Category Archives: Best Bets

Best Bets: Best Christmas Gifts Over $10

Yesterday we gave you our picks for the best gifts under $10. Today we’re going to spend a little more. Or, to be fair, we’re going to ask for a little more.

It would be a mighty merry Christmas at the Chophouse if Santa brought us a few of these items from our list:


A Bottle of Barbancourt

The Barbancourt distillery might truly be the only entity inside of Haiti that actually has its shit together. If you think of rum solely as a Summer drink, try the estate reserve. $22-$42.

Ca. 1900 British Steamer Trunk.

Louis Vuitton may talk a lot about heritage, but this kind of heritage is unfuckwithable… no matter how many fake African bush landing photo-ops you get Bono to do. $175.

Norse Projects Merino Breton Stripe Sweater

Melville never had it so good. You won’t need a White-Jacket, just accent it with one of these… $180.

Ca. 1950’s Ulysse Nardin Wristwatch

The movement’s been as dependable as the sun for 60 years or so. The case and hands are solid gold and still manage not to look gaudy. This is the kind of flash you don’t need to flash. $1500.

The HMS Bounty

The one from the movies. Captain Bligh may not have been on the quarterdeck, but Marlon Brando and Johnny Depp were. If all of you loyal Choppers pitch in, you can totally get us this for Christmas. We’ll even use it to give you a ride to work (provided you work near the Inner Harbor). $4,600,000.

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Best Bets: Best Christmas Gifts under $10

Maybe your workplace is doing a secret Santa this year. Maybe you got an invite to a holiday party and want to bring a gift for your hosts (which is proper and good form). Maybe you need something for the mailman or your kid’s teacher or someone else you don’t really care about at all. Maybe you’re just cheap.

Whatever the case may be, we all sometimes need to find gifts that cost as little as possible. Just because you’re not spending much though doesn’t mean you’ve got to give up on good taste. They say it’s the thought that counts, and if you put a little thought into your smallest gifts, you can make them count, too.

Magazine Subscriptions

You’ve probably heard by now that print media is dying, and that iPads and Kindles are the wave of the future. All that aside, light reading is as enjoyable as it ever was. Magazine subscriptions are ridiculously cheap right now, with most running just over the cover price of one issue, and in most cases you can get two full years for around $10. The Chop recommends Esquire, Baltimore Magazine, Interview, W Magazine, The Atlantic, and Juxtapoz. It’s a breeze to order gift subscriptions online, although shipping of the first issue typically does take some time.

Alarm Clock

Ikea is well known for three things: good design, low prices, and shoddy materials. Their DEKAD alarm clock is two of those three things. Made of nothing but glass and steel, it’s as solid as it is stylish. Clean, classic design and a $6 price tag put it right at home in any room. Alternately, their lower level has a ton of housewares, textiles and decor items at budget friendly prices.

Handkerchiefs

A tie may be the default last-minute generic gift idea for men, but a set of handkerchiefs is a fraction of the price, and he’ll probably get more mileage out of them than any tie. This set of Dockers handkerchiefs from Kohls is on sale for $10, and presents well in that cylidrical package which might double to hold pens, change, or whatever.

Christmas Ornaments

A Christmas ornament is another pretty standard go-to gift, but the ones available at Ten Thousand Villages in Fell’s Point are anything but ordinary. This set of three is handmade in China and marked down to the ridiculously low price of $5.00. There are also options from India and Nepal as well as other handmade gifts from all over the world.

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Whether you’re stuffing a stocking, sticking to a budget or treating yourself, any of these gifts will be money well spent. Have you received something inexpensive that made you smile? Come up with the perfect solution for secret Santa, maybe? Post your own economical gift ideas in the comments.

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Best Bets: Compass Box Scotch Whiskies

Words like “craft” and “artisan” are thrown around much too freely these days. Everything we buy now has to have some grand, romantic story attached to it. From furniture to farmers’ markets, from apparel to accessories, stories sell. If you don’t know the name of the guy who made it and you can’t drop by his charming little Gepetto-style workshop on a whim, well, it’s just not worth having, is it? Of course, nowhere is this more true than at your local liquor store.

Let’s face it, wax seals and hand-written barrel numbers are the exact same thing as putting your vodka into a glass skull. It’s selling the bottle, not the spirit. (Although to be fair, there’s a lot of really good whiskies in some of those bottles, whereas all premium vodka is a joke.) In an era when every ultra-premium vodka has a celebrity pitchman, and every distiller in Kentucky is offering single barrel this and small batch that and putting the cute little hand-written batch numbers on the bottle, It can sometimes be hard to tell what’s inside, and whether it warrants its price tag. These days, everyone’s an artisan.

Spice Tree. The best way to warm up this winter.

John Glaser is an artisan. Take that statement for what it’s worth. Compass Box Whisky has a story. We’re not going to bother telling you the story. You can look it up on their site. It’s a lot of technical stuff about wood and blending and aging, which really is interesting if you’re into that sort of thing. What we are going to bother to do is to tell you that this stuff is really, really good.

Of the two lines that Compass Box produces, Signature and Limited Release, we’ve so far had a chance to try three different examples of their whisky. Each one was markedly different, but all were equally excellent. Bottles in the less expensive Signature line are generally available in the $35-$40 range, and compare favorably with bottles costing twice as much. To our palate, a Peat Monster is every bit as good as a Laphroaig, and We’d reach for an Oak Cross over a Glen-Whateveryoulike any day of the week. Seriously.

With Winter now firmly digging in, we’re in all-brown-liquor-all-the-time mode here at the Chophouse. We’re declaring Compass Box to be our house Scotch going forward, and by the time the Winter’s out we expect we’ll have three or four different bottles on hand. We suggest that when you head to the liquor store this weekend you go ahead and buy two or more bottles. They make a great holiday gift, but make sure to keep one for yourself.

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Best Bets: Christmas Shopping at the AVAM Sideshow

Remember the first time you ate at Paper Moon Diner? You were probably in your first year of college, or maybe it was even over the summer in high school. Remember how you had to put your name on a list, and amuse yourself outside for like half an hour while you waited for a table? Remember how all the girls were unabashed about making eyes at the dessert case and how it was a big discussion whether or not to sit in the smoking section?

Most of all, remember the first time you saw all those toys?

Of course you do. You had a good buzz on. Maybe you were even a little high, and you sat down in there and had to put forth a Herculean effort not to roam around the dining room touching everything you could reach, putting figures in dirty poses and telling everyone crap stories from your childhood. You did that. We all did that.

The Sideshow gift shop at the AVAM has toys for kids from 6 to 66.

That, Baltimore, is the very same feeling you will get the first time you step foot into the Sideshow, the gift shop at the American Visionary Art Museum.

Far from your typical museum gift shop, the Sideshow’s curiosities rival the museum itself. Part Dime Museum, part Toys-R-Us, and part Art Mart, this place is literally a one-stop non-mall Christmas shop with gifts for kids from six to sixty-six.

The last time the Chop was down that way, the Sideshow was closed because it was nighttime and the time before that the place was packed because the museum was free, so we didn’t spend as much time browsing and playing around as we might have liked, but we were definitely impressed enough that we’re planning to make a separate trip down there just to see the gift shop, which you can do without paying for admission to the museum.

This time we’re going to block out at least a solid hour for playing and perusing among their shelves, which are densely packed from floor to ceiling with everything from the highbrow (art books, tea sets) to the lowbrow (plastic dog poop, fake vomit) and everything in between. We can’t wait to get a proper look at all those toys, as well as their selection of original artworks and goods curated from around the world. We’re also especially interested in their archive of screen printed posters from indie rock shows around the country, which are art in their own right and suitable for framing.

We’re going to be bringing two lists with us when we go: one of the people we’ll need to shop for for Christmas, and a blank list for all the stuff in there we’re going to want.

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Sideshow at the Visionary is located at 800 Key Highway in Federal Hill. 443-872-4926. Of course, we’re not actually going today, because like everything else in this crummy town they are closed on Mondays. Their hours are Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-6pm.

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Best Bets: The Best Cars to Drive in Baltimore City

Our neighbors here at the Chophouse are hood rich. They’re the sort of folks who drive nicer cars than the house they live in. Not judging, just saying. A top of the line GMC Yukon and a late model Sedan de Ville are some pretty nice wheels, and they’re regularly washed and shined by another neighbor who runs the part-time car wash hustle.

We’re just the opposite… for all the work and effort we put into decorating and maintaining the Chophouse, we bought our old Chevy specifically to run it straight into the ground. We wanted a Craigslist car that we could buy with cash on the spot and nail speed bumps, run red lights, skip oil changes, and generally abuse the hell out of. After better than 3 years of hard use, we’ve more than got our money’s worth.

A visual approximation of the Chop's driving habits in Baltimore.

Talking to our neighbor recently though, she admitted what we’d suspected all along; that a full size Cadillac is a giant burden to maintain in Baltimore City. She lamented the size, the necessary maintenance, the low MPG’s, the responsiveness, and every other problem you get from driving a suburban highway car in the city.

We often secretly wonder when we’ll run the wheels off of our Chevy, and it got us thinking about what our next car might be. Since we travel as much as we do, we’re going to need something without a payment that can sit for long periods of time, and that will stand up to cobblestones, streetcar tracks, potholes, water main breaks, snow salt, pigeon shit, parallel parking, and every other thing that the City of Baltimore can throw at it. Here’s a few picks from our shortlist.

Subaru Forester

Subaru Forester. 2006 model shown.

Most people regard the Subaru line as being strictly for hippies and lesbians, but we say it’s the poor man’s Volvo. Hell, take a drive through Guilford or Roland Park and you might find that even the Rich Man is buying Subarus these days. Any Subaru you buy is going to have all wheel drive, which is a huge plus, especially during the winter months, and the forester packs a ton of space onto a relatively small chassis. These things are basically little urban tanks.

Honda Civic

Honda Civic LX 4 door. 1998 model shown.

You don’t need us to tell you that the Civic is a great car for Baltimore City. The Civic is a great car for everywhere. The only criticism that we can level at this model is that not enough of them hit the used market, and when they do people want a lot of money for them, no matter how old or worn they may be. If Hitler had had his boys invent the Civic instead of that crappy Beetle, most of Europe would probably sprecken zee Deutsche today.

Nissan Sentra

Nissan Sentra 4 door. 2003 model shown.

Humble, inexpensive, scrappy, and dependable; in many ways, the Sentra is the perfect car for Baltimore City. If NYC and DC are the Acura and the Avalon blocking up traffic and scratching their heads after a fender bender, the Sentra is Baltimore… taking battle damage in stride and giving you the finger while it hits the gas. We’ve got someplace to be and the Sentra’s going to get us there come hell or high water. Fun Fact: the Chop once visited a Nissan factory in Yokozuka, Japan.

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What about you, Baltimore? What are you driving around the city? Love it? Hate it? Recommend it to a friend? Let us know below.

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