Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Known for its pricey sweatpants and hoodies favored by the celeb set, Free City's flagship store works hard to constantly reinvent itself. Owner Nina Garduno says she was inspired by the retail vibe in Copenhagen, where folks shop at uniquely cool and colorful spots (as opposed to boring big-box stores). Having moved from Malibu to Hollywood last year, Free City has an intriguing plan: to change its theme every year. Currently, it leans toward sporty, hip merch for bicycle riders, and offers bikes, sneakers and, of course, sweats, which are absolutely luxurious. (They should be, considering they all cost $100 or more.) You'll also find records, posters, handcrafted art and organic goodies to eat and drink. "Life, Nature and Love," it says on the walls, as well as on the clothes and accessories. Indeed, the good vibes here are plentiful. 1139 N. Highland Ave., Hlywd.; (323) 461-2226, freecitysupershop.com.
Every Picture Tells a Story is not your average indie bookseller. It's a gallery whose art is books, specifically illustrated books, often (but not only) those for children. It's also a prime venue for author signings, and they get some pretty stellar names. Among them: Stan Lee, Ray Bradbury, Norman Corwin, Buzz Aldrin and Ray Harryhausen. Often working in conjunction with the Aero Theatre across the street, Every Picture offers an intimate environment for book lovers to get up close and personal with their favorite authors. It also sells originals and prints of book artwork by the likes of Garth Williams (Charlotte's Web), Hilary Knight and Maurice Sendak. 1333 Montana Ave., Santa Monica. (310) 451-2700, everypicture.com.
The Beverly Hills Municipal Courthouse might be famous only because of people like Lindsay Lohan, but there's a better reason it deserves some love. Past the metal detectors, to the left of the marriage-license booth, stands an unassuming little wedding chapel, with a resident judge who marries couples every 15 minutes. Rumor has it that's where Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate tied the knot. And as anyone who's planned a wedding knows, the event means just one thing — spending money. Whether it's hiring a florist, photographer, planner or DJ, the cost of today's weddings can be obnoxious, to say the least. But thanks to civil spots like the Beverly Hills Courthouse, the cost of the ceremony can help keep things under budget. The chapel is open only on Thursdays, but a ceremony costs all of $25 ($18 extra if you need a witness). Plus, there's a fake quilted wedding cake, two imitation bouquets on loan, and the courthouse is right next to the picturesque Civic Center — all of which provide plenty of Kodak moments for the ol' wedding album. 9355 Burton Way, Beverly Hills. (310) 288-1310, lasuperiorcourt.org.
—Tanja M. Laden
Once you've come to accept — even embrace! — the very graphic reality of Olympic Spa, that you're flopping around butt-naked with the women of Koreatown all day, you'll realize the pampered lifestyle of a much fancier lady isn't so far out of reach. That's right, princess: For the price of one and a half Patron shots, you can fade into a sweet three-tub rotation of jacuzzi, tea bath, cold rinse, repeat. Olympic Spa's $15 cover includes three sauna types: steam, clay and the red-light third room offering purported "oxygen stones" and charcoal formed from 1,800-degree ubame-gashi trees. Freebies, an intrinsic part of bathhouse privilege, abound — a sea-foam bathrobe, awesome-smelling shampoos, towels and flip-flops. It's quiet, light and pretty, almost utilitarian at times — as if a lovely cleanse were a necessity, and a right. Extra rubdowns and treatments are available, but the only thing you really need won't cost more than $2: a pair of yellow exfoliating mittens that, after a rubdown by the trough, will leave you simultaneously delighted at your new lightness of being and horrified that you could leave behind such a gnarly battlefield of dead skin cells. So worth it. 3915 W. Olympic Blvd., Koreatown. (323) 857-0666, olympicspala.com.
Every mini-mall east of La Brea Avenue has one: a bare-bones Thai massage place, squeezed into a small storefront. Budget basic decor — small Buddha shrine, desktop fountain, photo of a sun-drenched Thai beach — often matches the ho-hum massage. At The Barai in Silver Lake, on a quickly bypassed stretch of Hyperion, the décor is in that spartan mode but the bodywork is not. And there's a super deal: For $39 (cash only), book the Thai-Swedish, an exceptional blend of the comforting strokes of Swedish massage with traditional Thai — where bodies are vigorously manipulated into an assortment of pretzel-shaped poses. Be prepared for an up-close-and-personal massage: A demure lady will knee your ass therapeutically as you lie on a cushioned mat on the floor half-naked. Almost invariably a she, except when it is Jack's strong fingers that stretch you. The fabric dividers between alcoves let the snores of others drift through; yours may soon join in. Don't embarrass yourself by asking for a happy ending. You will be happy. You will relax. 2316 Hyperion Ave., Suite A, Silver Lake. (323) 221-3853, thebaraispa.com.
—Kathy A. McDonald
No accreditation, no degrees, no pay, no tuition — the only thing you have to shell out for is your drinks. Run out of the top floor of the Mountain Bar, Chinatown's legendary Mountain School of Arts attracts a special variety of students, mostly from Europe, who want to come to Los Angeles to study, but perhaps aren't as interested in the credentials and limitations of the professional programs on the other side of downtown. The Mountain School was founded by artists Piero Golia and Eric Wesley, neither of whom attended graduate school. They intended MSA to be a new model for the L.A. art grad school, and to create their own mafia to compete with the other grad schools in town. The founders are very careful to correct you if you call it an alternative, as MSA sees itself not as an alternative but an equal to its more traditional competitors. Except for the teachers and founders buying their guests drinks, the school is run without cost with help from volunteers (myself included), and still manages to get some of the best artists and curators in the city and abroad, from artists Paul McCarthy and Thomas Demand to international curator Hans Ulrich Obrist. 473 Gin Ling Way, Chinatown; themountainschoolofarts.org.