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BEST $1.25 HAND JOB/HOSE-DOWN

Magic Wand Carwash. When I was about 6, going to the car wash was right up there with extra-large cardboard boxes and my hamster, Milton. My mom would strap my brother and me into the front seat of our VW Squareback, sending us on a journey through spastic layers of soapy water and chamois octopods as the Squareback floated along the conveyor. This was before Nintendo and personal-injury suits. Nowadays, I get my kicks at the Magic Wand Carwash, a do-it-yourself auto experience. For five quarters, you get five minutes of high-pressure soapy water to hose down your vehicle. After a race with the water clock (a horn sounds when there is one minute left), you give a final rub-down — rags are available, or carry your own towel to conquer those annoying divots in the hubcaps. For $1, you can also buy time with the industrial vacuum cleaner, or treat your car to a luscious orange-blossom interior fragrance. On a hot day, it’s always fun to experiment with hosing down your passengers, or even a neighboring stall. 3115 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 399-0351 . (Jaime Lowe)

BEST POOL HALL

Billiard Inn. In recent years, the old-fashioned pool hall has become something of a dying breed, the ambiance that used to make Minnesota Fats stain his drawers replaced by chichi upscale "billiards centers" designed to lure in the tanned and toothy J. Crew crowd. Yuck. Only those without cerebral cortexes can shoot pool while listening to Celine Dion. So if you find your brain is still somewhat intact and you’re itching for a game, I suggest the Billiard Inn. Owner Santo Rimicci remodeled the place about one and a half years ago, but he did so without gutting the place of its rarest asset: atmosphere. Yes, the place now has carpeting and new walls, seven TVs showing any and all manner of sporting events, and a sound system that blasts the jukebox all over the joint (and clean, refurbished restrooms — finally!). But it’s still your basic no-bullshit pool hall. Among the 11 tables are five new Gold Crown Tournament models for you shark types. And there’s usually someone at the bar willing to indulge in a little friendly competition if you’re up for it. There’s a daily happy hour, tons of food and 20 kinds of beer (including Bass Ale on tap). The Billiard Inn doesn’t discriminate, so even you nonsmoking types are welcome. 12249 Venice Blvd., Mar Vista; (310) 391-9310 . (Chris Checkman)

ALAN RICH SAYS, "BEST BABY BARF ON RICE"

Frying Fish. If you’re forced to dine alone and seek conversation, there are two things you can do: You can join the counter crowd at Norm’s and swap persiflage with the help, confident that the only way you could get sick there would be if you swallowed the fork, or you can head for a sushi bar and order uni. "’Scuse me," someone is bound to say, looking down at your plate at the clods of what might be baby barf on rice, "What’s that you’re eating?" You give them your knowing, masterful smile. "Oh, that’s uni. Sea urchin. Deadly on the outside, you know, but delicious within. Wanna bite?" Your questioner pales, turns away; "Maybe some other time." Uni is for the brave, all right; its texture is off-putting, and nothing edible should be that color, but no subtler, more changeable, more memorable national flavor exists anywhere on land or sea. At the Frying Fish in Little Tokyo, where the sushi circulates through the diners on a conveyor belt, the uni is fresh, sweet, tart and fishy, and the crowd tends to be talkative. Good vibes. 120 Japanese Village Plaza, Little Tokyo; (213) 680-0567 . (Alan Rich)

YOU ’RANG?

Boomerang Beach. Go west, young man. Seek wide-open pastures. I’ve been hogging the best boomerang spot in L.A. for a decade. It’s time to let others in on it. You see, L.A.’s nice and big, but there are too many people who get in the way of a good toss. Well, I found a way around that. First, pick one of those cool, cloudy days. Next, get up early. (This is easy for "my people" — jobs get us up at 5 or 6 a.m.; invariably we are coupled with an 11 a.m. weekend riser — but I digress.) Then go to my spot: Santa Monica Beach, north of the pier, the very fat piece of flat beach that’s north of the parking lot. The breeze comes in from the northwest/west-northwest at that time of the morning. Once you’ve figured out exactly which direction the wind is coming, stand facing it. Give it all you’ve got and toss the boomerang off 45 degrees to your right. Whip it, making a giant circle. Watch it come back until it floats over your head like a leaf and drops into your hand. Nirvana. See ya soon. (Joe Hill)

 

THE DOCTOR WILL GROPE YOU NOW

Dr. Porrath at the Woman’s Breast Center. Dr. Breast, as he’s known (he reads about breasts while eating), has such a reassuring breastside manner — chatting you up about that new Italian restaurant — that even worrier types like me can relax. The director of the progressive center, a leading expert on breast ultrasound and past or present president of everything with the word breast in it (the Society for Study of Breast Disease, the National Con sortium of Breast Centers, among others), he’s always being quoted in the news, testifying to get some breast research bill passed or organizing breast outreach programs. Yet he still has time to encourage your most niggling questions, and — though careful to a fault — takes great pleasure in relieving fears fed by the media or by another doctor (such as the scary "1-in-8" breast-cancer thing), providing the perfect panacea of common sense and a healthy dose of good humor. 2901 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 325, Santa Monica; (310) 829-2931. (Judy Raphael)

WHERE’S THAT CONFOUNDED BRIDGE?!

Beverly Hills Bridge Center. As often as possible, my 82-year-old grandma escapes into an addictive world of life-masters and carrot sticks, where trump prevails and tricks are meticulously studied. Bridge, a four-person game played in partners, is a little like hearts, only more cerebral and much more strategic. The Beverly Hills Bridge Center offers 13 sessions of open play a week for all ages and skill levels. Every Wednesday afternoon, Fred Melman (life-master extraordinaire) offers a clinic that includes a one-hour lecture and supervised play. The lectures focus on strategy, defense and play-of-the-hand, including the almost telepathic bidding process. 325 S. La Cienega Blvd.; (310) 657-6933 . (Jaime Lowe)

BEST DANCING WITHOUT TRYING TO GET LAID

The Celtic Arts Center. Every Monday night, Irish wannabes meet here to learn Gaelic, play music — and dance. At 8:30, post-lesson, as a bit of refreshment kicks in, the ambiance is more convivial, with ever more good-natured communing about the origin of this or that Irish myth, priests and politics, and the inevitable anecdote as winding as Finnegans Wake . Then it’s time for the Irish social dance ("Céilí") session. "Come on up for the ‘Haymakers Jig!’" teacher Marta Collier will coax, as one by one the boys in the band — Pat on pennywhistle, Todd on bodhrán, Peter McGowan of Finn Mac Cool on guitar, and whoever on bones and fiddle — come in to jam. Soon enough, you’re onstage, doing that irresistible double-hop-step jig-thing (well, trying to). At the Raven Playhouse, 5233 N. Lankershim Blvd., N. Hollywood; (213) 462-6844. (Judy Raphael)

BEST PAY PHONE FOR STRAIGHT GUYS TO GET HIT ON BY GAY GUYS

Pay phone at Venice Boulevard and Beethoven Street. By day, it is indistinguishable from any other phone in the city. But many is the night that this pay phone becomes a circus. Located in front of a "men’s only" health club, the phone is some sort of magnet for gay come-ons. Sometimes the gay guys will hang back, leering silently while pretending to be waiting to use the phone. At other times, they’ll get bold, introducing themselves and asking if you "wanna party." My rule is this: If I don’t see a piñata, there ain’t gonna be a party. So I’m not adventurous — what can I say? But, for the more free-spirited among you, you may wanna check this place out. We can’t guarantee you’re gonna walk off with a new friend, but you’ll never know unless you try. And for you dour, P.C., thought-police types, don’t get your chaps all in a bunch — have a sense of humor. How can you not laugh when a guy in a white plastic cowboy hat and a rhinestone-laden denim jacket sidles up and whimpers, "Hi, my name is Seth. What’s yours?" Ride ’em, cowboy! Mar Vista. (Chris Checkman)

BEST PAY PHONE FOR GAY GUYS TO GET HIT BY STRAIGHT GUYS

The rest of them. Throughout the Southland. (Benny Hill)

PRIMO GELATO SOLO

Ciao Livio. Planted in the heart of the hustle and bustle of trendy Ventura Boulevard is a place of peace and solitude. At this quaint café, a favorite among the locals, sitting alone is not a crime but, actually, the norm. Sneak away from your hectic life and stroll over solo to Ciao Livio, where its famous homemade gelato (like ice cream, but softer and creamier) comes in flavors such as Cheesecake and its most famous, Chocolate Death, that are better described by their Italian names, Focàccia di Formàggio and La Marte del Cioccolato, since they taste just as fancy as they sound. With desserts as wonderful as these, who’d want to share? In addition to salads and sandwiches, Ciao Livio also serves great coffee drinks for under $2. It’s a good place to read, so you may want to bring a book or pick up a newspaper there. 14550 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; (818) 784-5286. (Linda Apeles)

 

BEST PLACE TO LOSE A STARING CONTEST WITH A FERN

Arboretum. Arcadia was the Greeks’ name for a place of quiet, pastoral pleasures, and the city of Arcadia’s Arboretum almost fills the bill. The shrill outcries of the wandering peacocks do pierce the silence rather disconcertingly, but they’re part of the show. (You buy their friendship with a proffered Twinkie from the snack bar.) Humphrey Bogart hauled his African Queen through the Arboretum’s lake (standing in for the River Congo); you reach the spot via pathways meandering past glorious, well-tended plantings that turn a duffer gardener green with envy, and magnificent stands of trees both alien and native. Hemmed in by urban sprawl and, during the racing season, by traffic heading for nearby Santa Anita, the Arboretum is as enlightened and enlightening a squandering of space as the region has to offer. 301 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia; (626) 821-3222 . (Alan Rich)

ALAN RICH’S SECRET GARDEN

Secret Rooftop Japanese Garden. At ground-level Weller Court, just off Astronaut Onizuka Street, is your basic Little Tokyo mini-mall: sushi, T-shirts, a bookstore, overpriced imports. Three flights up, however, there’s another world: an authentic Japanese world; a garden awaiting your amazed discovery; a mere but memorable half-acre for strolling, listening to babbling and falling water, admiring reeds, azaleas and chunks of Sado Island rocks that might have come from Mars, taking in the view — parking lots on one side, tourists in a hotel dining room wrestling with chopsticks on the other. It’s a magic place to disappear into. 123 Astronaut Onizuka St., Little Tokyo. (Alan Rich)

BEST PRETZELS

Larchmont Yoga Center. Don’t let the pressures of L.A. turn you into one of those drivers afflicted by "road rage" — take a free yoga class, offered on the first Sunday of the month at 2 p.m. I know, you’re probably thinking it’s too New Agey for you, but then you obviously haven’t been to the Larchmont Yoga Center. Unlike so many yoga centers where everyone is wearing crystals and meditation is part of the drill, Larchmont attracts all types of people, and there’s a minimal emphasis on the religious aspect (although separate meditation classes are available). What also sets Larchmont apart is the variety of different styles of yoga offered, in cluding ashtanga , iyengar , vini and "flow," as well as classes for kids and pregnant women. Beginning to ad vanced levels are taught every day of the week, and with more than 30 teachers to choose from, you’ll find a class that’s right for you. 230 1/2 N. Larchmont Blvd.; (213) 464-1276. (Miriam Jacobson)

SECOND BEST CACOPHONY SOCIETY

McCabe’s School of Music. Surely you could hear it all the way down the hall, if not throughout the entire Santa Monica neighborhood surrounding McCabe’s Guitar Shop: a half-dozen harmonicas simultaneously wheezing and whining their way through a blues progression. If I were a dog, I’d be sprinting to another county. But I’m not a dog, I’m one of the six people slobbering over these candy-bar-size pieces of wood and metal, squeaking out a cacophony of notes that we hope resemble something that resembles something that resembles the lonesome tones of blues harp in G. And it feels great. A hundred and fifty bucks buys me eight consecutive Tuesday nights of Harmonica for Beginners. For two hours a night, I get to make some friends, spray some saliva and pretend that I might one day be the next Sonny Boy Williamson. But that’s just the start. Next semester I might aspire to be the next Ralph Stanley (Beginning Banjo), Scotty Moore (Rockabilly Guitar), Van Morrison (Vocal Techniques Work shop) or whoever is the best musical-saw player on the planet (Musical Saw Workshop). I’m sure he or she rocks. 3101 Pico Blvd.; (310) 828-4497 . (Neal Weiss)

ZHWAH-DUH VEE-V(RUH) SEWEL

Napoléon French Bakery and Café. Situated on the less-developed end of Main Street, Napoléon French Bakery and Café feels like a little piece of Europe in Santa Monica. The combination of natural sunlight, classical music, and the aromas of fresh coffee and baking pastries gives one an immediate sensation of joie de vivre seul . After you’ve ordered from the waitress (who will, without fail, have a charming foreign accent), you can either drink your delicious and reasonably priced espresso beverage inside or people-watch on the mellow side of Main. The café serves breakfast and lunch, and will soon be unveiling a gourmet dinner menu. 2301 Main St., Santa Monica; (310) 399-9511 . (Annabel Blanchard)

 

BEST SLICE OF LIFE

Pie n’ Burger. The windows are foggy. The Simpsons plays on the TV behind the long lunch counter, positioned so that the short-order cooks have a view. At the other end of the counter, a second TV glows with the evening news. As you finish your magazine and your incredibly tasty and satisfying cheeseburger, the waitress stops in front of you. "Want any pie, hon?" You scan the selection of perfect-looking desserts — cherry, chocolate, apple and lemon meringue pies, a fine-looking chocolate cake . . . You decide on butterscotch pie and a cup of coffee. As the pie plate hits the counter, it makes that perfect piece-of-pie-in-a-diner sound, and you sigh contentedly, knowing there is not a dessert more rich, more comforting this side of heaven, and it wouldn’t be the same if you weren’t alone. 913 E. California Blvd., Pasadena; (626) 795-1123 . (Kim Jones)

GETTING TO KNOW ME

Self-Realization Fellowship. If you’re one of the many residents of this fair city not blessed with a backyard sanctuary, check out the Self-Realization Fellowship in Glassell Park. Located at the top of Mount Wash ington on the former site of the glamourous Mount Washington Hotel, the 12-acre spread was purchased in 1925 by fellowship founder Para mahansa Yogananda. The beautifully maintained grounds are designed to encourage meditation with lots of secluded groves, lush plants, bubbling streams and cool, shaded benches. On clear days, the views of L.A. are delightful. Visitors can either check in at the visitor’s center, or just walk right in and wander, unmolested, for hours . 3880 San Rafael Ave., Glassell Park; (213) 225-2471. (Sara Catania)

PUNK WILL INVADE YOUR HEAD

Dukey Flyswatter. Shortly after the wife and I moved into our new Silver Lake pad, I began to experience a series of bizarre dreams. The "spirits" of former lovers spoke to me as if they were communicating from beyond the veil, and, frankly, I was sick of waking up in the middle of the night wondering where this energy was coming from. Old friend Dukey Flyswatter, the only person I know with any training in this end of spirituality, told us that we had "old bones" in our crib and that we had to bury them outside. All I had were a few extracted teeth in a jar, and plant them I did. After re-entering the house, my girl and I were greeted with the pungent scent of burning bones, which Flyswatter assured us was natural, and he instructed us to burn some cleansing sage. We did, the scent disappeared, and so did the nightmares. Famous as the blood-spitting, vampirically fanged front man/ lunatic from local superstar horror rockers Haunted Garage, Dukey has been focusing his powers on the occult for the past five years. "I’ve studied with German high priestess Lola Babalon. I’ve worked with U.S. government experts in the field of remote-viewing, and I’ve even helped record companies pick out which acts would be successful. Green Day was one of those." Fly swatter says he’s had psychic insights since he was 5, and has indeed worked the hot lines. "Counseling drug addicts and the mistresses of rich businessmen, mostly," he says. "But now I’m moving more into private clientele, which I prefer." Besides, where else can you get a reading, a cup of green tea and the Misfits blaring in the background for only $20? Beats Dionne Warwick, dontcha think? (213) 660-3324. (Johnny Angel)

BEST CHALET IN HOLLYWOOD

The Study. By night, this nondescript hole-in-the-wall — set back off the street near the infamous corner of Hollywood and Western — is a hotbed of Afro-American homo activity, with rap and techno played at earsplitting levels, usually a long line and lots of parking-lot action. In the afternoons, things quiet down and one can enjoy the ’70s ski-lodge atmosphere (chalet-style stove, curvy maroon tuck-’n’-roll booths) and Happy Hour–priced, liberally poured drinks while listening to everything from "Satin Doll" to Madonna’s "Erotica," Salt-N-Pepa and Aretha. For a while, the sign was missing some letters (deliberately?) and spelled out "HE STUD" — which more than describes the usual clientele. A good place for crying in your beer with a pal or imbibing before an evening of debauchery. 1723 N. Western Ave., Hollywood; (213) 464-9551 . (Pleasant Gehman)

BEST WISHES

Chinatown Wishing Well. Though this collection of cement stalactites and porcelain statuary at first appears to have no real-world reference point, a rusty plate reveals it to be a miniature replica of the "Seven Star Cavern," created by one Professor K.K.K. Lu. The Cavern is a major attraction in China’s Seven Star Park, a region famed for inspiring centuries of watercolorists and attracting honeymooners with its jutting limestone formations. While the original is illuminated by lurid colored lights, the spotlights directed at the stand-in are, sadly, no longer operational, and the black-light possibilities suggested by otherwise inexplicable spottings of Day-Glo paint are likely to remain forever a dream. Further deepening the mystery of the Wishing Well is the puzzling layout of the bowls into which supplicants’ coins are pitched: Given that the site is visited almost exclusively by tourists, should we find it ironic or profoundly meaningful that the most remote coin-target is called "Vacation," while one of the closest is "Good Luck"? You decide. Mei Ling Way at Gin Ling Way, between Hill St. and Broadway, downtown . (Reverend Al Cacophony)

 

O SOLO NOODLE . . .

Divine Pasta Company. Dining alone in a town teeming with millions of thousands of people need not be an alienating experience. At its La Brea location, Divine Pasta lives up to its angelic name, not only in terms of its heavenly food, but in providing sanctuary for those who, through circumstance or by choice, dine alone. Like most of the stores of this small chain, its factory site is primarily a place for pasta lovers to pick up the makings for their favorite pasta dish and prepare it at home, but it also offers indoor and outdoor seating. The service is over-the-counter, so there’s no chance of intrusive waiters. The staff is courteous and attentive but has no difficulty in leaving a customer to a good hot meal and the day’s paper. Those newly divorced, separated or widowed and unaccustomed to being out by themselves will find solace in the fact that if they’re dining alone, they won’t be the only ones. 615 N. La Brea Ave.; (213) 939-1148 . (Ellen Krout-Hasegawa)

BEST PLACE TO WATCH THE SMELL OF ROSES

Exposition Park Rose Garden. So this is what was hiding behind the trees I passed a thousand times when driving down Exposition Boulevard near USC — 1,600 varieties of flowers in a gazebo-ed setting that reminds me of the Queen of Hearts’ croquet field from Alice in Wonderland . Inside the Rose Garden, you can hide out under the shade and escape traffic and other city frenzy. Bring a blanket and a book, and get ready to commune with the blooms. Try to plan your quality self-time for very early or late in the afternoon, to avoid the army of day campers from the museum. Trousdale Parkway at Exposition Blvd. (Jin Whang)

BEST TABLE FOR ONE

Cafe Pierrot. The newest arrival on the block that separates the Church of Scientology’s Celebrity Center from the Hollywood neighborhoods of Beach wood and the Oaks, Cafe Pierrot filled a gap in the food groups the first month it opened: Executive chef Shuji Kimura’s French-inspired Asian fare is better for you than the beurre- drenched meats of La Poubelle and less pedestrian than Birds, and like the Bourgeois Pig down the street, it doubles as a coffeehouse without the deafening rave beat. But due to a knuckleheaded name and no liquor license (as of press time), Pierrot hasn’t found its place on the scene: Actors don’t launch auditions here, aging ravers don’t play pool, lesbians in love aren’t making out at the tables. Bad for business, maybe, but so nice for the solo diner who just wants a little peace with her Haiku Soba. And so we forgive Kimura and his chefs, Luis and Jaime Prado, for not stocking brown rice and serving a dessert so jejune as tiramisù (even though it is, as we said in the days when tiramisù was still fashionable, absolutely to die for). The turkey potstickers rock, the breakfast udon fills your belly with goodness, and you can digest in undistressed, if not particularly trendy, bliss. 5917 Franklin Ave., Hollywood; (213) 468-2496 . (Judith Lewis)


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