Best Of 2011

If obscure noise music, amazing books and magazines or possibly the most darling store cat in the whole city aren't enough to get you through the door of Cherokee Street's Apop Records, fabulous vintage threads ought to do the trick. Previously found mostly at events and fashion shows glamming up the city, Miss Ohio Vintage has been running a pop-up store in Apop's basement on weekends. Update your look with a look backward through Lindsay Pattan's lovely finds. The inventory's always changing, but it's never less than fabulous.

Hotels can provide a sterile reminder that, like the guy in the next-door room, you're just a lonely body in a bed that doesn't belong to you. But a stay in a bed and breakfast feels warm and personal, like your room in that house is yours, if just for one night. The Grand Center Inn (formerly the Meriwether Mansion) is an imposing three-story mansion perched on the edge of Grand Center like a beautiful gargoyle. Thanks to Francesco Russo and Eric Lougin Russo, the nearly 150-year-old manse was spared from demolition when the pair purchased it in 2005 and undertook a top-to-bottom rehab. Some of the rooms now offer large terraces, and others deep claw-foot tubs. Take a soak, sip some wine, don your finest and sweep down the grand staircase and out the front door for a short moonlit stroll to the symphony or the Fox. Grab a nightcap. Retire back to your mansion. It's the good life, and for as little as $125, it's all yours — if only for one night.

The term "staycation" is so 2008 — but, hey, you know what else is so 2008? The current economy. Gone are the transatlantic flights, the weekends in Manhattan, the multiday Disney World expeditions. This is a time for brown-bagging lunch and busting out those Excel skills to create a monthly family budget. But because responsibility should be rewarded, we're recommending that you set aside some extra cash for an amazing night or two at the Four Seasons. Simply unlike any other hotel in St. Louis, the Four Seasons transports guests to an absolute paradise, where needs are not simply met — they're anticipated. Unpack your overnight bag in one of the hotel's elegantly appointed rooms and draw back the shades for a majestic view of the Arch. As you dress for dinner, catch up on the news by watching the flat-screen TV embedded in the bathroom mirror. When it's time to dine, take the elevator to the eighth floor and enjoy modern Northern Italian cuisine from award-winning chef Fabrizio Schenardi, whose veal-and-truffle ravioli will have you in raptures. Repair to the Sky Terrace afterward for cocktails and one of the city's most breathtaking views. In the morning, let the wonderful aestheticians at the on-site spa work their magic (the warm-stone massage and antioxidant-vitamin C facials are particularly popular), and then spend the balance of the day lounging poolside. This is one in-town getaway that feels like a true vacation. After the summer's economic ups and downs, grabbing some well-deserved R&R is so 2011.

Sandi Blair's three adjacent stores occupy virtually an entire block of downtown Wood River, Illinois. Memory Lane is a special-occasion boutique that focuses on bridal and prom wear — with an extra emphasis on the hoop skirts that are a tradition at local high school dances. Fabric Plus carries the colorful bolts of leftover laces and taffetas used by the Memory Lane seamstresses to craft custom-made finery. And Robert Schmidt Costumes is where ugly old gowns go to die. The latter business was founded in 1904, but its inventory was trucked over in its entirety from the old "Idle-a-While" bowling alley on Virginia Avenue in St. Louis just six years ago. Blair, whose main passion is theatrical costuming, has divided the store into two parts. Downstairs is the public area, where those wacky old prom and bridesmaids' dresses can be rented to ladies masquerading as Gunsmoke's Miss Kitty. Upstairs, which is open only to those pulling for theatrical productions, is where the best stuff lurks. Under a low tin ceiling, row after row of chronologically arranged outfits — "from the dawn of man to the present" — are crammed into tightly packed racks, with shelves full of boxed oddities like loincloths and coonskin caps. Some of the most intricately made vintage costumes are from a Shakespearean repertory company that toured the U.S. in the early part of the twentieth century. The menswear is particularly impressive: hand-sewn full-skirted Georgian coats with mitered piping on the lapels and knee breeches finished with exquisite bows. It's worth putting on a show just for entrée to this exclusive level.

Helen David was 72 when she went into business. She decided to open Grandma's Attic because, she says, "I'd always wanted to do it and figured it's now or never!" At 78, David continues to man her modestly sized storefront five days a week, selling everything from cheap clothes and lamps to trinkets and kitchenware as far as the eye can see. In one trip through the sea of neglected goods, we found ourselves snapping up handy glass drinking jars, a golden unicorn necklace, a framed portrait of darling-looking children circa 1950, a "Stranger Danger" cautionary VHS tape and a vomitously colorful vacation-dad plaid shirt. This is junk in both the best and worst sense of the word, unearthed from dusty boxes full of stuff with forgotten significance — straight from someone's attic to Grandma's.

Hosanna, hosanna! Nordstrom has finally arrived at the Saint Louis Galleria! Only three years behind schedule, but hey: Some things in life are worth waiting for. This latest addition reinforces the 25-year-old Galleria's position as St. Louis' finest shopping mall. Centrally located in Richmond Heights, it's got the best assortment of chain stores: the aforementioned Nordstrom, Macy's, an Apple Store, J. Crew, H&M, Anthropologie, Aveda, Lush Cosmetics, Lucky Brand Jeans. Plus there's a movie theater and a decent assortment of restaurants, including Five Guys Burgers and Fries. There are no windows, no clocks on the wall, no banks (though there is an ATM), nothing to destroy this perfect oasis of consumerism. The only indication that there might be a recession outside is the parade of signs advertising all the wonderful things that are on sale. Come on, forget your troubles, get happy and buy!

The recession and the increasing popularity of online shopping have hurt all sorts of local retailers, including such music stores as the recently shuttered Drum Headquarters, not long ago a Best Of winner in this category. From a modest start back in 1978, Fazio's Frets and Friends has survived and thrived, growing into a custom-built facility in west county with room for performances, workshops and lessons. While the number of product lines on offer may be a bit fewer than at a chain store, Fazio's sponsors frequent special events aimed at local guitarists and generally offers the sort of service one hopes to receive from a local business. The result is a loyal customer base, including many local pros, that has helped Fazio's keep going while others have fallen by the wayside.

The St. Louis region has plenty of stores to outfit your designer pooch or puss in designer duds, to buy puppy ice cream or yak-cheese dog chews, to book massages for your feline, or even to share "yappy hour" with your four-legged friend. But what about your gecko or your gerbil? Or even your budgie? Some people love their boas and bettas just as much as their borzois and Birmans. Pet Connection has been in the city since 1989 and stocks supplies for all of the above, not just for fancy-pants dogs and cats — although the store carries a wide variety of food and toys for them, too. This family-run business may not be as glamorous as many boutique-style pet stores, but owner Tom Bolbach and his daughter Christine definitely know their stuff and stock the goods to prove it.

It has been scientifically proven that one out of every five St. Louis kid's birthday parties is held in Chesterfield. The area is a mecca for activities that parents would never allow at home but would gladly pay to happen somewhere else (think: Bounce U, Sky Zone). Chesterfield Sports Fusion is one of the newer additions brave enough to take on all that displaced energy. The massive indoor play park houses almost every activity a child's mind could imagine: laser tag, rock climbing, dodge ball, an obstacle course, jump shot, plus a 40-game arcade and a playground. Birthday packages supplying everything — a private room, paper goods, arcade cards and a personal host — are available to keep the wee ones thinking they're in a fantasy land while keeping their parents' houses intact.

Shopping for sex toys can be stressful. What if I run into a relative while comparing prices on cock rings? What if I blow 90 bucks on a Rabbit only to find out it's not all it's cracked up to be? Hustler Hollywood takes the taboo out of shopping for dildos, vibrators and butt plugs with outgoing and attentive service. Need lube? A self-proclaimed "lube expert" will lead you to the fruit-flavor, sensitive skin or anal variety you seek. Need a gift? Hustler carries everything from lingerie to pasties to erotic books to novelty items. The employees are friendly and, more importantly, determined to make sure you leave happy and come again and again.

Given that Record Exchange has been named Riverfront Times' "Best Place to Buy Vinyl" every year for the past five years, you might wonder why we keep coming back to it. There has to be another place in town that's equally worthy, right? Wrong. Record Exchange's vinyl guru Jean Haffner has run the store from several different locations in its 34-year history (notably its former home on Cherokee Street, which is now home to Apop Records). But it wasn't until the move to the old Buder Library on Hampton that we saw Haffner's wax obsession fully bloom. Boasting more than 16,000 records, the 10,000-square-foot space is in constant flux with the buy/trade/sell ethic. Record collections looking for a new home, old LPs from deceased relatives and radio station promo twelve-inches litter both shelves and walls throughout. With a whole room dedicated to 45s, a wall of 78s, endless racks of LPs (ranging from Devo to Roy Ayers to Stryper) and an assortment of VHS, DVD and LaserDiscs, Record Exchange doesn't discriminate against any form of media. It's truly a treasure trove; you could easily spend an entire day with dusty fingers, finding diamonds in the rough.