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A very WOW window display on Hollywood Boulevard
A very WOW window display on Hollywood Boulevard
Courtesy World of Wonder

Best of L.A. Culture: Unique Goods and Gathering Spaces

Some of the best gatherings in L.A. take place not in clubs or theaters but at more out-of-the-box locales such as stores, cafes and workspaces. Providing goods, services and, most notably, experiences inspired by their surroundings, these places reflect their proprietors' passions for their products, as well as their patrons.

Best Place to Shop & Stay, Shante

Most production companies don't have their own retail store, but World of Wonder isn't just any production company. It's the company behind RuPaul's Drag Race, and the flagship store on Hollywood Boulevard has all the RuPaul and drag-queen merch you could want; it's even host to some special events. "World of Wonder is more than a media company, it's an experience. ... We thought it was important to create a destination for our tribe," World of Wonder founders Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey say. "The World of Wonder Flagship Store is more than a retail experience, it's part of a larger entertainment outlet featuring art exhibits, performance spaces and panels for like-minded people to connect." Past events have included Two Girls One Yard Sale last December, where drag queens Trixie Mattel and Kim Chi allowed fans to "snatch" wigs and other merch from their drag wardrobes, and the WOWIE Awards, also in December, which celebrated the year in pop culture. Don't be a drag, just be a queen and head down to the space in Hollywood to make your biggest French Vanilla drag fantasies become a reality. 6650 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; store.worldofwonder.net. —Michael Cooper

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Book Show's Jen Hitchcock
Book Show's Jen Hitchcock
Judy Sisneros

Best Bookstore With More Than One Beat

Book Show is a bookstore with a heart. Jen Hitchcock's little shop in Highland Park sells a wide variety of books, zines and other publications, but it's also an LGBT-friendly space that hosts numerous workshops, open mics, queer reading series, comedy performances and lesbian movie nights. There's also Collage & Cry, a monthly collage art night, and House Open Mic, "a safe space for people who need a safe space." Many events are free, and Book Show encourages all members of the public to participate or even just to hang out among like-minded, tolerant and inclusive souls. 5503 N. Figueroa St., Highland Park; bookshowla.com. —Falling James

Best of L.A. Culture: Unique Goods and Gathering Spaces
Courtesy Writer's Blok

Best Writers Workout

For 13 seasons, Paul Shirley battled in the paint among the greatest players in the world. Eleven years after he last got paid to play basketball, he's in a place he hardly could have imagined, running a writing incubator keenly named Writers Blok. Bizarre as it may have initially seemed, it has been remarkably successful. Shirley has attributed qualities he learned as a professional athlete — attitude, discipline, accountability and teamwork — to writing, long considered a solitary act. Peer pressure and competition, driven by "sprint" and "extended" writing sessions, along with group interaction and Q&As with luminary authors, make this a writer's Valhalla. Imagine a Starbucks without all the pretension and annoyances, with great coffee, tea and snacks at a price point that's less than what you'd be giving Howard Schultz. 2677 S. La Cienega Blvd., Mid City; writersblok.org. —Roy Jurgens

Best of L.A. Culture: Unique Goods and Gathering Spaces
Courtesy Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab

Best Nose Nirvana

There's so much to love about Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, the Los Angeles niche line created by Elizabeth Barrial, who has a nose for designing evocative scents that showcase her vast knowledge of history, literature and art. The sexy, playful, profound and even goofy scents and their descriptions have built a loyal following, many of whom show up at the monthly full moon open houses at BPAL headquarters to squee over the smells, sniff each other's wrists and feel all the feels the perfume oils stimulate. Special-edition scents benefit a variety of organizations and causes, including the Comic Book Defense Fund, National Center for Transgender Equality and the ACLU. By blending a whiff of bitter lemon into the patchouli base "National Emergy (sic)" and translating Oscar Wilde and H.P. Lovecraft into scents, Barrial has created a mini-empire of benevolence, intelligence and goodwill. Monthly open houses held approximately every full moon; see website for details. blackphoenixalchemylab.com. —Lisa Derrick

Best of L.A. Culture: Unique Goods and Gathering Spaces
Courtesy Rose Tree Cottage

Best Place to Rehearse for Tea With the Queen

Anglophilia abounds at Rose Tree Cottage, a true temple to all things British. In the cottage's victuals shop, English expats swoon over Heinz baked beans and frozen bangers. The real immersion into the customs of the green and pleasant land occurs thrice daily when tea is served. Rose Tree Cottage is so deeply steeped in authenticity that Meghan Markle arranged a practice tea-sipping session to learn proper etiquette ("The napkin is left on your seat if you are returning to the table" and "Pinky in always" stand out as memorable tips, per proprietor Edmund Fry) with gal pals before meeting her future grandmother-in-law, HRH Queen Elizabeth. Think finger sandwiches, scones with preserves and clotted cream, petit fours and, of course, a variety of teas served in rooms abloom with floral patterns. 801 S. Pasadena Ave., Pasadena; (626) 793-3337, rosetreecottage.com. —Lisa Derrick

Best of L.A. Culture: Unique Goods and Gathering SpacesEXPAND
Courtesy Relámpago Wheelery

Best Bike Shop to Roll in and Hang

Dreadhawked Relámpago Wheelery operator Jimmy Lizama is that ultimate unicorn of L.A. demographics: a middle-aged native Angeleno who has never owned a car. The longtime bicycle messenger pours his belief in bikes as central to the healthy future of this city into his modest bike studio in Koreatown's Los Angeles Eco Village, where he's lived for 20 years. Relámpago Wheelery builds dynamo lighting systems and custom wheels, does repairs and builds custom bikes. But it's Lizama's people- and pedal-powered crusade against L.A.'s ingrained car culture (and its related urban sprawl, pollution, obesity and community dysfunction) that sets it apart. Relámpago's monthly "BiciParranda" karaoke nights are festive gatherings of bike riders but also political parties that elevate the humble bicycle to a medium of expression and a tool for change. 140 Bimini Place, Koreatown; (213) 216-2132, relampagowheelery.com. —Paul Rogers

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