The Back Room isn't in the nicest area. I don't think I've ever been there where there hasn't been a fight. The music is loud and the beer is cheap. The stage is well laid out. I'm sure the acoustics are good if they could just find the volume knob and turn it down a little. There are a couple of tables in the stage area so you can make a leisurely night of it. When you're bored with the music, you can play pool on the other side of the club (completely different room, completely different atmosphere).
There is usually a wide variety of ages so you don't have to feel like the oldest (or youngest) in the building. The wait staff is limited but the bartenders are great (so it's worth it to just get up and go to the bar yourself).
Warning - the parking lot is scary. Seriously, at least one fight everytime I've gone. I won't walk to the car by myself. Somehow it feels much safer inside.
PROS: Great place to listen to hard music, cheap beer, comfortable
CONS: Many fights outsides, can be a little scary
Half-costume store, half-rummage sale, total sensory overload - that's Lucy in Disguise. The front room is packed with rack after rack of costumes. Most are available for either purchase or rent. There are tons of accessories at various counters around the store. In the back room is a huge selection of masks and props. (Need some angel wings, they have like six styles to choose from.) They have racks of boas, tons of wigs, shoes, jewelry, you name it.
The people working in the store and generally casual and helpful. It can be a little crazy in there and they are excellent at helping you find exactly what you're looking for.
If you have some time to kill and you're in the South Congress area, definitely stop in and just browse (it can take hours and it's sheer joy!) Parking can be a little tricky since it's right on Congress, but with some patients (and a good eye for availability on the side streets), you shouldn't have too much trouble.
PROS: Great location, amazing selection, very fun store!
CONS: It's in south Austin
We started Capital Music as a summer break for my son who had been taking "traditional" lessons for 3 years. We had heard that they used technology to enhance the learning experience. Although that's been a cool touch, I've been even more impressed with the instructors and lessons.
The technology comes in the form of some MIDI reading device (whether integrated into the keyboard or as a stand alone player) when the student can listen to their music at different speeds, with either hand isolated, etc. This is great for helping the student work through some tough spots during the practice week. (It's kind of like having your mom come and play sections for you when you get stuck.)
My son's classes are unlike any he's had before. Instead of the basic classical curriculum, he's learning practical music theory. His primary book is a "fake book" which has the melody and basic chords but allows for improvisation. He's had more fun learning and experimenting than all of his other years combined. (Note of warning - he's learned the basics already so he's been able to pick this up quickly...Capital Music also has traditional classes to learn the basics.)
It would be nice if they had multiple locations, but their current location is sufficiently central that it's manageable for a midweek (school night) class. The setting is relaxed with private lesson rooms on the periphery of the large showroom/practice room. They have a great music selection as well!
I had the opportunity to sit in a recital this year and was impressed with the performances, especially by the younger children. There seemed to be a bigger emphasis on getting the most out of the electronc keyboards with backing rhythms, etc. I'm kind of a purist when it comes to piano but it was an interesting approach and the results were great.
PROS: Good instructors, innovative approach, keeps kids' interest
CONS: A little more expensive than other places
The Capital Gymnastics primary location on I-35 is large and well laid out with a play gym for younger students, a large gym for team and individual practices, and private gyms for more specialized classes and lessons. There is a parent observation area in the middle.
As a typical suburban mother, I started my daughter in gymnastics classes when she first showed interest (by incessantly begging to join). At first, I was happy that she seemed to enjoy it. I wasn't sure what to expect so her progress wasn't a big concern.
Once you've been with the gym a little while (and if your child shows any aptitude), you will probably be approached about joining a team. Joining a team means significantly more money and time. Not joining a team means that your child probably won't learn anything new. This was very frustrating to both my daughter at me. It got so bad, in fact, that she begged to quit going there even though she didn't want to give up tumbling.
She was also taking cheer classes but, once again, we opted out of the "team" obligation. She really hated the cheer classes after that.
We moved her to another gym and suddenly she has emerged both in attitude and ability. I've talked with other parents at the new gym who had similar experiences. (In fact, the owners of the new gym previously worked at Capital but were frustrated and ventured out on their own.)
We have friends who went the whole "team" route and they've been happy with their experience (although at least one has complained that their child has suffered from the pressure). It's very time consuming and a number of gymnasts go to the local charter school (Star Charter) to accomodate their training schedules. If your child loves that type of pressure, I'm sure it's a great environment. If you just want some fun gym classes where you child can learn the basics, this really isn't the right place.
PROS: Great equipment and layout
CONS: If you're not on a team, you'll not going to get much instruction
Hobby Lobby is huge. They have an amazing assortment of all sorts of things. They have outstanding art supplies (including raw materials and kits). They have a floral department. Even their fabric and framing departments are huge.
They occasionally have great clearance sales. These tend to be home decor items or stationary but it's a fun thing to browse.
Their fabric/sewing department is admirable (although not to the standard of a stand-alone sewing store). The staff is somewhat helpful but not as specialized as they could be.
Checking out can be a slow arduous process. They key in all items (no scanning) and hand wrap all breakables. We' ve had times where our line wait has exceeded 15 minutes.
I like that they are closed on Sundays in respect of families. It can be a little annoying when you forget (but that's really just poor planning on my part!)
PROS: Great selection, good prices, well laid out
CONS: Limited hours, long line waits
Everytime I go into the local Radioshack, I'm amazed that the employees seem to really like what they do. If you have a problem, they help you ferret out a selection rather than the standard, "here, buy this and try it...bring it back if it doesn't work". They keep multimeters with them at all times and aren't afraid to use them. This has saved me so much money and hassle in returning things I didn't need in the first place.
I find the presence of the cell phone "store in a store" to be somewhat annoying, but only because I find all cell phone stores annoying. I've only had one experience where an enterprising employee asked me "who is your current cell phone service with, are you happy, have you considered..."
Otherwise, they carry everything you could want for fun home projects including switches and clamps and batteries and charges and connectors and fabulous things like that. Their toys are always fun (look for big arrival right after Thanksgiving).
But the thing that makes Radioshack work is the attitude of the employees.
PROS: Fantastic service, great selection of things you can find elsewhere
CONS: Cell phone stores in the store
The food at Joe's Crab Shack is okay. It's better than fast food seafood, but not as good as a seafood restaurant should be. The prices seem to be as high as they could possibly justify. (There's no reason to charge $2 for a glass of poor quality ice tea except that people will still order it at that price.) Their kids menu isn't anything special.
The service is okay. In a large group, it's unbelievably slow. Recently, I was there with a large group and had to wait an additional 20 minutes for change when I paid with cash.
They do have a playground for the kids but it's not in an area where parents can really watch them. It's loud. I guess it's supposed to have a festive party feel, but it comes across as just chaotic.
It's not terrible, it's not great. It's not really worth the effort.
PROS: Food is decent
CONS: Prices, atmosphere (noise), service
Co-located with Hollywood Video, Game Crazy has a good selection of new and used games for all systems (including used classic Gameboy games, a rarity!) The staff is very knowledgeable. I've gone in to buy games for my sons and they've been very helpful and made great recommendations (at least according to my sons).
They sell new and used game consoles (which can be a great bargain). They buy games and seem to be pretty fair about it. You can pre-order games and not have to stand in the lines of the major electronics and toy stores.
We went out to find a copy of Halo 2 (not preordered) on the day it came out and Game Crazy was the only place nice enough to talk to us on the phone and then set aside one for us when we came in. They just seem to try to make the customer happy.
PROS: Good prices and selection, knowledgeable staff
I love this Hollywood Video location. The people are all really great (but sometimes terribly slow). Their inventory system borders on bizarre. We've gone in on a couple of occasions looking for older movies...their system will show that it's "out there somewhere", but they kind of leave it up to you to figure out what random location it was dropped in.
They have movies set up for "in stock guaranteed". It's fun to see if there are any of these movies out just so you can get a free pass for next time. They're pretty cool about that.
Their MVP program is pretty cheap ($10/month) and simple to follow. If it's got a blue label on it, you can rent it under the program. You can have up to 3 movies out at a time and late fees DO APPLY. If you're into foreign films, it's a great way to see some more obscures ones. It's also fun to take a chance on movies that you wouldn't want to rent for full price. Once again, watch out for the LATE FEES.
They have a good video game selection, but it is $6 for a five day rental. (That's a couple more dollars than a new release DVD even!) I'm guessing theft is a little higher on the games, but it ridiculously high. If you buy a system through gamecrazy next door, you can usually get a free rental a month.
Overall, it's far superior to it's major competitor (who is just across the street).
PROS: Friendly, good selection
CONS: High priced video game rentals
The new Parmer Lane H.E.B. is huge, clean, bright, and has a wonderful selection of anything you could want. (Okay, except housewares....they have the weirdest housewares section where you can get all sorts of small appliances but can't find simple things like barbeque mops.)
I love their produce section! It's set up for self-checkout so there are digital scales with printers throughout the produce area. This is a great diversionary tactic for the kids! Their organic selection is admirable. We've always found their fruits and vegetables to be fresh and well handled.
They used to have a big hot deli (it seems it was part of a failed experiment called HEB-to-go and that area is vacant now). The regular deli is extensive. They have a great meat department with separate butcher and seafood areas. There is a kitchen mock-up for classes and demonstrations.
The wine department is large and well laid out. The wine staff is remarkably knowledgable. They tend to carry low priced but highly rated wines with recommendations attached to the shelves (very helpful!) Their health food section is also large, rivaling Central Markets.
There are other departments that don't seem to make much sense. They have a huge baby department. (Don't get me wrong, as an owner of a baby, I love to see the little creatures get their special place, but I'm not going to do much clothes shopping at an H.E.B..) Oddly enough, the baby food selection is rather poor. There are some great choices on the market, I'd love to see them carry some!
They have self-check-out, which is the single great grocery evolution since the push cart. It's designed for this so there is plenty of room to work and a central sales associate who is usually pretty attentive to the frustrating errors messages that you sometimes receive. In the beginning, it was frustrating because this was the first location in the area to have self-check-out and this appeared to be very very confusing to a lot of people....but it's improve
PROS: Great selection, new, clean, self-checkout
CONS: Almost too big, hard to "run in" quickly