Great variety (imports, independents, jazz, classical, rock, soundtracks) isn't enough. Low prices (new discs as low as $9.99) aren't enough. Even a knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful staff isn't enough. Because every devotee of Newbury Comics knows that, on top of all of the above, it's the store's own distinct culture—a loud, high-energy setting in which you never quite know whom you're going to meet—that makes it more than the sum of its parts. Harvard Square, 36 JFK St., Cambridge, MA newburycomics.com/.
Shubie's gets the nod this year for upping the ante in the cheese department, where scores of familiar and rarely seen varieties pack the cases: Cowgirl Creamery's Mount Tam, Jasper Hill's Constant Bliss, and more. The selection changes frequently, depending on what cheese expert Doug Shube discovers, which means even those who stop by to raid the store's mouthwatering takeout section or shelves of expertly chosen wines inevitably drift back to the cheese counter to see what's new. 16 Atlantic Ave., Marblehead, MA 1945, .
If all the apocalyptic angst surrounding last New Year's Eve proved anything it's that the past is not such a bad place to be. Dress the part, why don't you: Maureen Dahill does, and she makes a living selling cast-offs from as far back as the '20s. In her cutely named emporium, duds hounds can also find shirts from the '70s, Pucci imitations from the '60s, and June Cleaveresque '50s shirtwaist dresses. 507 East Broadway, Boston, MA .
At long last, a dry cleaner that cares about you and your clothes. Ecoluxe has banished the chemicals commonly found in garden-variety dry cleaning (linked with a handful of harmful effects), as well as a pile of other dirty laundry: nonchalant service, for example, and depressing surroundings. Owner Shelly Mars has instead created attractive, environmentally friendly storefronts with remarkable personal service and excellent cleaning and pressing. For those too harried to make the trek to Brookline, Mars offers delivery to Newton, Wellesley, Milton, Cambridge, and parts of Boston. 1018 Beacon St., Brookline, MA .
Winston's Newton store feels more like a mom-and-pop shop than the Boston area florist's biggest location. The mind-boggling array of blooms on offer includes roses, hydrangeas, peonies, calla lilies, and arty, twisted sea grass. And the resourceful, creative staffers will be eager to help you, once you're done staring slack-jawed at the symphony of colors. 11 Florence St., Newton, MA winstonflowers.com.
A string of too many unfortunately flavored concoctions had put us off anything other than the classics...and then we met the Rita Moreno. A sexy southwestern cousin of the cosmo, it combines vodka, Rose's lime juice, and fresh lemon with sriracha and cilantro. The resulting creation strikes a perfect tart-sweet balance, then takes the experience to the next level with a spicy kick. 219 Elm St., Somerville, MA 2144, .
This warm, elegant Somerville bistro was cleverly designed to suit both neighborhood residents and those who travel for a celebratory meal—a nice balance that can be attributed in part to wine director Kai Gagnon's skill in choosing wines for both crowds. His bottle list is lengthy and varied—a veritable tour through Europe—but there are also nearly two-dozen by-the-glass options for those with commitment issues. Most important? The knowledgeable servers to guide you to the perfect selection. 118 Beacon St., Somerville, MA 2143, bergamotrestaurant.com.
The waterfront boasts flashy seafood emporiums mad with pricey cocktails and massive TVs, but we still head down the wharf to this retail arm of a decades-old lobster wholesaler. Sure, the napkins come in dispensers and the stellar view is of the street, but this is the freshest affordable seafood around. Grab a bowl of thick chowder, a basket of fried scallops, or go for lobster (in a bisque or on a roll) for a meal that's big on substance, not on flash. 300 Northern Ave., Boston, MA 2210, yankeelobstercompany.com.
This potent champion is a mix of Cuervo Gold, Cointreau, and Grand Marnier. Too potent? No problem. Try any of the other combinations at this sister saloon to the famous Sunset Grill & Tap, including the refreshingly tart Cantina Classic. With a choice of 65 tequilas and tangy flavors from lime to banana, the Sunset Cantina had the competition beat before you even walked in. 916 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA allstonsfinest.com/welcome/.
Pittsfield, once derided as the underarm of the Berkshires, has made a turnaround in recent years, thanks in part to its revitalized North Street. The hippest on the block is the much-hyped contemporary American eatery Spice. The place is at its liveliest after the dinner rush, when the band packs up and an energetic young crowd assembles in the roomy backlit bar for sipping and mingling. 297 North St., Pittsfield, MA .
Hidden away on the eastern end of the island, the Sconset Café isn't fancy and serves no alcohol (has a BYOB setup), but it's got one of the best little menus around. Entrées change often, and depending on the season might include salmon in saffron-tomato fish broth with ;ciabatta or grilled chicken with garlic and scallion mashed potatoes. If you're fortunate, the knockout lemon tart with homemade lime cream will be available. You'd be wise to order it, even if you think you're stuffed. Post Office Sq., Siasconset, MA 2564, sconsetcafe.com.
Life should always pause around 4 p.m. so people can revive themselves with a cup of tea. Besides this genteel refreshment (or coffee, if you must), the Four Seasons Hotel serves the traditional three-tiered silver trays of dainty crustless-cucumber-and-smoked-salmon sandwiches, scones with lemon-curd and Devonshire-cream, miniature fruit tarts, and tea bread. A pampering staff and exquisite views of the Public Garden provide almost more afternoon comfort than kindergarten naptime. Four Seasons Hotel, 200 Boylston St., Boston, MA .
Part of the original English (as in Todd English) restaurant empire, Figs in Charlestown still serves delicious thin-crusted pies with simple toppings, innovative salads laced with blue cheese and toasted walnuts, and rich and warming plates of handmade pastas to the upwardly mobile. Rarely can you get such homecooked flavor or feeling in a restaurant. And with such earthly prices, the question really becomes, Why not eat here every night? 67 Main St., Charlestown, MA cheftoddenglish.com/.
Hands down, the best dim sum in Boston. Get there before 10:30 a.m. on Sunday or be prepared to wait for cart-delivered delicacies that include shrimp chow foon, sticky rice wrapped in grape leaves, and chicken feet—if you dare. The bill usually averages around $12 a person, and then you need not think about food again until dinner. 9 Tyler St., Boston, MA .
A classic pale ale—vaguely sweet, distinctly hopped, and tinged a deep shade of copper—this is the flagship brew of tiny Atlantic Coast Brewing, more commonly known as Tremont Brewery, in Charlestown. The really cool part? After years as a tap-only product, Tremont is finally, thankfully, in bottles available at finer packies everywhere. For a by-the-pint-only treat, look for Tremont's cask-conditioned best bitter of IPA, stocked in small batches at select bars such as Doyle's in Jamaica Plain.