Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Intimate boutiques selling locally made, sustainably sourced cacti, candles and sundry craftiness are familiar sights from the Boardwalk to Eagle Rock, but it's a rare blossom in the bit of downtown east of Main Street. The Downtown Women's Center has been improving the lots of homeless ladies since 1978, when it opened a "safe space" downtown that's part-residence, part–community center. More recently, the DWC's adjacent space opened Made by DWC, an arts and crafts–oriented boutique featuring handmade work from the center's residents, who've been encouraged while living there in discovering, nurturing and marketing their own creative skills. Besides a colorful assortment of textile, sculptural, wearable and decorative arts, there's a café with organic coffee, tea and fresh foods that's open for breakfast and lunch. There's a kind of motherly vibe to the place, an urbane yet rustic quality that's a true oasis amid the occasionally tumultuous surroundings. Products are affordable, and the good karma is priceless. 438 S. San Pedro St., dwntwn. (213) 680-0600, madebydwc.org.
—Shana Nys Dambrot
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.