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BEST HARDCORE COFFEE

Peet’s Coffee & Tea. Before the onset of our nation’s biggest drug problem — Starbucks — there was Peet’s. Since 1966, Peet’s has roasted, sold and served some of the world’s finest dark-roast coffees (and damn good blends) to people lined up each morning all over the Bay Area; and shipped the stuff all over the world, always within 24 hours of roasting. Now Peet’s — to Starbucks what Bill Hicks is to Gallagher — has come south (exclamation). More powerful, more confident, denser and more intense beans than Peet’s French Roast you will not find in any metropolitan area this side of Istanbul. Unless you do, in which case please leave the address and phone number at the tone, and I’ll get back to you. 605 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena; (626) 795-7413. (Dave Shulman)

 

BEST DE-ANGSTULATED COFFEEHOUSE & NEIGHBORHOOD PLAYPEN

Dolphin House. Coffeehouses have sprouted up like dandelions in the ’90s, which I suppose is preferable to a boom in taverns or crack houses. But it’s overkill all the same. One boîte that transcends the familiar creaky-cappuccino-machine-and-dank-lighting vibe is Toni Childs’ Dolphin Cafe. With its porpoise-friendly décor and sunny courtyard, it’s a pleasant enough scene, with high-quality coffee and a bunch of Internet-accessible computers (the New Age answer to a cup and the Times ) set up in the front for public use at a minimal charge. Best of all is the Saturday-morning "Celebrity Story book" reading, with such personalities as Maureen "Marcia Brady" McCor mick and Melrose Place and NYPD Blue cast members reciting kiddie classics. Imagine sauntering in on a Saturday morn, barely awake, to the spectacle of, say, Joe Pesci intoning "Three Little Pigs." Only in L.A. 1732 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice; (310) 822-1415 . (Johnny Angel)

 

BEST NEW CULTURAL CENTER

Skirball Cultural Center. Where once the sheep of the Spaniards grazed, culture now looms large. The sprawl of UCLA nestles into the bottom of Sepulveda Pass; the tidy settlement of the University of Judaism stands at its crown. Between the two, the gleaming prospect of the Getty Center (in progress) teases the eye. The Skirball Cultural Center, which opened a little more than a year ago, is more modest in proportion, but it’s already a handsome and valuable member of the Sepulveda enclave. The center includes a museum of Jewish life and art, a study center, an uncommonly comfortable 350-seat auditorium for concerts and lectures, a "Discovery Center" to introduce kids to Jewish history and archaeology, a pleasant restaurant, and — from its vast, fountained courtyard — a spectacular view. It bears the name of Jack Skirball, born in 1896, who began as a rabbi and became a movie producer of such works as Hitchcock’s Saboteur and Shadow of a Doubt . 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd.; (310) 440-4500 . (Alan Rich)

 

BEST PLACE TO SPOT THE CAST OF HELIOTROPE LANE 90026

The Fold at the Silverlake Lounge. Hot nightspots in L.A. have the life span of an anemic fruit fly, or so it seems. This year’s packed-to-the-rafters is next year’s wouldn’t-be-caught-dead-in, and so it goes. When I last scribed regularly for this paper, Raji’s was still going strong as the dump du jour , and it took an act of nature to end that wonderful dive’s reign. The most Raji’s-like venue currently offering ear-mangling indie bands and obscure dance stuff in between is the Silverlake Lounge. Booked and operated by filmmaker Scott Sterling (who creates posters for most gigs — start saving ’em), the Lounge is a Monday-through-Thursday deal, and possibly the most neighborhoodly joint ever to offer noisy joys. The rest of the week, the Lounge is home to Latino drag shows (in their own way, a laff riot), but midweek it’s a gathering of the Silver Lake clan that hasn’t yet become bridge-and-tunneled to death. Cozy and unpretentious, this is where real scenes begin, not the A&R laboratories to the west. Drink prices are reasonable (beer $2.75, well drinks $3), the cover seems fair, and the bands aren’t in-your-face hustlers. I felt right at home the first time I stepped through the door, too. Get it while you can. 2906 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake; (213) 666-2407. (Johnny Angel)

 

I’M YOUR BOY ELROY. I’ll BE YOUR WAITER.

Encounter. By now, most people have heard of designer Eddie Sotto’s $3.5 million face-lift of LAX’s Theme Building. In addition to its four-star global-modern cuisine, Encounter is becoming a groovy, Jetsons -like venue for cocktails and dancing. On Fridays, DJ Señor Amor spins the best in jet-set à gogo to an eclectic crowd of Silver Lake hipsters and Swedish tourists. And this fall, the observation deck will reopen as the Outer Encounter, featuring live music underneath the building’s spiderlike support beams, now lit dramatically with multicolored lights that change colors as often as planes fly in and out of the murky sky. 209 World Way, LAX; (310) 215-5151. (Joe Sehee)

 

BEST BITCHEN NEW HIP THING THAT’S DEF AND RAD

Fat Beats. If ever a record store goes to great lengths to support the DJ, Joe Abajian’s Fat Beats in New York is that store. Having recently opened a West Coast branch, Fat Beats is now L.A.’s sure-shot one-stop for all of the hippest underground 12-inch and full-length releases at the lowest prices. Featuring world-renowned turntablists Babu, Nu-Mark and J-Rocc of the Beat Junkies, Fat Beats has an inviting, excited energy that can ignite even the uninitiated’s interest in hip-hop. Everything from mix-tapes, graf mags and accessories to break-beat compilations and reissued classics like Brand Nubian’s One for All are available. The store also holds turntable battles, B-boy exhibitions and live performances that have featured the Invisibl Skratch Piklz, X-Men, Jeru, DJ Shadow, Redman, Kool Keith, Latyrix, J-Live, Jurassic 5 and Siah & Yeshua. Plain and simple, Fat Beats is holding it down for hip-hop’s backbone: the DJ! 1768 N. Vermont Ave.; (213) 663-3717. (Carlos Niño)

 

BEST BITCHEN NEW HIP THING THAT’S DEF AND RAD AND PHAT

Trueroots Streetwear. This new store represents one of the first positive cultural happenings in this tough neighborhood. For the past five years, designer Anthony Cruz Gonzalez has created hip-hop/club/raver gear while spreading the word of Latino pride. He saved every penny to open this store, which also features weekend entertainment — The Aztec Dancers, rap and Latin-jazz artists and DJs. Big V-neck jerseys in brown, orange, blue and white are popular, as are baggy jeans, cords and khaki pants. Also dig the line of "Cultural Pride" T-shirts Gonzalez proudly displays in his cozy storefront suite, as well as a gallery of indigenous Aztec and Mayan art. Other items of note are the all-hemp beanies. Orale! 11541-G Laurel Canyon Blvd., San Fernando; (800) 971-8797 . (Paul Saucido)

 

BEST PLACE TO EXCHANGE NEW-SCHOOL CRAP FOR VINTAGE PUNK CRAP

Destroy All Music. If you are one of those people who got caught up in the post–Nirvana wave of nouveau punk only to find you’ve developed a deep loathing for same and have a boatload of recently purchased undesirables at home, then Destroy All Music is for you. The best spot in town for ’70s and ’80s noise, with a wallful of attendant paraphernalia (every band worth a damn has a T-shirt), is also a good receptacle for ’90s pop-punk and ska discs you may no longer want. Me, I’ve procured rarities from Teenage Head, the Pagans and Pere Ubu in the last few weeks while cleaning out stacks of CDs (full disclosure: I get mine free) by baseball-capped, goateed, short-pants-wearing nonentities bleating out tired screeds over done-to-death three-chord ramalama. But if you actually like that shit, go there and buy my throwaways; that is, if some 14-year-old skinhead from Encino hasn’t beaten you to it. 3818 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake; (213) 663-9300 (Johnny Angel)

 

BEST NEW FAST FOOD ON SUNSET

La Playita Siete Mares. Fans of seafood tacos will be happy to note the addition of La Playita to the fast-fish family in the heart of Silver Lake. This adjunct to the Siete Mares Restaurant next door, located in what was an old feed store, shovels out the tacos, tostadas and shrimp cocktails all day long and most of the night. The aforementioned cocktails also come with crab, octopus, oysters and clams, abalone and "mixed." Seafood plates come with rice, fries and tortillas. If Sunset traffic isn’t your ideal ambiance, take out for private devourage at home. 3143 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake; (213) 664-4604 . (Suzy Beal)

 

NEW FELT CUE SCENE

Hollywood Billiards. Now that the Hollywood Athletic Club has more or less become a disco, pool players are heading back to the newly renovated Hollywood Billiards (the original location, in the old Hayes Code building on Hollywood and Western, shut down after the Northridge earthquake). The completely remodeled interior holds 40 tables — 20 upstairs, 20 downstairs — along with two bars, an arcade, two private rooms, two patios (one on the roof) and chef Stefano Lucio Mazzi’s fine Northern Italian restaurant, Issima. The brick walls, hardwood floors and high ceiling create an atmosphere unlike the dark, dank, pool hall of old. Tables go for $3 to $10 per hour, depending on the day and time. 5750 Hollywood Blvd.; (213) 465-0115. (Karen Cusolito)

 

BEST NEW QUAINT, CHARMING AND/OR LOVELY YET GAPLESS AND BORDERSLESS THING

Hermosa Streetscape. While not as bustling as its more famous cousin in Santa Monica, Hermosa’s new promenade has spiced up the quaint little beach town considerably. Once thoroughly congested, the Hermosa Streetscape now provides residents and visitors with a newly paved, wide-open space to stroll, bike or skate. Just steps from the sand are thrift and surf shops, a youth hostel and a great bookstore (and no Gap or Borders). Things stay rockin’ on into the night with a dozen bars and restaurants, plus luaus, parties and plenty of skateboarding events planned throughout the year. Lower Pier & Hermosa aves., Hermosa Beach. (Sandy Cohen)

 

BEST FINE NEW ART MUSEUM

Museum of Latin American Art. This fledgling museum is more charming gallery than stuffy museum. A former roller rink dating back to the ’20s, the building has the original wood floors which, even polished, still show scratches and scuffs from a thousand pairs of skates. The brick walls are brightly painted, and Latin American music plays over a speaker system. Since its opening last November, it has shown the works of Diego Rivera and Oaxacan artist Rodolfo Morales, along with documentary films, lectures and other special events. Right now, the museum has only one exhibit hall, but plans call for the opening of a performance space in time for Day of the Dead on November 2. Admission is only $3; memberships are also available. The gift store has jewelry from Taxco, toys and a great selection of books on Latin American artists and writers. 628 Alamitos Ave., Long Beach; (562) 437-1689. (Karen Cusolito)

 

HEY BAYBUH, DIDN’T WE MEET IN SCHOOL?

UCLA Ocean Discovery Center. More of a teaching aquarium than just a place to watch colorful fish, the UCLA Ocean Discovery Center opened its doors in September 1996 for the explicit purpose of educating the public about human impact on (a.k.a. pollution in) Santa Monica Bay. The center features four main display tanks, a tactile wet-lab for hands-on examination of sea life, self-guided interactive exhibits illustrating marine-life concepts and a multimedia auditorium. All of the displays are educational, but you can also simply watch fish procreate in the 3,000-gallon Pier Tank, the largest display, which contains over two dozen species of local fish and a variety of crustaceans and invertebrates. 1600 Ocean Front Walk (beach level, below the carousel), Santa Monica; (310) 393-6149 . (Sandra Ross)

 

BEST CAFÉ WITH A CONSCIENCE

WeHo Lounge. At first glance, the WeHo seems like any other trendy West Hollywood café, all stylish décor and pretty people. But unlike its neighbors, the WeHo houses an HIV/AIDS re source center and offers free HIV/ AIDS testing in a back room. The WeHo also hosts "The Cocktail Hour," a series of weekly discussions about AIDS treatments. Past topics include "Alcohol, Drugs, Nicotine and Protease — If I Would Have Known I Was Going to Live This Long, I Would Have Taken Better Care of Myself" and "I Can’t Take Another Pill." AIDS Healthcare Foundation founder and president Michael Weinstein says the introduction of protease inhibitors — a new, powerful class of AIDS drugs — prompted him to seek an informal way of educating people about available treatments. "We figured if we did it in a low-key way, mixing hanging out, cruising and socializing with information, testing and support, we’d have a chance of being successful with those people who wouldn’t go to an AIDS center, clinic or testing site." 8861 Santa Monica Blvd., W. Hollywood; (310) 659-6180 . (David Caplan)

 

BEST CLOSET RADIO STATION

KBLT. Finally, a radio station that lives up to San Francisco’s adventurous university-run KALX and KUSF and matches the subversiveness of KROQ’s glory days (circa ’78–’79). KBLT, a pirate radio station literally run out of a closet in Silver Lake, plays a refreshing mix of punk, soul, electronic, country, jazz and even French pop. The programming is so inspired, you may not need to buy records for a while — in fact, you may never want to turn your radio off. Taking the lead from Free Radio Berkeley, which is challenging the FCC’s authority to regulate micro-power broadcasting, KBLT started broadcasting Thanksgiving night, 1995, on a 37-watt transmitter with two hours of daily airtime. Now the station has expanded to 14 hours a day, offering shows such as Trans missions From Endor , 13 Miles Wide and even The Watt From Pedro (hosted by Mike Watt, Fridays, 8 to 10 p.m.). The bad news is that KBLT broadcasts only over a 5-mile radius, which may make you move to Silver Lake. Next time you’re within 5 miles of Spaceland between noon and 2 a.m., tune in to this musical oasis sandwiched by brain-pulverizing Groove Radio (103.1) and brain-dead (except for Rodney Bingenheimer, of course) KROQ (106.7). (Willy Banta)

 

BEST WHY AREN’T THERE HUNDREDS OF THESE?

L.A. River bike path. Any flat, safe, fairly scenic stretch of ground reserved just for bicycles is good news in this town where biking can be as fun as trying to cross the freeway on foot. This new bike path runs along the L.A. River starting at Los Feliz Boulevard and ending at Riverside Drive. For about three miles you’re on a ribbon of asphalt that shoots by a view of the freeway (suckers!), our sadly gallant "river" and even ducks and cranes at certain times of the year. (Libby Molyneaux)

 

WORKSHOPS! SCREENINGS! EVEN THE HOURS ARE HIP!

Velveteen Robot Bad Book Boutique. Owner Edi Vaché operates this bookstore/community center/progressive think tank more as a philosophic practice than a capitalistic enterprise. The shelves teem with approximately 3,000 titles — mostly obscure and out-of-print new and used counterculture literature. With frequent readings, writing workshops and indie movie screenings, the atmosphere is one of a friendly left-leaning salon. (Independent publishers and zines are welcome to submit publications for potential retail sales.) Even the hours are fringe — Thursday through Sunday, noon to 9 p.m. and beyond, depending upon the conversation. 3932 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake; (213) 660-1934 . (Liam Finn)