READERS' PICK: So this guy walks into the Rum Runner with a recipe for a Brazilian cocktail called capairinhas, which requires Cachaca. The guy finds a $22 bottle of Cachaca, looks at the label, figures out it's a sugar cane-based liquor, just like rum. Asks the kid behind the counter what the difference is, and the kid says, "I traveled in South America, and they usually served capairinhas with the cheapest rum they could find. I'd say you're better off just using regular rum." That's the kind of place the Rum Runner is. They know their wine and spirits as if they were producing the stuff in the back room. They stock at least one example of anything you might desire. But if they figure you don't really need the premium goods, they're happy to steer you toward something more economical. All this, plus a great gourmet cheese case, an array of biscotti and other elegant noshes, and the city's second-best selection of DeCecco pasta. It almost makes you feel guilty for not buying the overpriced Brazilian rum.
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Plaza Liquors, 2642 N. Campbell Ave. The laws of retail space, if indeed not physics altogether, are suspended when you enter Plaza Liquors, though not unpleasantly so. The place is bursting with racks, shelves, crates and cases of alluring green and brown bottles. Let the adventure begin. Owner Mark Thomasson has been operating this essential neighborhood fixture for two decades, and he and his affable cohorts behind the counter keep their ears open and lips to the glass in order to stock the best selection of fine beer and wine in town. This daunting task, given the available space, doesn't keep Mark from trying; from the expected premium microbrews to arcane Belgian Trappist Ales, Plaza's the place. Wednesdays and Thursdays feature a 10-percent discount on wine and beer, respectively, and the handy drive-through window is perfect when you're in a hurry.