Best of L.A.: Shopping
When a puppy dog looks up at you from inside its cage with, well, those puppy dog eyes, it’s saying “Take me home with you.” What it’s not saying, but should be, is “Between my painful and chronic skin allergy, my family history of renal failure, and that infected front paw that will eventually require surgery, owning me will ensure that you can’t afford to send your real kids to college.” But pets are family, too, and despite the often-hefty price tag, they deserve quality treatment. Fortunately, there are less expensive vets out there that actually know how to treat your pets properly. Dr. Davidson, the charming and incredibly compassionate man behind Value Vet on Westwood Boulevard, is exactly who you’re looking for. He’s British (which always makes a doc sound smarter) and can occasionally look a bit unkempt, but won’t beat around the bush and will never try to push anything on you that isn’t necessary for your animal’s health. He also seriously knows his stuff. He doesn’t take appointments, and there can sometimes be a long wait, but it’s worth it. 1278 Westwood Blvd., L.A. (310) 446-3908.
Best THRIFT HUNT
Ever wonder where all those hipsters find their broken-in cowboy boots and embroidered ’70s mini dresses? This city is known for its thrift-store abundance, but at so many shops the only really good stuff is on display in the windows and lacking on the racks. It’s different at Squaresville, where the best stuff is inside, although you have to work a bit to find it. If you do some careful perusing, you’ll spot all kinds of hidden finds lurking in crowded corners like $45 vintage Frye boots, a $20 vintage suede floppy hat, a party dress for $12. The goods are much cheaper than other picked-over shops that seem stuck with their not-cool-anymore stock. If the best part of being a bargain hunter is the thrill of the hunt, Squaresville makes for a fun and inexpensive way to spend a Saturday afternoon. And because the shop is so generous with their buy-backs — and, well, times is hard — you can often make a killing. 1800 Vermont Ave. (at Franklin Ave.), Los Feliz. (323) 669-8464.
BEST CONTEMPORARY MUSEUM OF HATS
Most hat stores carry dozens of different styles and brands. Kangol Venice features dozens of different styles and one brand — one dozen dozen styles, in fact, of Kangol in all of its many-splendored variations: berets and Mau caps, trilbys and pull-ons, baseball caps and visors, knit and straw, sun and rain. All in all, some 150 colorful hats fill the small white charming house on Abbot Kinney, which includes a kids’ room, and feels like a contemporary museum of hats. One of very few Kangol outlets (there is a store in New York, and one in London), the Venice outlet is a great place to stop into for a look around, even if you don’t buy. But not buying is hard work here, with so many great looks — and prices, which range from $25 to $60. 1132 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice. (310) 399-8444, kangolstore.com.
BEST CHEAP BIRTHDAY-PARTY STORE
I threw my kid a birthday party for 20 bucks. And I got it all at the 99¢ Only Stores. What kid is not going to be thrilled to be given their own can of shaving cream and told to, “Knock yourself out!” And if that mess is not enough, what could be better then exploding sand volcanoes with baking soda, vinegar and food dye? Juice boxes, party decorations, candy and small toys for party favors can all be found in these aisles, and at these prices, who cares if your child wants to give every kid he invites not one, but three ring pops and fun dip and giant glow sticks. So your deck may end up smelling like a gay bathhouse, but it’s soap, people, and it washes out of their eyes. (Oh, and they sell goggles there too, if you are really worried.) Citywide.
BEST MAIN SQUEEZE
Need to learn the difference between a Titano and a Weltmeister? Looking for the best place to get your polka on? Dave’s Accordion School & Caballero Dance is the unofficial epicenter for all things accordion. Owner Dave Caballero has sold, repaired and taught the instrument since 1971, the same year he met his wife Veronika, a German immigrant. Veronika added violin lessons and dance lessons in the 1980s, but the store’s heart is the squeeze box. From the doors and windows, the sounds of oom-pah-pahs evoke images of German beer gardens or the slow sweeping solitude of buskers on Italian street corners. Whether he’s equipping Weird Al Yankovic or Danny Elfman, Caballero pushes the limits of polkafication and brings the soul of the accordion to life. 3058 Glendale Blvd., Atwater Village. (323) 663-1907, davesaccordion.com.
BEST HOME AWAY FROM DEPOT
The two-tone blue building known for a half century as Andy’s True-Value Hardware is immediately noticeable — both because of its distinctive, if fading, paint job, and because it is a stable and dedicated business set in the midst of an almost-exclusively residential area on San Pedro Street. The only other building for blocks that is not a residence is a Baptist church directly across the street. Picture a Home Depot without the cavernous interior, where customers call employees by name, and where their inquiries as to the health of the manager’s mother or the cashier’s sick child is commonplace. The store has always been independently owned and, in its lone incarnation, has weathered changing neighborhoods, two riots and — according to one of its recently minted managers, Maria, who has worked at the store for 25 years — a few robberies, though the latter phenomenon is relatively new. Andy’s seems to be an island in many respects. Hopefully, it will continue to withstand the waves. 10411 S. San Pedro St., L.A. (323) 755-6757.
—Juliette Akinyi Ochieng
BEST BEATS ON YOUR TEETS
We can’t say with certainty who came up with the idea first, but there are at least two L.A. entities that have helped reinvent the classic band T-shirt over the past few months. In terms of chronological release, local indie start-up Friends of Friends Music debuted the technology with its inaugural project, Friends of Friends Vol. 1, an EP of music by Daedelus and Jogger (plus remixes by folks like Nosaj Thing) that came on neither plastic nor vinyl, but on a compostable tag (a download card made of plantable seed paper) attached to an organic cotton tee. The shirt sports the album art, naturally, which in this case was custom-made by beloved local husband-and-wife design team Kozyndan. But a scant few months later, celeb-touted Ladera Heights fashion imprint LnA announced The Music Tee, which is basically the same thing but with bigger names – Mos Def’s The Ecstatic was the first album to get the wearable treatment. Some of LnA’s subsequent releases have left a bit to be desired musically speaking (here’s looking at you, She Wants Revenge), but it’s the thought that counts. Perez Hilton is among The Music Tee’s admirers, so expect more from this new musical medium. themusictee.com.
BEST CHIC FOR CHEAP
With neighbors like Marc Jacobs, Diane Von Furstenberg and Alexander McQueen, the super chic, you-can’t-afford-to-shop-here section of West Melrose is an unlikely place for a designer outlet. But after the BCBG boutique shut its doors late last year, the BCBG Max Azria Final Cut Outlet store (just look for the building painted in black-and-white stripes) popped up in its place like a groundhog to announce that the recession, like war, is over, if you want it. The dozens of racks carrying BCBG’s various labels — designer Max Azria’s own namesake, BCBGeneration, To the Max and Herve Leger — range from $49 to $89, and almost nothing over: jeans, T-shirts, blouses, pants, shorts, daytime dresses, evening gowns and even heavy winter coats. Hervé Léger’s famous body-hugging bandage dresses are marked down from a whopping $980 to $430, while the shoes — including flats, heels and boots — and purses go for as low as $19. This not only saves bargain hunters the drive to far-away outlet malls like the Citadel, but also the discomfort and hysteria of the impending Black Friday. 8026 Melrose Ave., W. Hlywd. (323) 852-1481, bcbg.com.
BEST BEAUTY SUPPLY FOR BLACK HAIR CARE
Beauty supply stores provoke our inner Spock. No, not the guy who pronounces everything human to be “illogical,” but the one who finds the idiosyncrasies of humans “fascinating.” The sheer volume and variety of products marketed and devoted to giving the species a pleasing look and smell would be overwhelming if we didn’t find it to be so much fun just to browse through. Naturally, beauty supply stores cater to the predominate race of the customers in the area. Basket Beauty Supply in Inglewood carries a large and eclectic section for black hair care: brands like Crème of Nature coloring, all manner of relaxers, hair scalp and skin oil, many products labeled with the word “African,” plus old-school products like Pinks, Sporting Waves, Duke, Sulphur 8 and Murray’s pomade, which may or may not remind us of our grandpas. Then there are the “food” items: Castor Oil hair treatment, Olive Oil shine moisturizer, Hairaerobics, Spearmint Spritz, Sea Kelp Shampoo and Conditioner and “hair mayonnaise.” And there are the basics like Noxzema and baby oil and Vaseline. Either way, your fellow man or woman will have great hair and soft skin. Full disclosure: We bought an eyebrow pencil. 132 S. Market St., Inglewood. (310) 677-9419.
—Juliette Akinyi Ochieng
BEST L.A. HISTORY IN A BOX
The best archival reissues serve dual purposes. First, of course, they uncover music that’s disappeared into a hidden corner of the collective unconscious. They bring it to the surface and remind us of a continued relevancy (or explains to us why, exactly, we should forget it). The best ones also tell a story, capture a moment, stake a claim. Where the Action Is! Los Angeles Nuggets 1965-1968 compiles 101 selections of garage, proto-punk, jangle rock and West Coast rock created in L.A. during the explosive period of the mid and late ’60s. Over four discs, Rhino curator and executive producer Andrew Sandoval offers a rich selection of guitar rock. Each themed chapter captures a different segment of the city, moving from the Sunset Strip, where the Whisky was the place to be (the Byrds, Love, Buffalo Springfield, the Rising Sons, Captain Beefheart); to East L.A. and the Inland Empire (Thee Midnighters, the Electric Prunes, the W.C. Fields Memorial Electric String Band); the studio scene (Dino, Desi & Billy, the Monkees, Gary Lewis & the Playboys, Lee Hazlewood); and the rising (but not yet established) folk and country rock scene (the Dillards, Tim Buckley, Van Dyke Parks). Combined, Where the Action Is! confidently declares that L.A.’s output during those three years deserves acknowledgement as one of the great overlooked, transformative moments in rock. “There’s a consensus that San Francisco was fantastic in the Summer of Love,” explained Sandoval last month. “They had the Grateful Dead and Santana and all these other bands. In L.A., there’s no consensus. There’s a consensus that, yes, the Byrds, and Love, and Captain Beefhheart, Buffalo Springfield, the Doors, were famous, but those bands are somewhat known as mainstream bands ... I wanted L.A. to actually, at last, have some respect.” He succeeded in grand fashion. Just as important, is the package, which features Rhino’s typically inspired and comprehensive liner notes and design. We learn about the clubs and the context, the people and the places. At the end, after consuming the book and the songs, you not only have a feel for the music, but the long, complicated narrative that created it.
BEST NEW BACK-TO-THE-FUTURE VINYL RECORD STORE
It kind of boggles (and tickles) the mind that in the tech-infected 21st century there would exist this category. Seems like only yesterday the major record labels conspired to destroy the LP in order to profit off of the more lucrati— er, better sounding, compact disc. So, as vinyl enthusiasts, it is with great joy (and irony) that we celebrate the best new vinyl store in L.A., Origami on Sunset, as we dance on the grave of the CD. Yes, there are still more Starbucks in Westwood than there are fresh, vinyl record stores in the metropolitan area, but the gems that have sprouted — and remain — are thrilling. Freak Beat in the Valley, Vacation in East Hollywood, Territory BBQ & Records, Fingerprints in Long Beach, the jumbo and all-consuming Amoeba in Hollywood, and Origami in Echo Park, are the music lover’s equivalent of an antiquarian bookstore. A tiny shop just down the street from the Time Travel Mart, Origami’s about the size of Amoeba’s entryway with a selection the size of Amoeba’s soundtrack section. But within those racks are rows and rows of new LPs from around the world and across time. Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band’s oeuvre sits near German proto-punks Can, alongside new squares from Mika Miko, HEALTH, Silversun Pickups and Rainbow Arabia. A little bookshelf contains the week’s flyer population, cellophaned LPs line the walls, each a nice-sized work of art. When it comes to vinyl shops, it turns out, bigger isn’t always better. 1816 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park. (213) 413-3030, origamimusic.com.
BEST NEW RECORD STORE FOR ABSTRACT AND BLUNTED BEATS
The locus of the Low End Theory scene, Alpha Pup Records is the closest Angeleno analogue to the Fabric label that sprang from the north London nightclub of the same name. But unlike their British counterparts, label owners Daddy Kev and his wife, Danyell Jariel, started their increasingly essential imprint in April 2005, a full year-and-a-half before the Low End Theory owned every Wednesday night at the Airliner in Lincoln Heights. Rising from the ashes of the Celestial Recordings label that the South Bay–raised Kev ran with fellow producer Hive, Alpha Pup proved it had bite early on, offering fare from underground hip-hop staples Busdriver, Awol One, Omid, Daedelus, and Kev himself. But the last two years have seen it embark on an epic run, pairing with Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder imprint to release seminal abstract beat offerings from Low End luminaries Ras G, Samiyam, the Gaslamp Killer, and Nosaj Thing — whose Drift is thus far the Weekly’s best local album of the year. Obtaining distribution rights to catalog material from Funkadelic and the Ohio Players, the Mount Washington–based label has adapted its strategy to suit the rapidly shifting winds of the music business. In the process, it has managed to father the next generation of beat junkies — the pups maturing into Alpha Dogs. alphapuprecords.com.
BEST PLACE TO GET YOUR VINYL PRESSED
Southern California is the record pressing capital of America, which, in these heady days of the so-called vinyl revival (the format still only accounts for less than 1 percent of total music sales), means something. We’ve got Bill Smith Custom Records in El Segundo, Erika in Downey dishing out wax tracks for Southern Lord and Sublime Frequencies, and there is Rainbo in Canoga Park specializing in colored vinyl and picture discs. Each makes quality slabs that sound beefy on your hi-fi. But to get the records that, to our professional ears, have the most gravitas, travel up the 101 to Camarillo, where Record Technology, Inc. runs the vinyl press nonstop. Don’t believe us? Ask Sub Pop, Matador, Tompkins Square, Rhino, Merge and a host of other top-tier vinyl-friendly labels, all of whom use RTI. On the day we visited last year, they were busy pressing up the already-classic Fleet Foxes debut, full-length. Too futuristic to worry about LPs, superstar DJ? RTI also makes the Serato brand coded vinyl, which, with the right software, connects MP3s with your Technics 1200s. 486 Dawson Drive, Camarillo. (805) 484-2747, recordtech.com.
Yes, it’s a liquidator. No, it’s not hip, small, precious, organic or exclusive. Liquidators buy up dead stock (unsold, returned, unshipped, canceled orders) from stores, factories and jobbers, and sell it off for 40 percent to 80 percent below original retail at California Closeouts. You never know what will be in stock or if it will ever be in stock again. The only sane strategy is to go with a friend or two and buy in bulk. Dove body wash for $1 a bottle? Buy a box. Mott’s apple juice at 99 cents a can? Buy a case. If you’re setting up a production company, a day-care center, or a commune, there’s no cheaper place to get storage shelves, office supplies, trash cans and antacids. Four times a year they have special clear-out events, and clear out everything, which can include hardware, electronics, kids’ stuff, portable air conditioners, deep fryers, sleeping bags, bath towels and more. Teach at LAUSD? Outfit your classroom for less. Located in an industrial stretch of Commerce, it’s not hard to find or particularly sketchy when you get there. 6821 Watcher St., City of Commerce. (562) 928-6268, califcloseouts.com
BEST CAMERA SHOP
What we like most about this no-frills shop is its professional staff, some of whom look like they were alive when Mel Pierce opened his eponymous shop up in 1951. Although Pierce is long dead and the store has changed hands, the stellar staff of photographers (the repair guy doubles as a landscape photographer, and one salesman is a wedding photographer) are personable and knowledgeable about cameras and lighting equipment, without the typical egocentric bull churned out by those photogs who tend to work at glitzier camera shops. Mel Pierce not only has a great selection of used lenses and cameras but more than 80 different digital cameras, ranging from the fancy-pants Canon IDS Mark III (retail $8,000) to the smallish snap-and-shoot digital models that can be color-matched with your purse. It’s a surprise to us, but staffers are still selling ancient-seeming 35mm SLRs. This is a really helpful place for pros with lighting questions and clumsy amateurs who drop their cameras and need parts. If you have a dumb question like how to transfer digital photos onto a DVD, or you want something daring like a waterproof camera bag, this quirky shop on the boulevard offers it all. 5645 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd. (323) 465-2191. Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
BEST WAX MUSEUM
A strong nose is required to survive the olfactory assault that is West Hollywood’s Candle Delirium, where the scent of a thousand perfumed candles commingle. While other stores may carry a closely edited selection of Illume pillars or a safe handful of the most popular Votivos, the everyday Archipelagos, Trapps and Toccas, here, you’ll find the rarest of couture candles — Santuario di Bellezza palm oil wax candles in mouth-blown leaded glass crystal; medieval apothecary formula Oculatum in purest virgin wax; and the historic French line Cire Trudon. True, you can buy everything online these days, but (minus Smell-O-Vision) how other than in person can you know which scent speaks to your heart of hearts? Will it be the decadent popcorn essence of Douglas Little’s DL&Co Coney Island in an etched frosted-glass cup? Or a tin of supertrendy A Scent of Scandal’s suntan lotion-y “The Pool Boy,” with notes of cocoa butter, jasmine and sea salt? When you’re paying $50 to $100 for a jar of wax, it’s wise to comparison-shop. Otherwise, you might as well just set fire to your cash. 7980 Santa Monica Blvd., W. Hlywd. (888) 656-3903, candledelirium.com
BEST HAND CAR WASH (UNLESS YOU HAVE AN SUV)
Just $8 for a real, hand car wash? Yes, indeed. Okay, an SUV is $15. There’s no big, high-tech, water-wasting machine. Just energetic guys at a family-run place. No fancy AC’ed waiting room, no copies of The New York Times, no Muzak. Skip the respadura (perfume spray). It’s still a deal, and you can go to La Princessita nearby, get some fresh tortillas, then come back and sit on the benches and relax. Everyone working at Soto Car Wash is related or is related to someone who knows someone. Stopping by on Sunday, after attending one of the many churches in this Eastside neighborhood, is a local ritual — and the already busy place really bustles. Sometimes you can buy CDs of the latest in norteño, which may or may not be bootlegged. There’s usually a taco truck parked nearby, which sells good horchata and outstanding al pastor tacos and a paleta vendor can be counted upon to swing by, peddling fruity ice pops on sticks. 2416 E. Fourth St., L.A.
BEST CASSETTE RELEASES
Eagle Rock’s Not Not Fun label has a history of cassette releases whose physical descriptions are enough to rival the DIY-spirited music contained therein. For instance, from an early Wigwam/Tent City split: “Housed in stenciled sandpaper covers with runic colored-sand emblazoned cases, and twine-banded with totem beads and feathers;” or from the 2005 Abe Vigoda–featuring, nautically themed comp, Sea & Sea Music Factory: “Each ocean-blue tape comes housed in a jellyfish-stamped burlap bag bedecked with a scavenged seashell.” Musically speaking, NNF — owned and operated by Pocahaunted’s Amanda and Britt Brown — specializes in skuzzy funk-soul and psych-punk, a genre-warped mishmash that only sounds better the more worn-out and faded a tape gets. Which is to say, this is music made to be played on secondhand tape decks through small, unreliable speakers. The Browns have stepped up their means of production over the years, now using colored cassettes and printed labels more than spray paint and stencils, but all that really means is that they’ve committed completely to the esoteric medium and the portable, analog aesthetic it implies. Much of the J-card art (that’s the name for those tape-tray inserts) is done by Amanda herself, and releases are typically limited to 100 copies. notnotfun.com.
BEST NEEDLE WIELDERS
My hour-and-a-half acupuncture session at Emperor’s College Clinic, began with an intern who sized me up, and collected data on my aches, pains and gripes. Then, a supervisor checked my pulse and the underside of my tongue and, declared that my Qi was off, pulse was thready, and liver was stagnating. I had no idea what any of it really meant, but my first thought was to write a will and prepare an obituary. Luckily, the supervisor told me that I was going to live. She recommended about a dozen needles in strategic spots and the intern (yes, she was learning on the job) went to work placing them between my eyes, on my head, between fingers — you name it. I’m not a huge fan of pain, so I was a tad panicked at first, but after a few minutes I began to feel relaxed. The needles stung a bit going in but it wasn’t unbearable. The intern turned out the lights and I relaxed for 30 minutes. By the time she returned, I was so mellow I was practically drooling and ready for a bib. At $38 a pop, it’s a cheap and relaxing way to decompress or fix what ails you. 1807-B Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 453-8300.
BEST DISCOUNT DODGER TICKETS
Thanks to the Internet, journalists and travel agents may soon be joined at the racetrack by ticket scalpers – or at least the kind that’d sell you last-minute tickets to important Dodger games outside the stadium gates. While Major League Baseball has contracted with Stub Hub (a division of eBay) for fans to bid on tickets from third parties, TravelZoo.com offers a truly no-fuss, no-muss method to get cheaper seats. Although the site offers discounts on air fares, hotel reservations and entertainment tickets, it’s not a dealer in the way that, say, Expedia or Orbitz are. Instead, it’s a service that scours certain target markets for temporary discounts, alerts customers who sign up for weekly e-mail bulletins, and then connects interested parties to the source vendors. In the case of the Dodgers, if you don’t want to brave the team’s cluttered Web site or drive out to the stadium’s box office, TravelZoo is a good way to get guaranteed tickets at guaranteed discounts. Even after the Dodgers tack on the usual, outrageous remote-transaction fees, you’ll still come out ahead. Three weeks before the 2009 season ended, TravelZoo sent out, in its weekly alert, notices for specific home games marked 40 percent off, accessible by a code the company provides clients. They also alert you to such added specials as free-parking nights and free–Dodger Dog games. travelzoo.com.
BEST SHARK FOR YOUR FIN
If you’ve never had the chance to sample the herbal medicine shops along Ko Shing Street in Hong Kong, two stores within a few blocks of one another in Monterey Park can show you what you’re missing. Mini-chain PCT Ginseng & Herbs and family-run KCC Chinese Herbs offer traditional medicines with different approaches to customer service. At PCT, walk past the inexpensive bags of garlic peanuts and seaweed stocked by the front door and you’re in a small world of herbs and roots, parts and pieces of things formerly alive. Whole dried shark fin rests in a glass jar and can be had for $40. A whole sea cucumber, used in Chinese medicine to treat everything from impotence to joint pain, costs about the same. There’s a big variety of sexual enhancement medications although, for some reason, all of them are for men. Price tags and other labels are written in Chinese, though the staff speaks English well enough to guide you through the basics. Blocks away, KCC Chinese Herbs is the more doctrinaire, and more expensive, employing an expert in traditional medicine. Individualized cocktails for specific ailments can run into the hundreds of dollars, so bring a fluent Mandarin speaker. KCC has an impressive variety of affordable mushrooms and insect parts. Be sure to do your homework, and remember that with all herbal remedies, a healthy dose of skepticism may be the best remedy. PCT Ginseng & Herbs, 114 N. Garfield Ave., Monterey Park. (626) 280-1088. Open daily 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. KCC Chinese Herbs, 315 W. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park. (626) 572-9317.
BEST BAG LADY
Clare Vivier is an ex-journalist who spent many days on the road with her laptop. Finding no worthy bag for it, she created her own. She now makes elegantly understated bags that are the antithesis of all things froufrou. While other designers embellish and over-decorate, she keeps her unfussy laptop cases, totes, pouches and clutches — in supple nubuck, suede, canvas and linen — simple, clean-lined and warmly minimalist. And simple works. Her raw-edged tan leather La Tropézienne shopping tote was on the arm of many an It-Girl this summer. Wear these when you want people to notice you, not your purse. Available at Fred Segal Flair, 500 Broadway, Santa Monica. (310) 451-7139. Also at Mohawk General Store, 1101 Mohawk St., L.A. (213) 484-8162. And at Confederacy, 4661 Hollywood Blvd., L.A. (323) 913-3040. seevivier.com.
BEST SEX SHOP WITH A CONSCIENCE/NAUGHTY PAIN
If the Marquis de Sade and Queen Elizabeth joined forces to design a sex shop, it would be Coco de Mer. This upscale little jewel box is owned by Sam and Justine Roddick — the daughters of the English woman who created The Body Shop. It’s a luxurious place with a naughty Victorian feel: dark-wood shelves, glass étagères, even a small garden courtyard. But no creepy guys ogling you while you shop. (Save that for when you get home.) Their dressing room is set up like a Catholic confessional, with velvet curtains, a tiny peep-through window and a video camera you can use to record yourself doing a striptease. Even more shocking than the ceramic dildos, the Roddick sisters make an effort to only carry products that are environmentally and human-rights conscious. To be ethical, in other words, in such a deeply unethical industry. When was the last time you heard of a sex shop with a conscience? Actually, Coco de Mer is more a sex “emporium.” Clientele is mostly women, who also come in for salons on Japanese rope tying, S&M, spanking and seduction. There’s something for everyone. Books, perfumes and lingerie for the timid. Erotic wallpaper (yes, really), Betony Vernon petting rings, and Ilya Fleet leather dog masks for the kinky. Or perhaps it’s the other way around? These days, it’s hard to tell. 8618 Melrose Ave., L.A. (310) 652-0311, cocodemerusa.com.
BEST BAUBLES, BANGLES AND BAKELITE
What’s better than a half-price sale at Forever 21? More than 22,000 pieces of reasonably priced vintage and costume jewelry all under one roof. That’s what former librarian Eleanor Goodchild thought, too, when she pulled her nose out of the books and opened in 1996 Collectible Glitz Miss La De Da’s, on Canoga Park’s Antique Row. Her little shop is a treasure chest on steroids, with blazing color, sparkle and glitter exploding from every corner. Thankfully, Goodchild organizes her stock according to color and style, so you’ll find stations for Bakelite, Victorian, Edwardian, Deco, American Indian, pearls, emeralds, copper, amber, sterling, Mexican silver, American flags, Christmas trees, religious icons, and every animal in nature (including sea horses). The sales are ongoing, but this isn’t a place for garage-sale garbage. Goodchild enlists professional buyers and works with probate attorneys and private clients to offer only the best stash from the 1860s on. Set aside at least an hour so you can see everything. Cookies are placed throughout the store for sustenance. 21435 Sherman Way, Canoga Park. (818) 347-9343, collectibleglitz.com.
BEST COMIC/ART BOOK SHOP
The first thing you notice at Stuart Ng Books is the wall filled with autographs and sketches from L.A.’s top animators. The South Bay rare book shop is immensely popular within the animation and comic book industries for Ng’s impeccable selection of imported graphic novels, out-of-print art books and independently published artist sketchbooks. Open to the public only on Saturday afternoons and by appointment throughout the week, Stuart Ng Books isn’t cheap, but it is reasonable. French and Belgian comics, which come in hardcover, glossy editions with exquisitely colored oversized panels, run about $30. The best deals are the artist sketchbooks, which start at $5. These often self-published, zine-styled releases offer a unique insight into the minds of animators and comic book artists. Ng stocks titles from Glen Murakami (Teen Titans), Eric Powell (The Goon) and many others. Check the store’s Web site often, as it will list any upcoming promotional items. 22910 Crenshaw Blvd., Torrance. (310) 539-4648, stuartngbooks.com.
BEST COMPUTER HELP AGAINST ALL ODDS
You can’t just walk into Compunet in South Central, you have to ring the bell. Behind a barred security door typical of the homes and small businesses in the area, and equipped with a warning system that lets employees know if the door’s ajar, this Compunet franchise store — a small, helpful, competent sales-and-repair business — is thriving despite such security measures. Forty years ago, this stretch of Vermont Avenue was a thriving business thoroughfare, but many things happened both economically and socially over the decades to depress the street. As a result, south of USC, Vermont Avenue is almost a wasteland. Yet the surrounding neighborhoods are jammed with people, including many who work at home, many who have teenagers, and many who need computer hardware and software help, upgrades and equipment. The large chains make only spotty appearances in the Vermont Corridor, so when Compunet opened a franchise here five years ago, it was an indicator of all the personal-computer activity alive and well in South Central. When we asked Compunet’s local owner, Giovanni, why he would open a computer store in such a challenging location, he explained plainly that locals had asked him for it. Good service, fair prices, good guy. 8712 S. Vermont Ave., L.A. (323) 750-8881 or (800) 580-8787.
—Juliette Akinyi Ochieng
BEST GIFT SHOP IN THE LAND
Think you can’t afford to own art? The gift shop at the tiny Craft & Folk Art Museum has an amazing and affordable selection of pieces from around the world. Everything is handcrafted, one of a kind, and free trade. Colorful, recycled tin animals from Zimbabwe priced at $45 mix with horn and wood trinket boxes from India for $6. The stock changes constantly and often represents the museum’s exhibitions. Currently featured are Mithila paintings from India for $350 and Matjames’ original matchbox assemblages for $25. It pains me to share this one. You owe me. 5814 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. (323) 937-4230, cafam.org.
BEST CURLY-HAIR STYLIST
You’re not Julia Roberts. Or Farrah Fawcett (may she rest in peace). So if you’re still looking like a holdover from Mystic Pizza or an angel sans Charlie, get that mall hair into the hands of Jon Buhek at Onyx Salon. Fie on those $200 jobs at so-called “curly-hair specialty salons,” and go with a former Monroe High School student who made the grade on the Sebastian International artistic team. Even though Buhek has styled the likes of Paula Abdul and the Jacksons, he doesn’t get off on gouging you with anything but his scissors — albeit gently — for his $70 cut. His gift to the frizz-challenged comes from 25 years of styling experience and a keen ability to assess texture and shape. “Conventional stylists think it’s about losing thickness and bulk by razoring or overtexturizing. That’ll make a fire hazard,” he says. “It’s about filtering ends, softening, plus teaching clients styling techniques.” So what’s does a specialty salon offer that Buhek doesn’t? He pauses, then answers, “maybe cappuccino?” 15053 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. (818) 501-0299, onyxsalon.com. (Closed Sun. and Mon.)
BEST HOMONYMOUS SHOES
Rafi Balouzian says he believes that “every shoe has a sole, and that’s why I put my soul into each one.” It may be hokey, but once you wear his shoes, you’ll think it’s okay. The designer and owner of Cydwoq (pronounced sidewalk) is the grandson of a shoemaker, and his father manufactured shoe components. Put those together and you get the Cydwoq motto: Old-World craftsmanship for modern feet. “I have a very good understanding of soles and shoe components, and we make all of our components here,” he says. “Most companies don’t.” Each shoe (or sandal or boot) is handmade to order and designed to aid walking, not hinder it. Comfort is paramount, but Balouzian’s designs are often elegantly simple, particularly those of his women’s sandals. (He says he likes women’s feet and it shows.) We’re not sure how he feels about men’s feet, but Balouzian says his design influences come from nature — he’s a mountain biker — and from cars, buildings, bridges. “I never listen to what trendy fashion people are talking about,” he says. “I just do my own thing. People who buy my shoes want to be different.” Cydwoq began in Burbank in the late ’90s, and can now be found the world over. There’s a dedicated store in New York and one opened this summer in Barcelona — look for Gaudi’s influences in next year’s designs, says Balouzian. Locally, we found them at Carole Young: Undesigned, 1252 ½ Hillhurst Ave., in Los Feliz. (323) 663-0088. Check the Web site for other retailers or visit the Cydwoq factory showroom in Burbank (but call ahead). 2102 Kenmere Ave., Burbank. (818) 848-8307, cydwoq.com.
BEST LITTLE PROP SHOP OF HORRORS
Got brains? If you need some — plastic brains, rubber brains, foam brains — Dapper Cadaver horror prop shop in Sun Valley is the place to go. And not just for brains — you can find legs and toes and severed hands, too. Proprietor B.J. Winslow has gory guts and ghoulish gear galore in his newly relocated store. Heads of swine, lion skulls, butchers saws, iron shackles, leech jars, replica fetuses with one head or two. And don’t forget the blood. Man, has Winslow got blood. Enough to feed a coven of vampires: gallons of edible blood (always handy), EZ Clean blood (practical!), dry blood, powdered blood, blood gel, blood paste. If it’s sick and twisted, or it’s needed for the process of making things sick and twisted, Winslow has it — to purchase or rent. Hollywood set designers regularly come to him when they need to gross stuff up for film and TV. Dapper Cadaver is also one of the few shops in town that will customize superrealistic–looking Styrofoam tombstones with your choice of epitaph. “Rest in pieces” perhaps? And for those who need massive amounts of gore, Winslow offers discounts for bulk purchases. Perfect for decorating your living room or, you know, a mass grave. 7572 San Fernando Road, Sun Valley. (818) 771-0818, dappercadaver.com.
BEST DJ GEAR RENTAL
One of the worst aspects of DJing is gear — buying it, storing it and lugging it. A minimal setup for a backyard party, including two self-powered speakers, turntables and a mixer, will run you more than $2,000 new. And that’s not counting a laptop and a pickup to haul the stuff. We discovered Cosmos a few years ago while helping to organize entertainment for a company party. The prices can’t be beat. Technics turntables rent for $25 a day. Self-powered, 15-inch JBL Eon speakers (which retail for about $1,500) go for $55 per day. Top-of-the-line Rane DJ mixers can be had for $75 a day. And if you’re local, they’ll set it all up for you and come pick up the gear for $200 to $300, depending on how much gear is involved. Cosmos serves everyone, from house-party faithfuls to major-production venues. It provides sound and lighting for big-name concerts, but somehow the technicians have time to explain how to set up the XLR cables on those JBLs. They also sell and repair gear and recently opened a Cosmos DJ Academy for hopefuls who want to learn how to spin records — and lug stuff around. 6060 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd. (323) 957-1200, cosmos-sound.com.
BEST DJs FOR HIRE
A party boat cruises out of Long Beach Harbor as skinny model types robotically gyrate to a stale beat of Madonna tunes. Their mood is subdued, and some partygoers socialize while others watch the skyscrapers and urban skyline fade in the distance. The crowd turns ecstatic when Mix Master Mike of the Beastie Boys takes the small stage. Armed with only a turntable and a Serato but with thousands of tunes, he begins to spin songs ranging from Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” to Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic” as the crowd — including drunken frat boys and a few seasick 20-somethings, start cheering. You need a wad of cash to afford Mix Master Mike, but this premier spinmeister is one of 35 specialty DJs hooked up with Copeland Entertainment, a cutting-edge operation run by Mix Master Mike’s wife, Dianne Copeland. If you want a reasonably priced DJ to spin Top 40, Latin, house, trance or hip-hop at your pool party, or if you can pay the steeper price for recognizable talent like DJ Muggs of Cypress Hill, it’s a sure way to get your party started. (310) 281-3030, copelandentertainment.com.
BEST DJ GEAR
Remember those turn-of-the-millennium days, when wannabe DJs dropped $1,500 for a pair of Technics and a top-end mixer? They’re so over. The recession version is buying used decks from craigslist, then taking your gear to Quality Electronics in West Hollywood. They’ll clean, oil, tune and recalibrate each turntable for $29.99, making sure your wax is tracked with precision. While you’re there, pick up some used vinyl, or go digital and buy the store’s hottest-selling item — Serato Scratch DJ software. Yeah, even though Quality’s been at it for 26 years, when there was nothing but vinyl DJs, it’s just about the most knowledgeable place in town when it comes to the digital and analogue tools of the booth. Quality has remix software, production gear, and a deep stock of old-school headphones and cartridges. “I never disappoint the guy who needs a needle,” says Israeli owner Yoni Hazzout. “I have them all.” Prices are competitive. They know you go online. But you can’t get that deep knowledge from a Web site. With strobes, speakers and fog machines for sale, there’s a disco patina. 7761 Santa Monica Blvd., W. Hlywd. (323) 656-2475, qualityelectronics.net.
BEST DJEMBE STORE
If it’s Sunday and you’re looking for a bongo to bang on at the Venice beach drum circle to feed your fix of primal release and offbeat bashing (disguised as polyrhythm, of course), Motherland Music is not the place. “The beach is a bad place for djembes. The saltwater really dries out the hide,” explains shop owner Dan Rite. Located on La Cienega in Culver City, this unique drum shop honors drumming traditions, from the west coast of Africa to the west coast of L.A., and the instruments are far from toys. The inventory is as authentic as it gets, including a variety of hand-carved drums — djembes, doundoun, talking drums (tamas), and the Cuban-style batá — all imported from Ghana and Mali. Motherland, however, is much more than a drum store. Tucked behind a thick, colorful curtain of hide and wood is a full-fledged drum laboratory where a team of in-house doctors work hard to diagnose each drum based on specific wood or size. Percussionists from all over the city take their precious instruments to Motherland for a drum check-up, complete with skin replacement (goat, cow, or antelope hide) and tuning. While these guys take their drumming and drums seriously, the Motherland staff sheds all pretension for the love of the music. They offer open African drumming classes seven days a week, taught by professional African drummers for all skill levels. Next time you have the urge to beat your palms to a pulp, skip the beach toys and get serious at Motherland. 921 La Cienega Blvd., Culver City. (310) 838-5008, motherlandmusic.com.
BEST DIGGING FOR FASHION
Major retailers (Bendels), boutiques, manufacturers (Forever 21) and wholesalers donate fashions, fabric and accessories from both last season and this season to the FIDM scholarship store, which sells the merch at 50 to 90 percent off retail prices, supporting the scholarship program at FIDM. Many items are damaged but reparable, or are samples, labeled as such. Digging is rewarded, as is an active imagination: Think Halloween and you’ll discover more possibilities than if you’re looking for a wear-to-work skirt. Formal dresses, suitable for bridesmaids, brides, red-carpet events and playing dress-up, range from $25 to $100. While this place is definitely not for those who don’t like to work for their fashion, the FIDM store is an easy way to get this season’s trends for pennies. Where else can you find a coat for $8 or a swimsuit for $2? Fabric is $1 to $2 a yard and is the best deal in the place. 919 S. Grand Ave., dwntwn. (corner of Ninth and Grand). (213) 624-1200, ext. 2617. (Closed Sun.)
BEST FOLKLORIC AND MARIACHI COSTUMES
Countless mariachi costumes and folklorico gowns have begun their lives in a modest shop off Cesar Chavez Avenue, Elias Designs. Owner-designer Elias Roldan works with each customer to make sure that each traje de charro — or mariachi suit — fits the body and soul of the artist. You can get your botonaduras gold-plated, if you like — those jangly ornaments that run down a mariachi’s straight-cut pant leg. Or you can go greca, sporting the patterned appliqué that can suggest anyplace from la frontera to indigenous Central America, depending on the motif. Women’s folkorico costumes come in variety of colorful ruffles, ribbons and hairpieces. Roldan is well-versed in the subtle differences in fashion, which can vary from one Mexican state to the next, so it helps to have an idea of what you want before you walk in the door. A complete mariachi outfit, from sombrero to pistol holder, will set you back $350 to $2,000, depending on how much charro bling you think you can get away with. A bargain it’s not, but you’re unlikely to find this level of quality and expertise on the Westside. Accessories like custom bows and sombreros make delightful souvenirs, and can be ordered individually — for far less money than a full outfit. Trumpets and heartbroken lyrics sold separately. 2734 E. Cesar Chavez Ave., L.A. (323) 268-2929.
BEST GAME DUDE
On a fairly nondescript corner in the industrial, northiest end of North Hollywood lies Game Dude, a brown concrete slab of a building that’s easy to overlook save for the yellow “BUY, SELL, RENT” signage. Inside, however? — a dinged-up, well-trod but endlessly well-stocked slice of gamer heaven, with new and especially good used bargains in every conceivable gaming platform going back practically to the Mesozoic era. (They have ColecoVision games! OMG!) Most of the merch is housed in row upon row of glass cases, so it’s pretty much strictly an over-the-counter affair but well worth hauling one of the surly looking clerks over to get that copy of Castlevania for your still-functioning NES you’ve been longing to play since ninth grade. Plenty of deals for today’s more advanced gaming systems, too, of course, and though the prices range wildly (anywhere from $5 to upward of $100, depending on the game), there’s an instant-gratification factor you can’t quantify versus spending loads of time on eBay searching for a better bargain. Did we mention they also buy and sell DVDs? Didn’t see a single one at more than 20 bucks, either. 12104 Sherman Way, N. Hlywd. (818) 764-2442, gamedude.com.
BEST PUBLIC BATHING
Bathing, particularly in public, is the tradition of the Koreans, the Japanese, and the Turks. Getting naked with a bunch of locals and scrubbing the dead out of your skin is not an American pastime, not because it involves socializing or cleanliness or water, but because people here tend to prefer to be seen traipsing around in blue jeans and high heels rather than floating around in the nude with wrinkled skin and limp hair. The idea of communal showers, of scouring your body as you would a cast iron skillet, rubbing, scrubbing, scrutinizing and scraping to rid your person of every stale skin cell until it becomes one real, live shining spectacle, is as intimidating as an extreme sport. At Hankook Sauna and Spa, the exclusively female baths in Koreatown, you can spend a day prancing around in the nude with dozens of other strangers, soaking in steaming Jacuzzis, sweating in the dry sauna, leeching your pores in the herb steam room, holding your breath in the freezing cold pool ’til your body begs to return to the heat. At Hankook, spa etiquette is not explained, but assumed. Rinse off in the showers between rooms and pools, smother your hair with conditioner and bake it in the sauna until your mane shines as brilliantly as an otter pelt. There are rooms founded on temperature: a glistening Ice Room that looks like a Christmas display at Stats Home Decorative and feels like you’re sitting naked in an industrial freezer; the Crystal Jade Salt Room where you can lie down on warm, green rocks and listen to the chirp of women gossiping in Korean. Day spa use is $15 for the whole day, but for an extra fee, a Hankook assistant will provide massage, acupressure, manicures and pedicures, even a haircut. Rinse. Scrub. Soak. Repeat. 3121 W. Olympic Blvd., L.A. (213) 388-8899, hankooksauna.com.
—Erica Zora Wrightson
BEST SUBSTITUTE FOR DAIGON ALLEY
So the New Moon is about to rise. But if you prefer spells to sucking blood, amble into Whimsic Alley, where you’ll find Muggles excitedly tricking themselves into Potterland. At the Alley, you’ll find the magic supplies you’ll need if you decide to board the Hogwarts Express. In here, a cluster of make-believe shops sell different magic wares from robes, wands and spell books to action figures, candies and keychains. Spend hours slipping into the house robes — Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, or picking up the right wand to cast your spell. There’s also wizard rock for the “music-alley” inclined, plus witches who offer to perform magic shows, for a price of course! However don’t pay in gold, as this will only stretch the recession curse. Visit the store to find a charming escape from the dark times that have engulfed us Muggles. You’ll be surprised how your budget will magically fit in a lot, even if you’re cash-strapped in the real world. 2717 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 453-2370, whimsicalley.com.
—Ipsita Basu Dasgupta
BEST ARTISAN DINNERWARE
When Sausalito-based Heath Ceramics recently opened an L.A. store, the hearts of midcentury American design-lovers rejoiced, but their pocketbooks groaned. They knew they’d have to make that eternal choice: cheap but disposable, or costly but well-made. Heath is known for its clean-lined, warmly minimalist clay bowls, plates, cups, casseroles and pottery. Yes, $42 for a plate and $27 for a mug is exponentially more expensive than 50 cents for the mass-produced cheapo stuff at Ikea. But Heath’s steeper prices reflect the cost of producing substantial, beautiful products in a socially and environmentally conscious way. The company is run by artisans in a globally outsourced world run by megacorporations. Heath’s classic, simple — and above all supremely functional — tableware is designed to resist trends and last a lifetime. 7525 Beverly Blvd., L.A. (323) 965-0800, heathceramics.com.
BEST OFF-THE-WALL INTERIOR DESIGNS
Need a Liberace-style wall sconce? HomeGoods probably has it. This chain’s stores exude the weird, unexpected randomness of a great thrift shop, but everything inside is new. The deeply discounted (20 to 60 percent off retail) merchandise changes with the tides — one weekend might find you swimming in Jonathan Adler knockoff bowls and leather desk sets, and the next in Tibetan elephant sculpture bookends. Peruse such decorative accessories and household basics as benches, lamps, ottomans, stools, rugs, kitchen supplies, tableware and bedding. You could furnish an entire home with the goods here, though it’s anyone’s guess what that home would look like afterward. Tuscan modern? Parisian neo-Egyptian? Items are arranged thematically. At the Walnut branch, there’s a garden faux topiary, birdhouse and statuette section; a nautical “things scavenged from the bottom of the sea and/or that fell off a boat” section; a flying pig section (you can never have too many!). And a section devoted to marble world globes whose landmasses bear no relation to those of the actual Earth. The HomeGoods people don’t bother putting together a coherent décor scheme — that’s your job. They just bring it to you cheap and eclectic. 8621 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A. (310) 670-7098. Also at Torrance Crossroads, 24663 Crenshaw Blvd., Torrance. (310) 257-8196. And at Glendale Marketplace, 142 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale. (818) 507-9001. Locations citywide; homegoods.com.
BEST REAPPROPRIATION OF A FAST-FOOD RESTAURANT
For some, genius strikes in the form of, say, inventing the telephone. For others, it can come in the ability to play freeform jazz on a saxophone. Then there’s the type of person who stares at a long-abandoned Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet that had been slumping sadly in Palms for close to a year, and says, “This shall be a marijuana dispensary — and I shall call it KFC.” But rather than tearing the whole place down and starting from scratch, this creative entrepreneur thought to keep the structure almost entirely intact, removing only the original KFC sign at the top of the building, then painting the exact same acronym in large green letters across the front windows. They do not, sadly, sell THC-buttered biscuits, nor, as far as I can tell, do they offer family meals or “Pineapple Express” by the bucket. But they do, like the other myriad dispensaries found on just about every block in Los Angeles these days, sell marijuana. But what exactly does this alternative KFC stand for? They call it “Kind for Cures,” which is really a shame, since in all honesty, shouldn’t it stand for “Kentucky Fried Chronic”? Yeah, I thought so, too. 3516 Hughes Ave., Palms. (310) 836-5463.
BEST WORLD OF FLOWERS
The largest wholesale flower district in the country, the L.A. Flower District downtown is composed of dozens of wholesalers selling imported flowers, as well as California-grown flowers and live plants, and for a $2 admission ($1 on Saturday) the public is welcome. For $10.99, you can get three times the flowers you’d buy at Trader Joe’s — which is already pretty cheap — and prices drop near closing time. It’s worth paying the tiny entrance fee and getting up early, and remember it all closes down at noon, daily. Pay cash, and park in the $5 flat-rate lots. A favorite with Hollywood party planners, the Holland Flower Market, one of the many shops inside the huge complex, actually flies in roses four times a week. Bridezillas in the know, or their wedding consultants, clamor for blossoms from Milagra Floral Imports, where Dutch tulips and fragrant peonies are their most popular summer flowers. Word to the wise, let the staff handle all flowers. Grabbing bunches out of the buckets of water is gauche. The Orchid Affair is especially welcoming to neophytes, and if you long for a white phalaenopsis, but are afraid your black thumb will kill it, Jaimie can answer all your questions, even selling you a special pot with the correct holes for drainage. Family owned and operated since 1925, the Mellano shop grows its own flowers near Carlsbad and San Luis Rey, and you can even take a road trip to see their giant ranunculus fields in bloom. Their current selections of chrysanthemums, sunflowers, yellow and orange cocarde and golden wheat make you think fall is in the air, even if it’s hot and smoky outside. The best buys are in tropicals and more perishable varieties not sold by the grocery and other big-box stores. Tayama Greenhouses stock wildly exotic blooms: heliconia, red ginger, orange pincushion protea, anthuria — and they’ll pack them for shipping. They also sell lovely leis. If you’re buying a large amount, feel free to haggle. At Christmas, the vendors go wild with multicolored poinsettias, garlands, wreathes and swags. To get cheaper, you’d have to find a forest and chop pine boughs yourself. The surrounding streets are packed with additional floral supply places and florists. DIY addicts can stock up on ribbon, pebbles, foam, wire, candles and holders, baskets and vases at Moskatels (actually part of the Michaels craft store chain, but still a destination for crafters. 754 Wall St. (between Seventh and Eighth sts.), dwntwn. (213) 622-1966, laflowerdistrict.com. Opens early, closes by noon.
BEST LIFE-CHANGING SALON
Sisters Lydia and Vanessa Arce of Beauty Box give their customers gorgeous hair and fresh makeup. But for the gals of Homeboy Industries, a downtown gang intervention program, the Arces makeup and haircutting services are free. Vanessa was a teen mom but managed to graduate from beauty school and start Beauty Box from scratch. On one Tuesday a month, they close the shop and along with childhood friend Erica Guevara, they each give one girl a makeover with subtle color and a more approachable look. After their Beauty Box transformation, the homegirls are ready to look for work. Often when they get a job, the girls return and pay full price to show their appreciation for their new looks. On October 1, a new, bigger location will open near Chinatown, offering natural manicures and pedicures. 1515 W. Sunset Blvd., L.A. (213) 250-1515.
BEST JAPANESE GROCERY THAT’S ALSO A KOREAN GROCERY
Despite all the foodie hand-wringing that went on when Korean supermarket giant H Mart took over the Little Tokyo space of Mitsuwa, The Little Tokyo Marketplace (in the Little Tokyo Shopping Center) is a welcome addition to the downtown community. The market carries fresh fish, Korean BBQ cuts, sushi (hand rolls while you wait) and pan-Asian noodles, complete with assorted prepared banchan (Korean side dishes). There’s a wide variety of produce, including certified organic, but at these prices, don’t expect Gelson’s A+ quality: Buy today, eat today is the rule. Organic flour, flax meal and other health-food faves share space with bottled teas, imported and domestic beers and a decent selection of wines and sake, as well as esoteric beverages, like Red Stag — a black cherry–flavored bourbon. The Sakura Noodle Bar offers soba, udon and ramen, at $4 to $5 for largish portions. Personal-care items include cult favorite Naïve from Kanebo, as well as Weleda for less than anywhere around. Park for two hours in the garage, with market validation, and an outdoor lot has entrances off Alameda and 4th; there is a free shuttle bus, too. 333 S. Alameda St., dwntwn. (213) 617-0030. (Closed weekends.)
BEST CONSCIOUS CONVENIENCE
L.A.’s first conscious convenience store, Locali, quietly opened its doors earlier this year to a resounding “Thank God” from the neighboring Beachwood/Bronson Canyon community. The tiny Franklin storefront is stocked with beverages, organic snacks, prepackaged veg, vegan and raw meals, and a better-than-decent selection of natural body-care products, as well as a sampling of natural home remedies, essential oils, holistic wellness supplies and superfoods. Find organic wines, micro-brewed beers, and a kombucha selection that’ll have your intestinal flora jumping for joy. In addition to the array of organic, unprocessed on-the-go fare, Locali has healthy convenience-store offerings, from agave-sweetened slushies and brewed organic iced teas to sprouted hemp bagels, vegan bakery treats and tofu hot dogs. Sandwiches can be made to order, and are served with some tasty vegan tamales, made locally, of course. The Locali folks are dedicated to supporting local vendors, farmers and community initiatives, and are themselves operating as a green business — with solar lighting, energy-efficient appliances and compost and recycling bins. They encourage their customers to consume responsibly by offering various supplies for the progressive sustainable household, as well as reverse osmosis water on tap for those talk-walkers who carry their own vessels. 5825 Franklin Ave., L.A. (323) 466-1360.
BEST LOCAL SURFBOARD MAKER
Getting a sleek, high-performance surfboard off the rack from brand-name shapers like Al Merrick and Rusty Preisendorfer can make you look cool on the sand but not necessarily on a wave. Those boards require the light-footed skills found on the pro tour. Guys and girls who don’t have yoga bodies and a lifetime on the water shouldn’t go near these blades (yet, they do...). The way to avoid looking like an oaf is to go custom. Venice’s Guy Okazaki can size you up — height, weight and skill level included — to shape a board that will work well for you. Because Okazaki is a Venice shaper, his boards are at home at area beach breaks, the most-common waves locally. So, while a Channel Islands board will work great if you’re Kelly Slater in Fiji, it might not be right for Joe Sixpack at three-foot El Puerto. Okazaki’s work has been seen under the arms of some Southern California’s best riders. Otis Chandler even rode “Guy O,” as locals call him. You can get a custom Okazaki board, with your name sketched on it, for less than the price of an off-the-rack performance board from Merrick or Preisendorfer. Guy Okazaki retailers: Ocean Echo, 23 Washington Blvd., Venice. (310) 823-5850. Also at Horizons West, 2011 Main St., Santa Monica. (310) 392-1122. Guy Okazaki direct: (310) 823-3359, email@example.com.
BEST ANTIQUE TOOLS AND GARDEN IRONWORK
There’s an afternoon drive around long-dry Chatsworth Reservoir that gives you a hint of what L.A. was like when Indian trails were in use, stage coaches ran through and ranchers had not yet carved up the Valley. The route north from the Ventura Freeway along Valley Circle Drive (don’t take the unattractive route south from the 118 freeway) takes you along the vast, fenced meadows and hillocks that once encircled the abandoned reservoir. The undulating drive turns east, where a bright-red house touts firewood for sale, and the miniature white-brick Lake Manor Chapel advertises “God will wipe away every tear.” Soon you’ll reach Log Cabin Mercantile Company, a log cabin jammed with a strange jumble: well-priced vintage jewelry, cleverly potted cacti, and, unexpectedly, a small rack of designer European clothes priced like a Loehmann’s backroom sales event. Seen on recent visits: a powder blue leather motorcycle jacket for $120, and taupe linen shorts for $25. But the place is best known for its ironwork and sculptures outside: garden benches, outdoor etagères and lovely stands with just the right amount of rust; at $40 to $200 the items are priced at half of what you’d pay in Santa Monica. Adorable garden “animals” made from potato-sized river rocks have nutty, iron-wire legs, whiskers and wings, many going for less than $40. The grounds are a junk museum strewn with an antique foot-powered grinder, a human-drawn iron fire-hose wheel, and a carved, iron-strapped bridge said to have been used by elephants. 23300 Valley Circle Blvd., Chatsworth Lake. (818) 812-8034. Open weekends only.
BEST VANISHING RECORD STORE
It’s a shame that in a year when three fledgling vinyl shops have opened within three miles of one another — Vacation, Origami and Territory — the granddaddy of all L.A. music vendors is closing operations. The mid-city-based Music Man Murray has serviced the Southland for no less than 47 years, specializing in the rarest of rare old music: pre–World War II jazz recordings on 12-inch, long-lost R&B classics on 78s, small-press ’60s rock on 45s, and even 19th-century Edison cylinders. The store’s sole proprietor and often lone worker, 87-year-old Murray Gershenz, is a famous treasure himself — a former opera singer who made it his life’s work to not only know all of the music that he carried, but his customers as well, many of whom relied upon his insight to build up or top off their own impressive collections. Word has it that Louis Armstrong and Mae West, among others, used to call Gershenz in search of their own records, lending an oddly literal bent to the Music Man motto, “You name it. we find it!” Sadly, Gershenz will soon close up shop in favor of a somewhat burgeoning career as a character actor, meaning all those records — so many that he once used a conveyor belt to move them between floors — may just vanish into the ether. 5055 Exposition Blvd., Baldwin Hills. (323) 734-9146, musicmanmurray.com.
BEST BUILD-IT-YOURSELF WORKSHOP
Echo Park nonprofit Machine Project is a do-it-yourselfer’s dream. The humble storefront, on Alvarado just north of Sunset, offers affordable instruction in everything from quilting to computer programming, not to mention plenty of classes for the acoustically inclined. A recent two-parter involved: (a) building an underwater microphone out of cheap hardware store parts, and (b) taking a trip to Echo Lake to test out the goods. And if you’d taken the early-May workshop on “DIY Digital Sampler Design,” you’d be halfway to an atmospheric audio experiment of your own holistic design. Machine Project director Mark Allen hosts a recurring class that teaches basic soldering through the act of building a working synthesizer, and he sees projects like these — conceived to be accessible to all comers, regardless of experience — as belonging to a bigger trend. “We’re at a point where people are interested in having some agency over the culture that they produce and consume,” says Allen, “and that ranges from how to make food to thinking about music as something produced by and for a community itself. There’s a big difference in the feeling you get building a synthesizer versus buying one.” Occasionally that feeling is one of mild electric shock, but we think it’s worth the burn. 1200-D N. Alvarado St., Echo Park. (213) 483-8761, machineproject.com.
BEST AFRICAN-AMERICAN BARBERSHOP
A two-block span along Crenshaw Boulevard is almost exclusively home to barbershops, and if you’re a young or an old man, or a woman who wears her hair cropped close, there’s at least one establishment on Barber’s Row that will scrape and/or shape the stuff growing on your cranium. The best and most unique of these is known alternately as King of Cuts and Magic Shears. Located in the same spot since 1982, it’s bright and well-lit, has parquet floors and comfy chairs. It’s a contrast to many of its competitors that provide a whiff of edgy danger, when what you really want is good, basic grooming. King’s barbers are both male and female — some are even siblings — who toss each other playful back-and-forths with a warmth that’s catchy. “This is a Christian establishment,” explains owner Chris, whose bald head, gold teeth and tattoos belie his mild-mannered mien. “There’s no cursing allowed in here, especially taking the Lord’s name in vain, and no open containers allowed.” You can get the trash talk elsewhere on Crenshaw with your haircut, but for a reasonably priced, competent cut or shave with a smile, this is the spot. 4283 Crenshaw Blvd., L.A. (323) 299-8459. Open daily.
—Juliette Akinyi Ochieng
BEST CHEAP THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW YOU COULDN’T LIVE WITHOUT
Impulse buys. They’re frequently the bane of our existence and the source of inexplicable shopper’s delight all at the same time, whether it’s a giant tub of Gummi Bears from beside the checkout at Bed Bath & Beyond to a $5 copy of Uncle Buck at Target. It’s a rare form of excitement, then, that comes from entire stores crammed to the rafters with impulse buys, and such is the Marukai 98 Plus Store, that bargain-basement cousin of the Japanese version of Costco. You don’t need a member card to shop there, but you do need a big cart and maybe a modicum of restraint, if you can resist the lure of nifty Asian pottery, dishware, kitchen implements (What does it do, though? The labels are all in Japanese!) and more fantastic foreign snacks than you can shake a stick at. Be forewarned, not everything is 98 cents, but a few things will set you back more than a couple of bucks. 22850 Hawthorne Blvd., Torrance. (310) 791-3919. Also at 1360 W. Artesia Blvd., Gardena. (310) 516-8160.
BEST MAGIC FINGERS
With the proliferation of massage parlors and day spas in this city, it’s easy to overlook the unassuming Massage Therapy Center on the upper floor of a Sawtelle Boulevard mini mart. That would be a mistake. If your concern is quality massages over fancy environs, you’ve come home. The highly respected staff masseuse therapists are known for meticulous technique; they do everything, from basic Swedish to advanced deep-tissue and shiatsu. (You’d expect nothing less from a place founded by the chairman of the California Massage Therapy Council, the state’s massage certification board.) The atmosphere is clean, inviting, with scented candles burning and just a hint of posh. You slip into a terry robe, enter a dark room, are advised to turn off your cell phone. Soft music plays while your masseuse’s magic fingers knead your troubles away. The center has a $79 monthly “Spa Club” membership, which gets you an hour a month and 10 percent off additional services. Good thing. In these tough times, you’ll want more. 2130 S. Sawtelle Blvd., Suite 207, W.L.A. (310)444-8989, massagenow.com.
BEST MECHANIC FOR A CHANGE
When you are a gal in your late 40s, you’ll do anything to keep your car air-conditioning up and running. You’d be just as happy driving a beat-up Yugo with bicycle tires as long as the interior windows showed a hint of frost. “Freezing” to most people means “barely comfortable” to you. We like our AC set somewhere between “Popsicle” and “Arctic Circle.” So when Mike at Norm’s 76 was summoned to look at my 1998 Jeep Cherokee’s leaking gizmo, he responded like the emergency it was. A few hours later, I drove away several hundred dollars poorer, but who the hell cares? I keep an extra sweater or two on hand for passengers. Over the years and many subsequent returns to see Mike, there’s never been a repair experience that wasn’t pleasant, speedy and even under the always-reasonable estimate. 7979 Sunset Blvd., L.A. (323) 654-8073.
BEST MERCEDES REPAIRS DRY OF TEARS
A used Mercedes can negotiate a pothole like a tank takes a molehill. That’s why you’ll see Benzes serving as taxis on the toughest streets of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Maybe that explains their popularity here. The last-generation Es go for a little more than $20,000. This is for a top-line luxury car with relatively low mileage and a bulletproof motor. The caveat? Dealer service charges will make you weep. Regularly scheduled check-up and oil change? $400. Four-wheel brake job? $1,000. Staying away from the dealer? Priceless. Search Yelp!, Citysearch and other sites and you’ll find that this guy stands out: Enrique J. Rodriguez. His Mr. MB Motors in Tarzana is widely praised for honesty and price. That oil change, for example, will cost less than $100, in most cases. Rodriguez has been working on the three-pointed-star cars from Stuttgart since 1964 and worked at dealerships in Cape Town, South Africa, Beverly Hills and Encino. He knows the cars’ German quirks. 5557-A Reseda Blvd., Tarzana. (818) 708-8086.
BEST HOMEMADE REMEDIES
With an ample supply of “Dragon’s Blood,” “Super Placenta Extract” and “Schizandra Berries,” Herbs of Mexico in Boyle Heights provides enough exotic herbs and extracts to make even MacBeth’s witches scratch their heads. A 32-ounce bottle of “Tonico Cerebral” promises to “optimize” your entire nervous system. An 8-ounce bag of Lavender ($2.60) is promoted as a remedy for cancer. A store manager said that a $35 bottle of “Flor Essence” would treat HIV-AIDS. Sure. Take every claim in the store with a grain of spirulina. And be sure to read the fine print, as it can moderate (or even contradict) the large-type claims made on the label. So what’s to recommend about Herbs of Mexico? If you’re already knowledgeable about herbs — their benefits and limitations — you’ll find a remarkable variety of rare products, often at attractive prices. If you can tune out the implausible claims, Herbs of Mexico is a fascinating museum of nature, meticulously labeled, and preserved in bottles and Baggies. And their Web site, at least, is much more conservative in the claims made for their products. 3903 Whittier Blvd., Boyle Heights. (323) 261-5336, ext. 1011, herbsofmexico.com.
BEST PRIMARY-CARE MECHANIC
If you haven’t recently had the pleasant experience of having a mechanic talk you out of spending more money on car repairs, you are advised to head to Donny Vuong of Far East Auto. A longtime fixture near Dodger Stadium, Donny and his small, bare-bones shop are an antidote to spiraling auto health-care costs in an age when cars have become too complicated to tinker with at home. Donny doesn’t approach your car as a potential gold mine but as a patient returning to the doctor for treatment or a checkup. Many’s the time that customers have frantically come waving car-manual repair schedules, only to hear from Donny that many factory-mandated parts replacements are simply unnecessary. His response to expensive and dire warnings about your car from a chain repair shop (i.e., brake replacements, strut tower “upgrades,” etc.), might be apply a quick, common-sense tightening of a loose vacuum hose or replacement of a coolant tube. What is truly astounding, as our cars have become computers with tires, is that Donny remains a mechanic who will often make those adjustments for free or for only a very small bite out of your wallet. 1289 W. Snset Blvd., Echo Park. (213) 250-1252.
BEST MOBILE DJ
In our quest to find a mobile DJ who could go above and beyond the standard wedding-reception tunes, we found DJ THC Electra. The local party starter, who you can catch spinning most Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at downtown restaurant Wurstküche, comes equipped with Serato Scratch Live 3.0 and 420 Gb of music in addition to the usual tools of the trade. THC Electra caters to a variety of musical tastes, with sets ranging from the latest club hits to sophisticated electronic grooves and indie rock sounds to old school hip-hop and classic rock. For private parties, THC Electra can work with the hosts to create the perfect playlist for the event. Frequently, though, people tend to trust his instincts and it seems to work. He’s played a slew of high profile events, including film parties and museum soirees. The DJ works with clients to settle on a fair rate based on the specifics of the event. You can find THC Electra at exxxplosivo.com.
BEST BULLDOG BEAUTY
Muttropolitan is an owner-operated pet groomer, and while not the fanciest place around, its prices for the complete makeover really can’t be beat: pad- and ear-trimming, wash, clipping, blow dry, basically the works, at the following rates: small dogs $45 and up; medium dogs $50; large dogs $55 and up; cats $70 (naturally). There’s also a 25 percent discount for a multiple-wash card, and a DIY station, if your pooch is a fraidy cat and you’d rather not create a big mess in your kitchen sink. Head groomer Grace has a magic touch with nervous pets, and even the most jumbled of mixed breeds emerges looking like Best in Show winners. More importantly, they aren’t traumatized! If you’ve taken a pet to an assembly-line groomer at a big chain store, you know the signs. Last-minute walk-ins are welcome if you can’t stand the sound of claws on a wood floor one more minute. 408 E. Second St., L.A. (213) 626-8887, muttropolitanla.com.
BEST NEW BULK BIN ON THE BLOCK
Conveniently located two doors down from the vegan joint with a rock & roll waitstaff, and a block up from local raw favorite, Cru, Silver Lake’s new juice bar, smoothie stop and whole-foods bulk bin, cinches it: Hipsters have gone health-crazy. Naturewell’s pristine bulk bin is well-stocked with whole grains, dried fruits, granola, nuts and seeds, and offers a rockin’ selection of loose teas, refrigerated kombuchas, superfood staples and packaged snacks, but it’s really all about the juice bar. The menu features a dazzling selection of fruit and vegetable juices, along with exotic ingredients like mangosteen and açai, as well as kale, broccoli, ginger and berries. While some offerings lean toward the spendy, there are a couple steals that’ll keep you going all day: Purificane, a biodegradable cup of fresh coconut meat, coconut water, wheatgrass and cane juice, detoxes your system and fills you up fast. Eastside yerba-mate addicts may flood the aisle waiting for their fix of freshly brewed life juice, but try a yerba-mate smoothie: blended with coconut meat, coco water and agave, it’s like a cosmic orgasm in your mouth, only better and cheaper. Plus, they serve homemade vegan bakery goods, wash all produce in clustered alkali water and play Radiohead. How can you not heart Naturewell? 3824 W. Sunset Blvd., L.A. (323) 664-5894.
BEST NEWSSTAND THAT WILL BE GONE IN A YEAR
Although newsstands have taken a hit during the Internet age, the legendary Centerfold International Newsstand on Fairfax Avenue is a cut above those that have survived, maintaining its high standards, with an extensive selection of fresh, undamaged papers from all over the world every day. You’ll even find International Herald Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, and scores of out-of-state and international papers. Walk a little farther inside, and you’re greeted by a wide selection of trashy and sophisticated movie magazines, local and international music mags, English-langauge and foreign-language glossy fashion mags, car and truck mags, sports magazines, and, if you’re into that kind of thing, gay and straight porn. Pick up a lottery ticket, some smokes, or a pack of gum. 716 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A. (323) 651-4822.
—Patrick Range McDonald
BEST BOUTIQUE CHIC WITHOUT ATTITUDE
Don’t be intimidated by the uber-chicness of avant-garde fashionista favorite Opening Ceremony. The sales associates, while impossibly hip, are friendly and will mostly leave you alone to browse if that’s what you desire. The store — actually several stores within a store — is a surprisingly inviting place, sprawling but not scarily minimalist, with unusual jewelry in tiny glass vitrines and clothes, shoes and bags displayed in cozy warrens designed for wandering. It’s as if some It Couple’s very stylish, very cutting-edge wardrobe got out of control and took over their entire apartment building. That wardrobe consists of dresses by Tsumori Chisato, tiny little Acne jeans, Alexander Wang cardigans, Comme des Garçons leather wallets, Boy by Band of Outsiders blazers, drapey Hussein Chalayan contraptions, and hand-knit Rodarte skirts. Opening Ceremony caters to all levels of fashion forwardness — novice, intermediate, and supersnob — and is a requisite stop on your way to true label whoredom. 451 N. La Cienega Blvd., L.A. (310) 652-1120, openingceremony.us.
BEST SECOND-HAND STORE TO GET FREE HIV-TESTING
The world’s most fa-a-a-bulous thrift store, the Out of the Closet chain has 13 Southern California locations, six of which provide free HIV-testing and counseling on a walk-in basis (Hollywood, West Hollywood, Venice, Atwater Village, Echo Park and Long Beach). The stores are owned and operated by the AIDS Research Foundation, and profits fund the foundation’s medical and advocacy work. I took the test with my partner years ago; we did stuff, and we didn’t give each other anything. (Maybe that was the problem.) Buy Out of the Closet’s furniture; customize it, upholster it, paint it. Dismantle it and build tree houses. Buy clothes there. Alter them if they don’t fit. Cut them up and make something else from the fabulous material. I just got a pair of Levis there for $4.62. How do they do it? Buy the star-spangled bandannas and put them on your dog. Donate your unwanted possessions there. Give them your departed mother’s clothes (less painful than organ donation). They salvage wardrobes, they save lives, and you won’t get no judgmental bullshit either. For locations and information on in-store HIV testing and the AIDS Research Foundation: (213) 405-5800, outofthecloset.org.
BEST FLEA MARKET
There are few Southland pleasures greater than enjoying a sunny, breezy morning strolling the vendor stalls of a well-stocked flea market, in search of artisan finds and scoring excellent bargains. You can walk plenty of popular ones, from the Rose Bowl to Fairfax High, which feature an array of nifty goods — and an admission fare. It’s getting harder to find a swap meet experience that doesn’t charge you to walk through the gates, which is what makes Pasadena City College’s shindig the first Sunday of every month all the more special. It’s still absolutely free to get in, easily accessible via public transport (the Gold Line station at Allen Street is about 10 blocks away), and features tons of superb deals on everything, from high-end antiques to rummage-sale curios, with most sellers more than willing to bargain. Stop by the fourth floor of the parking structure at Bonnie Avenue for one of the biggest and best vinyl sales in the land, featuring more than 70 vendors. 1570 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. (626) 585-7906, pasadena.edu/fleamarket. First Sunday of every month.
BEST PERSIAN/INTERNATIONAL GROCERY
If you plan to head to Reseda to check out the goods at Valley Produce, know this: There is never a good time to go. It is always crowded, and finding a parking spot is always a slightly maddening experience. But, if you can deal with the mass of people who hit up this marketplace daily, you won’t be disappointed. The produce section is renowned for its low prices and wide selection, but make sure you check out the groceries as well. Although Valley Produce hosts an array of ethnic foods, the focus is on the staples of Persian, Armenian and other Middle Eastern diets. Some of the best deals here can be found among the nuts and dried fruits. For $1.49, you can get a package of Tazah Dried Apricot Paste (the best store-bought fruit roll around), big enough to feed a whole family. A small, cake-styled package of King Brand dried figs is only $1.99. In the deli section, you can get a one-pound block of French feta cheese for $6.65. With all the money you saved, you can pop by the shoe repair/CD shop at the entrance and pick up a Googoosh disc. 18345 Vanowen Blvd., Reseda. (818) 609-1955.
BEST WAY TO BURY FIDO WITH DIGNITY
Depending on where you reside, burying your capuchin monkey in your backyard may get you a pricey citation; calling Animal Control to cart Spot away costs $60 to $250, depending on his size. Instead, put your money to better use by honoring your furry friend at the L.A. Pet Memorial Park, where the gravity of your loss will be respected at this 81-year-old nonprofit sanctuary hidden in the hills of Calabasas. This charming and dignified cemetery emphasizes the effect pets have on our lives, as evidenced by tombstones marked “Hercules, Our Eyes Weep Since Yours Are Closed,” or “Zipper, Buried Here With Our Broken Hearts.” Along with typical pets, lizards, chimpanzees, goats, ferrets, birds, potbellied pigs, a lion, snakes, mice and even famous animals, such as Hopalong Cassidy’s horse, Topper, and Petey from the Little Rascals, rest here. To get an idea of costs, a cat burial runs about $614, including the lot, perpetual care, casket, and opening and closing of the grave; a bird is as little as $275 (including casket). Cremation for pets less than 10 pounds is $90; urns start at $24; headstones at $305. 5068 Old Scandia Lane, Calabasas. (818) 591-7037, lapetcemetery.com.
BEST DOCTOR WITH SOLE
Tennis players know that no matter how gigantic the Shoe Barn or Sports Hut is, you’ll be lucky to find more than one or two choices when it comes to court shoes, especially women’s. You’ll feel like a leftie discovering left-handed scissors for the first time when you walk into the Racquet Doctor. A store just for you — with a room filled floor to ceiling with nothing but tennis shoes: all the big guys from the latest Nike, Wilson, Prince, Adidas and New Balance models. The staff — decked out in hospital scrubs (har har) — are knowledgeable and plentiful. Prices range from super-deals to the ridiculously high. It almost makes you tempted to find your dream shoe and then rush home and order at a discount from tenniswarehouse.com. But that would be wrong. Don’t misuse the Doctor. 3214 Glendale Blvd., Atwater Village. (323) 663-6601.
BEST PURVEYOR OF PSYCHEDELIC FREAKINESS
This has been a banner year for trippy beat-laden psychedelic folk breakdowns in L.A., and you can thank Manimal Vinyl for a lot of it. There are a dozen odd labels that could arguably lay claim to being this city’s best imprint, including In the Red, Nacional, PPM, Stones Throw, Dangerbird, IAMSOUND, Alpha Pup and Gnomonsong, to say nothing of the Epitaph/Anti-/Hellcat empire or the homegrown Warner Bros. and Capitol outfits. But this year Manimal Vinyl tapped into some freakiness that deserves to be celebrated. What, exactly? It’s hard to explain what Manimal Vinyl issues but it’s uniquely Southern Californian, filled with sunswept psychedelia, a little bit of mystical bullshit and a whole lot of rhythm. At the top of its list is Rainbow Arabia, whose transcendent Kabukimono EP trades in rhythmic psychedelia that bumps and trips without overdoing it. Hecuba’s new Paradise full length draws from synth pop and weirdo analog experiments to create something new and beautiful. Alexandra Hope’s underappreciated Invisible Sunday is sparse, commmanding and heavy on the guitars. Those three would be enough, but Manimal’s recent signings, including Warpaint, VoicesVoices and We Are the World, suggest that the label’s agenda stretches way ahead toward the horizon — wherever that may be. manimalvinyl.com.
BEST RECORDING STUDIO IN A HOTEL
At the Studio at the Sunset Marquis Hotel & Villas, in West Hollywood, catering to an artist’s needs is easy: You just order room service. The recording studio, run by Jed Lieber, is housed in an isolated corner of the lavish hotel’s parking garage. With a smoking lounge–meets-bordello interior, the fully-equipped, intimate space offers an alternative to traditional recording studios. Back in the day, the Sunset Marquis was home to a Rolling Stone or two, but today musical megastars (or mega corporations) like U2, Jeff Beck and Aerosmith use the studio as a refuge from the rigors of touring. In fact, the hotel is creating a new parking garage big enough to accommodate their tour buses. It’s a home away from home, and a secret studio for high-profile rockers. 1200 Alta Loma Road, W. Hlywd. (310) 657-1333, sunsetmarquis.com.
BEST STORE FOR MOM
If GG Allin knew his cuddly mug would one day wind up on a bumper sticker, he might’ve killed himself sooner. Thanks to the Hot Topic–ification of America, every threatening and nonthreatening genre of rock & roll has been turned into pop culture memorabilia, licensed or unlicensed. In Red Zone, however, punk, metal and all their sub-families — from the popular and the anarchic to the Satanic — seem to live and breathe here. (If you need help breathing, they sell gas masks.) And the fact that two of three stores are located in shopping malls (the Burbank shop is surrounded by three AMC theaters, while the Panorama City one is next door to a Wal-Mart) isn’t what’s surprising, but that they have everything on everything, namely the wall-to-wall T-shirts. No less than 15 of the Misfits; an entire wall dedicated to psychobilly; and way, way too many death and black-metal bands, including the usual suspects, like Deicide, Bathory, Lamb of God and the wonderful smell of Napalm Death. There are also bumper stickers, patches, shoes, more clothing, flyers for local punk shows and at least five kinds of pomade; a greaser’s pompadour won’t hold up on its own. Brothers Paul and Mike Haddad opened the first Red Zone in 1992 — only four years after Hot Topic popped up in 1988 — and judging by the guitars signed by the Misfits’ Glenn Danzing and Doyle, Social Distortion’s Mike Ness and all members of the original Guns n’ Roses that hang on the Panorama City store’s wall, they live what they sell. 201 E. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank. (818) 842-1150. Also at 8401 Van Nuys Blvd., Panorama City. (818) 891-1446. And at 620 S. Broadway, dwntwn. (213) 622-8649, redzoneweb.com.
BEST EXPLOSIONS OF COLOR ON A NECK
There’s a timelessness to I. Ronni Kappos’ jewelry. Its perfect home might be the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, where it could fit into almost any collection, from Ancient Egypt and the Bauhaus, to the artists Piet Mondrian, Wassily Kandinsky or El Lissitzky, to contemporary design. And, of course, it belongs in the museum shop — any museum shop. The L.A.–raised Kappos began making jewelry while a student at UC Santa Cruz. Her inspiration originated in midcentury architecture but has of late morphed into a more organic response to the vintage German glass beads she has been fortunate to find: flat, elegantly edged and rich in color. She sees her new designs as “flattened explosions of color.” In this Twilight world, where women’s necks seem so vulnerable — and desirable — a Kappos necklace seems like both a talisman and a beacon. Take your pick. Available at Uncle Jer’s, 4459 W. Sunset Blvd., L.A. (323) 662-6710); Show, 1722 N. Vermont Ave., L.A. (323)644.1960; Plastica, 8405 W. Third St., L.A. (323) 655-1051; and Weego Home, 2939 Main St., Santa Monica. (310) 392-8460. irkjewelry.com for details.
BEST DECADE’S WORTH OF THERAPY IN ONE EXCRUCIATING (THOUGH EFFECTIVE) STINT
You can’t throw an I Ching these days without bouncing a coin off the back of a coach of some kind — life coach, business coach, wellness coach. Enter Russell Feingold: transformational coach extraordinaire. What separates Feingold from other therapists, counselors and coaches is his delicately balanced combination of heart-centered energy and shamanic insight. He sees your blind spots, your shadows and your shit clear as day, and he has no qualms about calling you out on ’em — hard and fast. Feingold doesn’t dilly-dally with a once-a-week ramble about your story for years and years. He demands commitment and shows up for his clients just as he expects them to show up for themselves. The work is devastating, gut-wrenching, life-changing, paradigm-shifting — and absolutely transformative. As loving and nurturing as Feingold is balls-out unrelenting, he is the reflection that confronts you with your deepest, darkest, ickiest, ouchiest, ugliest self. And he holds your hand as you walk through the muck of your own twisted humanity, out to the other side, to the core of a bigger, brighter more authentic you. (619) 991-5683, heartwisdom.com.
BEST MECHANIC WHO APPRECIATES THE BEAUTY OF A SIMPLE DIY FIX
A call to superstar mechanic Walter Wong (of Right Solution Inc.) often ends, not with you driving over to his shop but with a variation of the prognosis “Go to Pep Boys.” or “Go to the hardware store.” or maybe “Go into your kitchen.” Advice like administering low doses of Pepto-pink power-steering fluid, as directed, bought me a whole year on a slowly disintegrating 1987 Saab 900 whose odometer had frozen at just more than 206,000 miles. But when the hood-release cable snapped off in my hand, I begrudgingly went to Walter for what I feared to be the beginning of the end. He met me outside his shop for the quick diagnostic drives that are the norm for each visit: We bounced down the alleys near his Venice Boulevard shop, he listening intently to the car’s low growl while reciting the next few chapters in my Saab’s life story. I waited while he changed the oil, and when I returned to the car, he was grinning. Leaning into the driver’s seat, he demonstrated the functionality of a locking vice-grip wrench he’d attached to the cable so I could pull it open. A man who works miracle-grade repairs on temperamental Swedish automobiles really loves the beauty of a simple DIY fix. No charge for the wrench. 8664 Venice Blvd., L.A. (310) 666-2406.
BEST CITY SHOPPING DISTRICT TO FIND A BARGAIN
The rag trade has always been one of the first employment rungs immigrants step onto to gain a piece of the American dream, and L.A.’s Santee Alley is where you find both the products of their labor and the marketing smarts of other immigrants who have become shopowners and managers. Our local garment district is also a place to score cheap deals on everything from sports-team T-shirts to leather jackets. There is a rough pattern to the alley’s mad layout, with stalls selling watches on the Olympic Boulevard boundary, and sportswear, toy guns, car accessories and more politically themed T-shirts located in the newer addition at 12th Street. Like L.A. itself, the alley’s boundaries are increasingly amorphous, and adjacent stores reach out toward somewhat separate shopping districts specializing in shoes and fabrics. Santee Alley also provides a panorama of city life crammed into a few blocks, as Spanish-speaking child-preachers and handicapped panhandlers vie for your attention over the ubiquitous shouts of “$5!” — as the ever-present aroma of bacon-wrapped sausage vendors wafts over everything. Between Santee St. & Maple Ave., and Olympic Blvd. & 12th St., dwntwn. Open 365 days a year.
BEST POSEUR-FREE ART-SUPPLY STORE
Not the biggest but competitively priced and way cool, and located in the warehouse/arts district just west of the Los Angeles River, SCI-Arc Art Supply offerings reflect the needs of students at the nearby Southern California Institute of Architecture: the drawing-pen collection is definitive; and the model-making materials include bass wood and hardwoods; as well as plastic, metal and wood structural shapes. You’ve got your foam core, museum board, chipboard and pro-quality Copic markers, drawing pads, hipster-essential Moleskine notebooks, and specialty books from the SCI-Art Press. It’s not so fancy-schmancy that a clever shopper couldn’t pull together an imaginative present or basket of interesting items for anyone older than 5. Staff are occasionally harried, but there’s nary a poseur in the place, which is a blessing in a district packed with self-proclaimed artists. Notices of showings, gallery openings and events are posted near the front entry. Easy street parking in front, too. And the very civil Groundworks coffee is next door. 811 Traction Ave., Unit 1A, dwntwn. (213) 687-0854.
BEST CHOCKFULL-OF-SHOPPING BLOCK
Los Angeles may be the only large city in the world in which a few shops strung together feels like serendipity. And the block on West Third just east of the Beverly Centeris serendipitous, at least in terms of eclecticism and possibility. Anchoring the block are two old-timers: Freehand Gallery and New Stone Age. Freehand stocks a ton of great handmade ceramics and glassware, woodwork and jewelry, made by locals and not-so-locals. If you’re looking for a unique gift, this is one of the smartest stops in L.A. — and you’d be supporting artists and artisans. Next door is one of the city’s best emporiums: Entering New Stone Age is like going straight to your retail therapist, if interesting googaws, jewelry, housewares and just damn intriguing stuff is your thing. Aero & Co., one door east, is the Freehand/New Stone Age of L.A. clothing designers, showing Maxine Dillon, Purlieu, Elevate & Collide, Violently Attractive and Blood Is the New Black, among others, as well as Brooklyn’s Octopi and Margarita Saplala. Shoes (Muzina) and jewelry (Moss Mills, Sid Vintage), too. After all this nice organic material, you need a dose of synthetics: The next shop’s name, Plastica, says it all, but think colorful floor mats, baskets, pots, wallets and — straight outta Helsinki — Marimekko. Finally, check out Mellows, the new youthy Japanese boutique a few doors down, which mixes cool hats and clothing with vintage shoes. Of course, there are other great shops on West Third, including the exquisitely relaxed Noodle Stories — or is it relaxedly exquisite? — a couple of blocks east, which features higher-end women’s lines such as Comme des Garçons, Junya Watanabe, Reinhard Plank, Viktor & Rolf, Y’s by Yohji Yamamoto and a lot of designers a naif like me has never heard of (in a good way). Most importantly, there is Joan’s on Third, to which you must repair for a preshopping Americano and pancakes or a postshopping ficelle or grilled vegetables and goat cheese sandwich. Top it off with an exquisite little chocolate thing, and relax. Freehand Gallery, 8413 W. Third St., L.A. (323) 655-2607, freehand.com; New Stone Age, 8407 W. Third St., L.A. (323) 658-6282, newstoneagela.com; AERO & Co., 8403 W. Third St., L.A. (323)653-4651, myspace.com/aeroandco; Mellows, 8363 W. Third St., L.A. (323)655-3377; Noodle Stories, 8323 W. Third St., L.A. (323)651-1782; Joan’s on Third, 8350 ½ W. Third St., L.A. (323) 655-2285, joansonthird.com.
BEST SHOP FOR THOSE WHO STILL SEND HANDWRITTEN NOTES
Soolip Paperie & Press is this city’s undisputed master of stationery. Other shops are perhaps more intimate and tightly edited (Urbanic, on Abbot Kinney), or offer hipper, more elegant letter pressing (Sugar Paper, in Century City), but Soolip was here first and beats everybody else with its variety. The hand-bound Italian leather journals look as if they fell out of da Vinci’s own library. I have seen the most hardened pen freaks fall speechless at the sight of the fountain pen selection. Every genre of paper snobbery is accounted for: inks for the calligraphy geeks; silk-screened Japanese yuzen papers for the book-binding crews; Parisian cards and envelopes for the etiquette-obsessed; albums and ribbons and flowers for the scrapbookers; a universe of notebooks for the compulsive diarists. You’ll never send another e-mail. 8646 Melrose Ave., W. Hlywd. (310) 360-0154, olip.com.
BEST UNDER-THE-RADAR MENSWEAR
South Willard is the clothing-store version of that quiet, unassuming neighborhood restaurant that serves exquisite but unpretentious food to a small but sophisticated clientele. In this case, exquisite but unpretentious menswear from a select group of designers, including Dries Van Noten, Stephen Schneider and Band of Outsiders. Located on an anonymous stretch of 3rd near Crescent Heights, behind an off-green (or is it brown?) storefront that suggests more canoe-rentals-on-Lake-Minnetonka than Weho glam, South Willard promises comfort — at a price. That price is quality. Consequently, bargains are relative at South Willard, but the two annual sales, held summer and winter, can get you to where (and who) you want to be, one white sea island cotton shirt at a time. Owners Ryan Conder and Danielle Kays, a surfer and a stylist, opened the shop “because we just couldn’t find the clothes we wanted to wear in Los Angeles,” says Conder, “and we wanted to have a shop with nothing made in China.” Understated and open like his store, Conder also stocks an intriguing collection of artworks by the likes of Jason Meadows, David Korty, Kelly Breslin and Stan Bitters — ceramics, lamps and paintings that really are great deals — as well as accessories and books. “I always wanted to have a bookshop,” he says, “so it’s a nice way to carry the books I want and not worry about making a living from it.” One more thing Conder won’t be making a living from: his blog, southwillard.com, for which he curates an eclectic mix of articles and visuals on current events and the arts. 8038 W. Third St., L. A. (323) 653-6153, southwillard.com/south-willard/store/.
BEST WAY TO SPRUCE UP YOUR WARDROBE FOR LESS
Stella Dottir is an Icelandic eccentric silver-dreadlocked fashion designer who operates her eponymous custom dress shop on Main Street, near Winston, downtown. Back when she opened, the spot was in the heart of Skid Row. Never one to shy away from adversity, she saw the recent economic downturn as an opportunity. Dottir, known for her velvet and lace gothic Victorian clothing, saw the chance to extend her shop with a line of one-of-a-kind hats, raw silk cloche; brocade and feathered headdresses; and other chapeaus inspired by the 1930s. “During the Great Depression,” she explains, sounding straight out of Reykjavik, “women could not afford new clothes, so they would buy beautiful hats to dress up their wardrobes, and turn heads.” Dottir’s carefully tailored hats sell for only $60 to $80, much less than her handmade dresses and jackets. She picks up a black crushed-velvet model with a black veil and ostrich feathers and puts it on her head. “Plus,” she says smiling coyly, as she pulls the black veil down over her face, “there may not be money for plastic surgery during the recession, and these hats are better than a face-lift anyway.” 430 S. Main St., L.A. (213) 623-8464, stelladottir.com.
BEST BUTTON-DOWN OUTPOST
Clean clothes. When you think Steven Alan, that’s what you get: clean and casual. Button-down redefined for Saturday afternoons. A latter-day F. Scott Fitzgerald in the backyard, maybe. Zelda, relaxed for once. In ruffled panties. (Okay, maybe not but check them out: stevenalan.com/journal/?p=282.) “It’s East Coast prep with an iconic twist,” says Scott Sanford, SA’s regional manager. “No logos, worn-in, disheveled, button-down that feels like a T-shirt.” Steven Alan began as a men’s shirting business 15 years ago, and now offers full men’s and women’s lines. The first L.A. store opened last spring (638 Robertson Blvd.), then was followed by a mainly women’s shop in Brentwood Gardens (11677 San Vicente Blvd.) and an Annex in Venice (1601 Abbot Kinney). This summer they opened just their second outlet store in Los Feliz (the other is on New York’s Upper West Side), offering sale items from the other L.A. stores along with a smattering of new clothes. If you can’t or don’t want to afford the regular prices, or simply want to get a sense of the clothes (Steven Alan doesn’t advertise), or your teenage daughter is obsessed with that whole New York prep oeuvre — or, for that matter, you are — the Outpost is a good place to start. The button-down that normally goes for $168 can be yours for $129, about the cost of a latte and a bagel at the Alcove next door. 1937 ½ Hillhurst Ave., Los Feliz. (323) 667-9500, stevenalan.com.
BEST ETHNIC DELI COUNTER
To shop is to remember. All of us walk into corner groceries or supermarkets with a child’s memory of food. For me it’s the wonder of skinned rabbits and eels displayed by vendors under the cast-iron arches of an English marketplace, whose aromas were just as sharp as those of the cheeses and ground coffee that filled Long Island A&Ps in the 1950s. None of these memories come to mind, however, whenever I enter Super King Market. If anything, this somewhat chaotic supermarket reminds me of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport before the fall of communism. Few supermarkets’ doorways, after all, come with imposing lettering that gigantically announces “Entrance” and “Exit” at either end of the buildings. Super King’s Entrance portal is located on the right-hand end, and so once inside, you enter a great, counterclockwise tide of shoppers that becomes almost impossible to swim against later, should you forget something and try to go back for it. But there’s an Old World marketplace feel to Super King, nevertheless, from the shelves of hookahs to its mixed-nut bar (no, not the Frolic Room) and wall of tea biscuits, along with stocks of Middle Eastern and Russian foods, evidence of the store’s Armenian ownership and the huge local émigré population the market serves. It’s crowded in a way that we’re not used to in California — it makes another Armenian-owned institution, Jons Market, seem like the staid Pacific Palisades Gelson’s on a Sunday morning. One of Super King’s many strengths (besides fresh produce and meat selection) is a wonderful deli counter that seems as long as an aircraft carrier. It’s ridiculously well-provisioned: It doesn’t just have regular prosciutto, but prosciutto Parma and prosciutto Daniele. It doesn’t only offer feta cheese, but blocks of Helena feta, Greek feta, Bulgarian feta, French feta, Danish feta and, of course, Armenian feta. Tip: Get your deli ticket number as soon as you enter the store — otherwise, you may be in for a long wait against a counter of meat and smoked fish that will only make you hungrier than you are. 2716 N. San Fernando Road, Glassell Park. (323) 225-0044.
BEST DICEY THRIFT SHOP
On any day, Valley Thrift offers better-than-bargain-basement shopping. But Saturday is fiesta time, when locals make a day of it. If you’re not from the ’hood, you’ll be eyed suspiciously, so come early and park in the lot. If you arrive after 10, you’ll have to park on side streets and make your way past scores of independent vendors hawking balloons, churros, fruit-freezes and whatnot. It’s easy to spend your wad before you get in, but hold onto some cash for the goods inside: thousands of DVDs and books, furniture, appliances, piles of clothing that put Nordstrom Rack to shame, more kiddie items than Toys R Us and the coolest classics this side of Aaardvark’s. If you insist on a dressing room, it’ll cost a buck. But after you’ve nabbed that $5 Yellow Submarine lamp, or those $3 Anne Klein heels, smile as you walk out, or you may find that a neighborhood kid has gifted the hood of your car with a puncture hole — made with his Bic pen — as you exit. 9007 Lankershim Blvd., Sun Valley. (818) 768-8338.
BEST CAB DRIVER
Perhaps it’s late afternoon and you’re stuck in traffic on the 110 North after arriving at LAX, or perhaps it’s 2 a.m. and you and some friends have wadded together enough beer-soaked bills to get a safe ride home from the bar. Whichever the case, you’re stuck in a taxi with a driver that has seen and heard it all before, but you’ve probably never seen a taxi like this, ever. Despite its standard blue and yellow Checker Cab exterior, once inside it becomes obvious that Taxi No. 3502 is not your normal taxi, and Lonnie “Wisefool the Cab Driver” McCreery is not your average cab driver. No, you still can’t smoke inside and, yes, he still only carries five dollars in change, but Wisefool’s taxi doubles as a mobile recording studio for spoken-word poets, rappers and any fare who has the freestyle skills to get on the mic. The good thing? It doesn’t cost a penny extra. Also a musician, Wisefool first decided to convert his cab into a mobile recording studio in 2009 after realizing that five years spent circling the airport terminal and babysitting drunks had left him with little time to work on his own music. He equipped Taxi No. 3502 with microphones, a laptop and Pro-Tools, all powered through the cab’s cigarette-lighter converter, and soon Wisefool was recording more than just himself, but also some of underground hip-hop’s finest, which he now documents on camera as part of his “Off the Meter” video series. From rappers Kosha Dillz, Black Skeptik and Verbs, to impromptu sessions with surprisingly well-versed Valley girls, if you’ve got what it takes to lay down a track while cabbing through L.A., then “Wisefool the Cab Driver” has you covered, seven days a week. (213) 858-3786.
BEST TEENY-WEENY BIKINI
A Melrose Avenue mainstay for more than a decade, Jigsaw is a trendy fashion boutique catering to gals size 0 to 6. Socialites, nymphs and young, skinny-but-beautiful ’rexy actresses flock here to check out its bountiful selection of maxi dresses (long, flowy numbers), Frankie B jeans, tight T-shirts, sweat suits, denim hot shorts (otherwise known as Daisy Dukes) and microminis. The store has an underlying ’80s vibe, its walls lined by Marilyn Monroe and James Dean paintings by artist Steve Kaufman, the onetime assistant to the late Andy Warhol. Funky music pumps through the store and the sales clerks (every so often) get jiggy with it. Most popular among the Melrose Place–type shoppers are the tiny bikinis by Ashley Paige, hand-knit, two-piece numbers that look like they’d be snug on a Chihuahua — or Tori Spelling. In keeping with its theme of abnormally small, the fashionable boutique also sells a Michelle Obama favorite: a 14K gold necklace that features a teeny peace sign, cross or crown by designer Lena Wald. Clearly, a full-figured gal with a fleshy neck can’t catch a break. 7449 Melrose Ave., Hlywd. (323) 653-5221.
BEST THAI MASSAGE
It’s probably no exaggeration to say that there are hundreds of Thai massage parlors in L.A., and it’s tough to know which are legitimate and which are, well, hand-job specialists. The storefront entry that leads into Thai Herb and Spa, which is located in a Hollywood mini-mall, looks like a Bangkok pharmacy transported to California, replete with unpronounceable secret lotions, herbs and back-bending devices. However, the backroom is an oasis, with a small, babbling brook and a dozen or so curtained but communal massage rooms. It’s on a very busy section of Sunset, yet the only disruption might be the occasional oaf who can’t keep his (perfectly legal) groaning to himself. It’s easy to be lulled into a trancelike state by the small, tinkling waterfalls and cheesy but restful Thai elevator music. All guests don a gargantuan-sized massage shirt and pants, and are then ushered to one of the comfy rooms. Your personal masseuse luxuriously cleanses your feet with hot, steamy towels before beginning an exceptionally reasonable $40, hourlong massage that also includes a lot of vigorous stretching, pulling and cracking. All of the masseuses are pretty darn good, but our favorite is Noe, a tiny, grandmotherly Thai woman with a grip like Killer Kowalski. Once guests are completely relaxed, they’re given a little plate of fresh fruit and a cup of tea. Ultra-relaxing. 5231 ½ W. Sunset Blvd., L.A. (323) 661-7086.
BEST DEAL FOR AN HOURLONG RUBDOWN
Standard price for inexpensive Thai and Korean massages around town is $40. That gets you full-body muscle work, generally from the surprisingly strong hands of very small women. But one of the better-kept secrets is that some parlors also offer an hourlong foot massage for just $20 — and no — they don’t just rub your feet for an hour. At Serene Thai, the small, cash-only spot located upstairs in a Koreatown mini-mall, the ladies speak little English, but seem quite adept at communicating with the pain in your body. They begin by soaking your feet in warm water, and while that’s happening, work your shoulders, neck, head, hands and back (not bad for a “foot massage”). Then you lie back in a big, comfortable chair while they load your legs and feet up with all kinds of lotions and oils, work out the kinks, and even prod you with small plastic tools. You can bring an iPod and listen to music through your headphones, or take in the full experience that comes with the gentle Thai string music playing over the speakers. It’s definitely not the fanciest place in town, but did I mention that you get an hourlong massage for $20? 3959 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. (213) 739-9990.
BEST BUS YOU’LL NEVER USE
The MTA sure has gone a long way in the past couple of years toward promoting its transit system as an effective cost-cutting measure against soaring gas prices and traffic-choked commutes. The marketing scheme has been effective, yet not foolproof in the face of costs. They did, eventually, have to bump that day pass up to five dollars from three. Meanwhile, the LADOT somehow manages to run a tremendously effective and wider-reaching DASH bus system than ever ... and it’s still only a quarter. Yep, one-third to one-fourth what it costs you to wash your clothes. True, the system is slightly less straightforward than memorizing which number runs on which east-west or north-south thoroughfare, but it’s well worth it to take a moment to jot down the DASH lines that serve your area. (You might be surprised at the reach of some; Beachwood Canyon, you got your own line, you know!) Leave the car in the garage, get out and see the city on loose change. DASH runs seven days a week on 30 lines, plus seven serving the downtown area, ladottransit.com.
BEST SALVATION ARMY STORE
A Salvation Army family store isn’t such a novelty, but one in a depressed area filled to the gills during a recession seems remarkable. In recent weeks, it’s been overflowing with so many racks of clothes that it’s difficult for customers to squeeze past all the offerings just to navigate the place. Observers note that in the past those of modest means are often more generous than their richer brethren, which might explain the store’s bounty as indicative of that alleged phenomenon. There are lots of bargains to be had. Aside from shirts and pants ranging from $2 to $5 — including great jeans that would probably fetch a fat price in the Japanese used-jeans market — the glassware and knicknacks are fantastic. The left wall is the place to find household items and kitchen wares: interesting containers to hold sugar, coffee and rice; artsy vases; a pretty platter for a first birthday cake; and water and wine glasses nice enough for entertaining. Many of the housewares are beautiful — classy, even — and would update the look of a modest home. Salvation Army Store, 8601 S. Vermont Ave., L.A. (323) 759-7681, salvationarmyusa.org. (Closed Sun.)
—Juliette Akinyi Ochieng
BEST DURABLE HOUSEHOLD GOODS
The Tortoise General Store philosophy: slow and steady wins the race. As applied to the household goods sold by the Japanese-owned shop, this means thoughtful, durable items that are as beautiful as they are functional: Sori Yanagi teakettles, bent-wood cedar bowls, vases made out of river rocks, iron incense burners and such. Yes, some of the merchandise falls into the aspirational range (at $600 for a Tendo mushroom stool, you may want to just sit on the floor). But solid craftsmanship doesn’t always translate into “investment” pieces. Tortoise packs a decent selection of inexpensive mugs, toys, notebooks, plates, soap, clocks, containers and other basic living requirements into its tiny storefront. Everything here resonates with a reverence for the deceptively simple loveliness of everyday life. 1208 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice. (310) 314-8448, tortoisegeneralstore.com.
BEST UNKNOWN BOOKSTORE
It’s an Eagle Rock gem. All alphabetical orderliness and proper genre filing makes Read an easy place to find what you’re looking for. But aside from its insanely organized shelves, it also offers a smalltown coziness that larger, independent stores lack. The storefront is modest, housed next to an ever-rotating selection of boutiques and dress shops. Prices range from the ridiculously cheap three bucks for a paperback version of James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son to the slightly pricier $12 for a beautiful, bound copy of Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon (still a great deal). The kicker, though, is the magnificent magazine stand, which carries everything from Mother Jones, Dazed & Confused, the New Yorker and Artforum to the Fader and all that lies between. Rare is a used bookstore that understands that used-book lovers aren’t hoarders and cat collectors, but rather lovers of pop culture and refined culture. Read is the absolute best little place to lose an afternoon and emerge delighted and excited with a handful of treasures. 4972 Eagle Rock Blvd., Eagle Rock. (323) 259-9068, readbookseaglerock.com.
BEST STAR DUDS AT PAUPER PRICES
We’re slobs in this town, and we’re sinking the country’s fashion into the deep end, left coast first. We know times are hard, but excuses are few, especially when the folks with the most means are leading the way toward sartorial sin. Let’s dress up L.A. Here’s one way: It’s a Wrap has amazing prices on truly prime pieces, some of them handmade in Italy and France. The retailer gets its inventory from Hollywood productions after the clothing has been used on-set once or twice, if that. We spotted a men’s Boss dress shirt for $28, an Yves Saint Laurent men’s suit for $13 (marked down from $100) and a no-brand black, satin cocktail dress on the Dancing With the Stars rack for $15. Halloween costumes are starting to bloom: Orange prison jumpsuits are going for $15 (Bernie Madoff, anyone?) and women’s sailor tops are $8. We even spied a boy’s Superman suit for $10. It’s a Wrap also has shoes, jeans, headwear, furniture and set decorations. Founded in 1981 by Janet Dion, the store now has two outlets: West L.A. and Burbank. Each has dressing rooms. And there are racks out front with even deeper discounts. It’s a Wrap gives purchasing power to the people who know that dressing well is a virtue. 1164 S. Robertson Blvd., W.L.A. (310) 246-9727. Also at 3315 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank. (818) 567-7366.
BEST USED-VINYL STORE
Unlikely though it may seem, the third floor of Pasadena City College’s Bonnie Street parking structure may very well be the best source for used records in all of Southern California. Every first Sunday of the month at 8 a.m., upwards of 70 music vendors schlep their wares to the temporarily repurposed garage — home to the free monthly PCC Flea Market — to wheel and deal under the fluorescent lights, rain or shine. In front of minivans and Budget trucks, cardboard boxes and fruit crates brimming with vinyl await, and until the 3 p.m. closing bell sounds, you can count on a flurry of hands flipping through all that stock in search of the elusive, the out-of-print, and the first-pressed. Many booths sell only pristine goods separated by genre (those searching for rock, soul and hip-hop will do well); others feature bargain bins that essentially function as thrift store “best ofs.” Regardless, pricing is typically fair and vendors are quite knowledgeable, which makes the act of haggling a veritable sport of its own. Trades are welcome as well, but leave the Tijuana Brass at home lest you be laughed out of the building — “Mexican Psych” has got its own section. 1570 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. (626) 585-7906, pasadena.edu/fleamarket.
BEST VINTAGE MUSICAL-INSTRUMENT STORE
Consider it part of the paradox of post-modernism that Future Music, a store specializing in vintage instruments, could serve as the locus for some of L.A.’s most forward-thinking musicians. Indeed, everyone from Stones Throw stalwarts Dam Funk and Peanut Butter Wolf to avant-garde soulsters Sa-Ra, Smell staple Nite Jewel, and indie-rockers Random Patterns and Division Day regularly frequent the Highland Park institution, known for its peerless prices and selection, and its owner Jack Waterson, an engineer member of seminal Paisley Underground-affiliated band, Green on Red. Speaking with Waterson, you instantly glean not only an encyclopedic knowledge of instruments made prior to the MIDI revolution in 1983, but a paternal care impossible to find at a big box music store. “It’s all about inspiration — helping people find a guitar or a keyboard where songs immediately start flying out. It’s about connecting musicians with something that ignites the fire in them,” says Waterson. “Selling musical instruments is more personal than selling underwear. You have to see how it speaks to their ears, their eyes and the creative parts of their soul.” In the summer months, Waterson rigs a notoriously monstrous sound system in the back garden and books shows — with the goal to pair unlikely acts together, and each band only allowed 20-minute sets. In business for more than a decade and with an impeccable reputation in the community, the future looks bright. 5112 York Blvd., Highland Park. (323) 344-0029, myspace.com/futuremusicstore.
BEST VINYL RELEASES
A little-known fact about metalheads: Hidden under all that drab black and played-out sloganeering for all things unholy is a genuine penchant for flair and, often, an appreciation for life’s nicer things. L.A.’s doom-and-distortion community in particular has an insatiable appetite for vinyl, and the Los Feliz–based Hydra Head Records (whose owners also run the Vacation Vinyl shop) has the best fix in town. The recent Xasthur double-LP, All Reflections Drained, might be the best package of wax we’ve seen all year: two 180-gram 12-inch picture discs lodged inside of printed cardstock sleeves, inserted into a heavy-duty gatefold jacket that makes the cover image of a deified, rotting corpse look and feel like fine art (plus a silk-screened sweatshirt patch). Big Business’ Mind the Drift got a more conceptual treatment, copping its inner art from vintage “Greetings from.” postcards and featuring a postmarked back cover track list appearing in a missive scribbled to “Darling” from “Donald.” Hydra Head goes whole hog. To wit, a mouth-watering sampling of recent vinyl colors they’ve pressed: silt gray, red mist, watery pea soup and carrots, white with purple haze, red rocket, and caramel vanilla bean swirl. hydrahead.com.
BEST BARGAIN WINE STORE
Finding inexpensive wine is easy. The trick is scoring those bargain sips that you want to buy again — and serve to your dinner guests. K&L Wine Merchants is the kind of place you can walk into with $100 in your pocket and leave with 10, maybe even 12 interesting bottles. They do it by cutting out the middleman and going straight to wineries to stock their shelves. Regular staff tastings help, too. But habitual drinkers, consider yourself forewarned. Once the staff gets a hankering for another wine, or the supply well from a small winery quickly runs dry, your true love may be replaced by the next favorite sip, say a 2007 Jean-François Merieau Gamay for $8 (it is $18 elsewhere) or a 2008 Redtree California Pinot Noir. For most of us, that’s half the fun of hunting here, but if you’ve eaten meatloaf every Tuesday night for the past 20 years, this wine shop probably isn’t for you. 1400 Vine St., Hlywd. (323) 464-9463, klwines.com.
BEST TEQUILA SECTION
A worm-filled bottle is hardly what you would expect to find in an Italian wine shop, but Wine Expo staffer Erik Moreno has a soft spot for tequila. His mother is from Jalisco, the Mexican state where the spirit is produced. Nine years ago, Moreno began systematically cleansing the Santa Monica store’s shelves of Cuervo and Patrón and replacing them with bottles from artisanal producers. Over the years, he has amassed a curiosity shop-worthy collection of more than 70 bottles. Moreno’s tequila procurement mantra is simple: Only 100 percent blue Weber agave tequilas, no mixtos (a blend of agave and grain alcohol), are allowed. Only those blancos, reposados and añejos — the names correspond to the length of time the tequilas are aged — that pass his rigorous taste tests (a hard job) land a permanent spot. And many are priced at or below those from larger tequila producers. Among Moreno’s current favorites are a light, cocktail-worthy $16 blanco from Ranchero Jalisciense and a $31 vanilla-scented añejo from D’Los Altos. For solo quaffing, the clove and caramel-laced Don Cardona reposado is hard to beat. It’s a more robust $67, but no one ever said you had to share. 2933 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 828-4428, wineexpo.com.
BEST GROWLER FILLER-UPPER
Until recently, finding a brewery that would fill up your growler (beer-speak for a 64-ounce jug) with a bold, full-bodied Belgium-style craft beer required a road trip to San Diego. Enter The Bruery in Placentia, where owner and brewer Patrick Rue will gladly pump up Orchard White (an unfiltered witbier scented with coriander and citrus peel), Black Orchard (black wheat beer), or whatever special brews he happens to have on tap into your awaiting super-sized growler To-Go. It’s a neat trick for saving money on beer you plan to drink in the next day or two, but the beer won’t stay fresh very long. If you don’t have a growler, you can buy one at The Bruery, or stick with the 750 ml bottles for $8 to $11. That may sounds steep for beer, but these are higher-alcohol, almost wine-like brews that favor sipping rather than slugging. Or swing by the tasting room for a $6 tasting flight or pint of your favorite pick. 715 Dunn Way, Placentia. (714) 996-6258, thebruery.com.
BEST ONE-STOP SORCERER’S SHOP
Conveniently located in the rock & roll heart of Hollywood, Objets d’Art & Spirit is an affordable way to get your inner witch on. They’ve got bath salts and candles infused with all the magick you need to manifest millions, or Mr. Right, plus shelves overflowing with talismans and books and crystals and jewelry. Still, as awesome as all the pretty, shiny things may be, it’s their superwonderful witchy oils that are worthy of all the fuss. The tiny boutique carries more than 600 blends of magickal oils — tiny bottles filled with potent, brightly colored potions infused with herbs and twigs and sesame seeds and dragon spit. The selection covers every imagining under the sun, including: Otter Spirit, Abundance, Win a Court Case, Avert Evil Eye, Come to Me, Grounding, House Blessing, Serenity, Nymph, Thoth, Yoni, Success in the Arts and Dove’s Blood. They’ve got oils for voudou spirits, archangels, Greek gods, Hindu deities, chakras, astrological signs, even one called Become Invisible and another, Bend Over, for. well, for becoming invisible and for bending over, right? The tiny bottles cost $7.50 a pop, so if you’re torn between Attract a Man, Attract a Lover, Attract a Soulmate, Attract a Husband, Get a Rich Husband and Bend Over, worry not, you can afford ’em all. 7529 Sunset Blvd., L.A. (323) 436-5238, objetsdartandspirit.com.
BEST $20 CLOTHING RACK
The cozy Native boutique is in Franklin Village right next to the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and Birds, and directly across from the Church of Scientology Celebrity Center. You’ll like this funky store if you shop the fashions at Melrose Avenue’s Jigsaw or Planet Funk. For shoppers on a tight budget, though, there are some great finds on its outdoor rack — many really cute items for $20. Every week there’s a new sidewalk selection, often including flowery, Gypsy-style tops, summer halter dresses and formal, shiny, evening gowns. We saw one shopper pick up a sweet fuschia-colored gown for just $20. The location is handy to the Hollywood Freeway (Gower exit), although it can take a bit of patience to find parking. They’re open late so if you’re in a crisis, facing a last-minute date or party and need something great but quick, one of the friendly staffers can set you up. Our preferred tactic is to shop, then gorge nearby at one of the the French, Japanese or Italian restaurants. 5915 Franklin Ave., Hlywd. (323) 962-7710. Open daily.
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