanks, y’all.


BEST USED BOOKS

Normal's Books and Records

425 E. 31st St., (410) 243-6888, normals.com

One of the greatest institutions this country has ever known is the independent used bookstore run by one or more eccentric weirdos. Normal’s is just such a place, a cultural institution, a hub of Baltimore weirdness, which is to say, of real culture. It is the kind of place you can always find a copy of Joseph Mitchell, Herodotus in ancient Greek, Memphis Jug Band on vinyl, and some great forgotten book on Cubism between snippets of conversation with Rupert Wondolowski. If we have any hope in this big-data world, it is to be found in places like Normal’s.


BEST PINK READS

The Book Escape

805 Light St., (410) 504-1902, thebookescape.com

Yeah, other used bookstores have “Romance” sections, but that’s not the point here, the point is the Book Escape in Federal Hill devotes a darling dead fireplace to real estate it labels “A Bouquet of Romance & More Love in Regular Fiction shelves.” With books by Emily Griffin, Sophie Kinsella, Diane Johnson, Anna Maxted, and Jennifer Weiner, the special section is a sea of pink-and-greens or baby-blue spines covered in baby bottles, stilettos, and daisies. The Book Escape noticed career women in stylish cosmopolitan pencil skirts and heels have replaced oiled-pirate Fabios ravishing ladies in nightgowns on covers, resulting in a modern collection. Hey, romance’s not all we read, but this is the place to find it.


BEST NEW RECORD STORE

Black Mess

3853 Falls Road, (443) 478-7681, blackmessblog.blogspot.com

Black Mess, which joined the big family of specialized shops in Hampden in April of 2012, is not only a heavy-metal record store but a microcosm of the metal experience. Owner Alex Camacho is a chill dude who is only too happy to recall the highlights of Deathfest with you. And beyond the records, Black Mess has killer accessories, including jewelry made from animal skeletons, patches for your denim vests, and endless merch from your favorite bands.


BEST SALON

Laboratorie

735 Deepdene Road, (410) 435-0805, laboratoriehair.com

It’s hard to say the name of this salon without adopting Gene Wilder’s accent from Young Frankenstein. People may have thought that Bethany Magliacane was just such a mad scientist when she left Balance in Evergreen three years ago to open her own salon in Roland Park, but it turned out to be a brilliant move. If you stress about your hair all the time, like we do, it is great to know that Bethany, Natalie, or one of the other stylists can listen to your vague, ill-formed, and often contradictory ideas and guide you in the right direction. In fact, sitting in the relaxing, post-industrial-looking white space with exposed beams and comfortable chairs of Laboratorie might be the only time we don’t stress about our hair.


BEST NEW HAIRCUT

Old Bank Barbers

1100 W. 36th St., (443) 682-9969

Sons know the ritual: Your fathers take you to their barbers for your first cuts, which are choppy, haphazard, but serviceable. In junior high, mothers step in, eschewing quality for quickness with one-size-fits-all Hair Cuttery haircuts. No more, men. Head to Hampden’s Old Bank Barbers, a three-month-old operation that’s already turning heads. Regular haircuts are $15; styled cuts are $17. You’ll get that cut while sitting in an old-fashioned leather-backed barber’s chair and listening to sounds from vinyl records. Owner Daniel Wells, who’s been cutting hair for 10 years, offers full-face shaves with a cutthroat razor for $25. Combined with a haircut, it’s $35, a price that sounds steep until you hear what Wells is introducing next: free coffee (the good stuff) and whiskey (the better stuff).


BEST MEN'S HAIRCUT

Blue Spark Barbershop

4321 Harford Road, (410) 444-1110, bluesparkbarbershop.com

The first thing that strikes you when you walk into Blue Spark barbershop is the bottle of bourbon on the small table sitting next to the complimentary coffee. Located in the Lauraville-Hamilton part of town, Blue Spark has earned a reputation for providing high-quality men’s haircuts at affordable prices in a space that feels part-barbershop and part-lounge. On any given day, the men waiting to get a trim seem just as excited about shooting the breeze with each other while waiting for their turn in the chair as they do about getting a good cut. Barbers Bill and Steve run the shop. Both are about as laid-back and friendly as it gets, making for an experience that feels less like an errand and more like something you look forward to.


BEST SAVIOR FOR ECO-SLOBS

Ecolistic Cleaning

ecolisticcleaning.com/maryland

We’ll just admit it: We are fucking slobs. The moldy coffee cup on the desk? Yep, that’s ours. The obscene number of Boh and Union cans laying around, waiting to recycle themselves? Yup. The overflowing ashtrays smoldering with each new butt? Uh-huh. Well, that’s why, at home, we have Ecolistic Cleaning, which uses only eco-friendly cleaning products and does all the stuff we never even think to do—like dust. And Jane Vincent, the Baltimore manager (there is also a division in Delaware), with her purple hair and love of heavy music, hires MICA students so that they can, you know, make enough money to do art and stuff. We know, it’s kind of like that episode of Portlandia where Aimee Mann ends up cleaning the yuppies’ house, but if we need help in this regard—and we do—we’d rather give our money to people we also like. Besides, just knowing that they’re coming makes us clean up a little bit and hide anything that might be embarrassing.


BEST HVAC

Bmore Heating and Cooling

2978 Sollers Point Road, (443) 986-3904, bmoreheatingandcooling.com

We love an up-and-comer. The young Helgi Nelson Jr. is the new kid on the block when it comes to HVAC, but he just might end up owning said block in the future. He just launched his business earlier this year and already has been getting the highest marks for keeping you cool when you want to be cool and warm when you want to be warm. And he’s top-notch in customer service, i.e., getting back to you. Since most of our other service calls are farmed out to answering services, his polite manner and one-man operation got to us. He’s a scrapper on the way up. Oh yeah, he also does personal check-in calls with his clients at the beginning of winter and summer, and will talk you through small maintenance if necessary. When he gets back in his truck all alone, all we can think of is “go get ’em, kid.