Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Spitfire Girl is sort of like a less mass-produced, more authentic version of Urban Outfitters' indie accessories department. Though the name of the store reflects the loose theme (and it follows that everything is made in the USA) of a sort of cowboys-and-Indians setup, the underlying concept seems to be animal-themed, with seahorses and owls being a general favorite (as seen on mugs, decorative plates, jewelry, wall art, etc.). Merchandise is often quirky, such as the ceramic "Kill Time" mug with a trigger tucked into the handle. With art books by the likes of Henry Darger, standout jewelry pieces and the signature woodcut wall art and postcards decorated with local artists' drawings (and owner Kristen Schroder's own), you should have no trouble finding a unique gift for any lover of irony or beauty. Be warned, you're likely to leave with a few too many souvenirs for yourself, too. 1939 Hillhurst Ave., Los Feliz. (323) 912-1977; 2203 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park. (213) 989-1977, spitfiregirl.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.
House of Intuition proprietress Marlene Vargas took one look at me and placed a shard of serpentine in my hand. "It'll recharge your batteries," she tells me. You'd be hard-pressed to find a metaphysical center more genuine than this Eastside oasis, which Vargas rightly describes as a "spiritual detox center" for the seeker and the cynic alike. You can simply enjoy one of 25 varieties of tea in the sunlit tea room, or work toward your Reiki certification, have your aura cleansed and get your chakras balanced. Offering tarot, past life, I Ching and astrological readings, crystal healing, psychometry and a host of other services and classes, the staff and the stock are handpicked, the medicinal remedies and incense hand-blended. A series of divine synchronicities coalesced to bring this magic place into being, and you can feel it. Vargas, who offers crystal readings, says we all have our own intuition. "We want to teach how to connect to them." 2237 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park. (213) 413-8300, houseofintuitionla.com.
If any youngish artist of talent had a hankering to go to grad school and more or less get himself perched on the first rung of being a "professional artist," I'd tell him to go to the Roski School at USC. Run with great aplomb these last years by Charlie White, USC's grad art program, with its special mix of incredible professors (Frances Stark, Andrea Zittel, Judd Fine, Sharon Lockhart), and of course the fact that it's more or less fully funded to attend, has in these last years minted more commercially successful artists than the rest of the art schools combined. For all the benefits of an MFA but without the ritual spanking of a critique, one can attend the Roski School's many excellent free lectures almost every Wednesday and Thursday during the school year. USC Graduate Fine Arts Building, 3001 S. Flower St. (213) 740-2787, roski.usc.edu.
"The system was created by a little old lady in a hat in the 1930s — she didn't know diddly about filing, but she knew what Jung would've loved," says librarian Nancy at the Max and Lore Zeller Library at the C.G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles, who assures me that I don't have to be a Jungian analyst-in-training to visit this highly specialized collection of more than 6,500 volumes on analytical psychology, mythology, religion, symbolism, anthropology, art, sociology and magic. "Freud had everything organized in terms of sex. Jung looked for what made us work from the inside." Casual visitors are encouraged to cut out their own slice of the collective unconscious — "We encourage that poking around" — but chances are it won't be long before you elect to become a member of this ostensibly private library, with a modest half-year fee of only $25. Membership includes checkout privileges, bookstore discounts and untold brushes with printed synchronicity. 10349 Pico Blvd., Century City. (310) 556-1193, junginla.org.
Having a heart attack? Direct your ambulance to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Should you eventually need a heart transplant, you'll be in excellent hands. In 2010, Cedars did the most adult heart transplants in the United States — and in the world. Their 30-day postoperative mortality rate is under 2 percent. Their one-year survival rate is a whopping 92 percent — well above the national average of 89 percent. Why is the program here so good? They have a good supply of hearts, for one. OneLegacy, their organ-procurement organization, has the most organs available for transplant, so waits are shorter. Also, the chance of rejection is much lower. Nationally, nearly a third of transplanted hearts are rejected by the host body. Cedars' rejection rate is a mere 5 percent. Researchers here, it turns out, are pioneers in the realm of antirejection medications. Working with so many patients gives them a vast amount of data to draw from when trying to figure out what works and what doesn't. That, combined with a slew of talented doctors and nurses, is the best prescription for keeping the Grim Reaper's bony fingers off your ticker. 8700 Beverly Blvd., W. Hlywd. (800) CEDARS-1, cedars-sinai.edu.
"What you really want," Sister Daniel of the Los Angeles Family History Library tells me, "are birth, death, marriage and burial." Records, that is. Don't let the golden trumpeter throw you off; the best way to find your roots is by visiting the friendly folks of the Latter Day Saints. An introduction to genealogical research plays on continuous PowerPoint loop behind the help desk. Tidy rows of patron computers offer free access to top commercial websites like Ancestry.com and Legacy, with more than a billion searchable records in some 30,000 databases. Other resources include the well-organized microfilm libraries, not to mention the on-site book, map and records collections and additional LDS databases. If it all seems a bit daunting, they offer three- and four-day genealogy intensive courses, and helpful volunteers, whose presence around the library is heralded by a small plastic flag. "You have to be creative in how you look for things," continues Sister Daniel. "Genealogy is not something you do for an hour or two." 10741 Santa Monica Blvd., W.L.A. (310) 474-9990, lafhl.org.
Your qi, your back and your wallet out of whack? In China, acupuncture has been used for thousands of years to alleviate everything from circulatory to digestive troubles, gynecological to neurological issues, pain both chronic and specific, and a double rainbow of other ailments. In the West, those barely-there needles are just as efficacious, but they require repeat and costly pokes most often on a cold, clinical table. While completing her master's degree in Oriental medicine, Valerie Brown worked in China's Sichuan province, where patients are treated in a relaxed group setting. Luckily for Eastsiders living in pain but on a ramen budget, she brought the concept to Eagle Rock Community Acupuncture. A patient's first visit to Brown's clinic features a warm and extensive discussion of what ails them; sessions take place in a spacious room replete with soothing music, mood lighting and a collection of overstuffed recliners. The comfy Zen not only seems to make the treatments more effective, the group setting allows the clinic to operate on a very non-Western sliding payment scale. 2042 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock. (323) 255-2700, eraclinic.com.