Best Garden Decor 2004 | The French Flat | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Cathy Kimmal created her own little secret garden in the French Flat, a French-country-style salute that sucks you into a different time and place the minute you amble in the door. It could be the way it smells -- like lavender and pear -- or the quaint tromp l'oeil details painted across the walls and floors by Kimmal's talented daughter, Keri. There's something delightfully handed-down about the place, which is crammed with French-made candles, well-placed antiques, tarnished garden ornaments and fragrant topiaries. The French Flat is definitely a family affair: In addition to Keri's murals, works by husband Will include miniature working greenhouses and gardener's cold frames built from old, weathered windows. Quelle jolie.

File sharing? Absolutely not, say the creators of Beatport. But this much they promise: They won't sell your e-mail address, and they have a zero-tolerance policy on spam. Beatport also boasts one of the most impressive collections of drum and bass, breaks, trance and hard house on the web. Designed by Denver DJs and launched in January, Beatport offers downloads of its general catalogue for 99 cents each; new releases are $1.49. The site's stated target market is "end users" -- that is, "club goers and dance music enthusiasts from around the world," not other DJs. Whatever you say, man. All we know is, if you bring us Boulder tribal producer Jon Nedza for a buck and a half a pop, we'll pack our iPOD with his tracks.

Picture the cover of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band: the Beatles wearing satin uniforms, surrounded by flowers and a bouquet of bright minds, including Aleister Crowley, Marlene Dietrich, Sonny Liston, Lenny Bruce, Carl Jung and Bob Dylan. That's sort of the feel that comes through in group photos of the Twist & Shout staff, a colorful strata of music lovers who man the store's racks of new and used titles, multiple listening stations, large magazine and book collection, boutique, trade counter and special-order desk. It takes a capable, close-knit crew (if not a village) to keep a business like Twist aloft, and a special touch to make customers feel comfortable. Many of the store's counter jockeys are musicians who know that music is a deeply personal thing, so they won't shame your purchase, whether it's Seven and the Ragged Tiger or The Best of Sweet. Is it possible that Twist is getting better all the time?
Though the 45 isn't the hippest musical format on the market, those seven-inch slabs of plastic are still coveted by collectors across the country. As such, stores catering to this clientele continue to exist in most major cities, with prices for used singles generally starting at several dollars and skyrocketing from there. Wax Trax, however, contains box after box after box of 45s priced as low as a quarter; most of the others are fifty cents. The charges for long-players are usually on the low end of the scale, too, which helps explain why vinyl lovers who travel to Denver make a beeline for Wax Trax. Those of us who live here have a lot less distance to cover to take advantage of a local treasure.

If a craving for a shot of Fellini and a mocha frappé strikes at the same time, head to Juma's DVD, which squats in the back of the Bohemian Bean Internet cafe and coffeehouse. Browsable in person or on the web, Juma's rental catalogue includes a bit of everything, from Luis Buñuel to Jack Black, Disney to DeMille. Once you've rented something, you won't have to hock your jewelry to pay late fees if you can't return the goods on time. And because the place keeps coffeehouse hours -- 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day -- it's likely to be open whenever you desire a dash of La Dolce Vita.

In Books Unlimited's old home on University Boulevard and Evans Avenue, the cozy quarters and musty smell of yellowed pages made you want to curl up with one of the store's good books. Unfortunately, there was no space to curl up in. In its new home on Colorado Boulevard, Books Unlimited has retained its charm and gained ample browsing room -- and a parking lot. It also sports some once-forgotten treasures: While relocating 80,000 books last fall was a monumental task, the store's owners discovered many buried treasures when they finally unpacked. Limited-edition reference books, signed tomes by Isabel Allende, Oscar Hijuelos and Jay McInerney, as well as a nine-volume set of Abraham Lincoln's papers, have all been restored to their rightful spots on the shelves of the new and improved book nook.

Besides its broad selection of books, pamphlets and periodicals spanning the whole spectrum of radical and progressive issues, Breakdown really focuses on the "community" part of its name. The volunteer-run, non-profit space offers free classes and workshops, a computer lab and even a lending library, and also plays host to a variety of events such as art openings, discussions with touring leftist luminaries and showcases for acoustic and experimental music. In a political climate that's increasingly constrictive and bleak, Breakdown is a much-needed voice of dissent and celebration.

Bookish bargain hunters come to browse the new and used titles at Ichabod's Books, but they stick around to drink the coffee. The store's modest cafe counter serves straight java, baked goods and espresso drinks, including a vanilla latte that's pure perfection. On weekend afternoons, readers and loafers alike sip joe and sink into well-worn chairs that line the comfortably cramped floor. Yes, Starbucks has invaded Barnes & Noble, and Borders has its own cafe, but those superplex-style stores can't touch the loose, Left Bank vibe of Ichabod's, the literary heart of south Broadway.

Janis Frame is a pusher. For Denver book collectors, her spacious Book Buffs Ltd. is as addictive as a line of coke. You can almost hear shoppers slapping their veins and muttering, "Just one more, man," as they browse the shelves of fine first editions, limited editions and small-press releases. The store, which recently moved from the Golden Triangle to a new spot on South Pearl, boasts everything from obscure chapbooks to modern signed firsts, such as Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections -- and it's all impeccably organized and alphabetized. Each volume has its own siren song, luring readers to caress its cover, scan its pages, stroke its spine. Just one more, man.

Capitol Hill Books has always been a great place to while away an afternoon. And with the 10 percent-off card for frequent buyers, the 3,000-square-foot bookstore is habit-forming. The new travel section is just making matters worse. Because it's stocked with 4,000 travel guides, armchair travel books, memoirs, dictionaries, language books and books in other languages, there's no better place to see the world. Check the shelves regularly, because books on Thailand, Cuba, Vietnam and South America disappear quickly. But at just $5 to $6 a pop, it's suddenly affordable to go places.

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