My mother is the consummate hostess. People think she’s Martha Stewart. They’re wrong. She’s a small Jewish woman in Philadelphia who slaves over every side dish, neurotically arranges flowers and sets a table with panache. I was taught from a young age that the 11th commandment is “Thou shalt nevah evah show up to a party empty-handed. It’s not classy.” She’s right. In this modern age of the casual hang, a hostess gift has become a six-pack of Bud and a Starbucks gift card. Don’t get me wrong, I love a free grande soy latte, but this is about paying proper respect and gratitude toward your host(ess). After all, if it weren’t for the party, you’d never have that great story where you stumbled home drunk off your ass and woke up amid Fat Burger wrappers with some phone number written on your left breast. After dashing out the door, pulling on my slingbacks while simultaneously checking my smartphone to see if MapQuest is going to fuck me up again, I usually grab a bottle of wine from Cap N Cork. Wine is an appropriate gift, but it isn’t very personal. Here are a few local gems filled with perfect gifts that say, “Thanks for inviting me to gorge myself on your free food whilst enabling my alcoholic tendencies.” Incidentally, they’re great places to find a last-minute Mother’s Day gift too.
We’ve established bringing a gift is cool, but bringing an environmentally conscious present to your friend’s new pad is even cooler. Where else to go but Reform School? The store was started by Tootie Maldonado and Billie Lopez, former high school classmates who conceived their business in the womb of The Kids Are Alright, in Echo Park, where they sold a few of their own items. Seven months ago they gave birth to their very own shop, complete with primo real estate at Sunset Junction. Tootie told me that 75 to 80 percent of what they sell is recycled, reused, handmade or sustainable. Plus it’s pretty freakin’ cute. The tiny store is filled to the brim, but it’s not overwhelming. I felt like I was at my supercool friend’s apartment as I oohed and aahed over the 100 percent natural bath and body products by Brickhouse and 4mula. Amazing vases made out of recycled Japanese newspaper are only $20 to $56 and look way more expensive. The store has an A-line skirt kit by Susan Stars complete with matching scarf, journals made out of mid-century magazine covers and blank recycled paper, and work by local emerging artists covering the walls. I spied an all-natural bamboo domino set in the kids corner and poster prints that would accent any home’s décor. The most fun is the diminutive art sold for $5 out of an old cigarette machine. I really loved the “Tear Drop” tea set by Tea Forte for $60. It comes with the teapot, cups, a creamer and sugar bowl, all in a romantic package. Sold! Tootie will even gift-wrap your purchase so you don’t have to do it in your car on the way to the party. 4014 Santa Monica Blvd., Silver Lake, (323) 906-8660; Mon.-Fri., noon-7 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Sure, you can show up with a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck and your friend will still love you, but when you need a hostess gift that will really make an impression, run to Toby and Eddie Lopez, the owners of My Secret Garden. Toby and Eddie are New Yorkers who bought this gorgeous flower shop in 1998. When you walk in the door, you’re greeted with the fragrance of freshly cut lilies and lilacs. Toby goes to market three times a week, so the flowers are always fresh and in season. They range from $1.98 to $25.99 a stem. In the cooler they have a huge assortment of roses in every color imaginable, imported Dutch tulips, Oriental lilies, dahlias, and hundreds of varieties of flowers as well as pre-made arrangements in glass vases. The main showcase is dedicated to flowers from exotic locales — New Zealand calla lilies, water lilies and lotus pods — and the classics — gerber daisies, Casablanca lilies and hydrangeas. They also have a stunning assortment of imported orchids, both potted (personally by Eddie) and cut. Handblown glass vases, Voluspa candles, ceramic Buddha statues and plush toys adorn the shelves. My Secret Garden is an accomplished design studio as well as a neighborhood flower shop, and Toby’s background in photography comes through in her customized arrangements. All bouquets are wrapped with brown paper and tied with raffia, giving them a rustic feel. Eddie suggests a potted Phalaenopsis orchid plant for $72. A guaranteed pleaser. 5500 Franklin Ave., Hlywd., (323) 469-1514. Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sat., 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun., 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Sometimes you get invited to a party thrown by one of those people who have it all. Incidentally, those are usually the swankiest and best parties. Where do you go? GR2. It’s an offshoot of the original Giant Robot store, the brainchild of Eric Nakamura and Martin Wong that started as a cult indie zine. GR2 celebrates Japanese pop culture, and what’s more hipster than that? The store is tiny, and everywhere you look there’s another tchotchke to play with. They have a ton of cool stuff. Your hostess can grow her own herbs in an anime egg, or “Taterpot,” for $12. You can buy T-shirts by 2K with artwork by David Shrigley, stationery and books illustrated by Yoshitomo Nara and a plethora of other artists, an “Ugly Doll” plush toy from $10-$75, and a variety of salt-and-pepper shakers shaped like dachshunds, robots or weird figurines for $12. There are banks shaped like houses and even a Buddha Machine, a small music loop gadget that was hugely popular in Asia (and we hear Brian Eno bought eight of ’em). I liked the Gama Go Fliperoo Clock for $60 and was partial to the Lomo Camera, which uses regular 35 mm film but has a fish-eye lens, so you never know what kind of picture you’re going to get. They range from $50 to $200. 2062 Sawtelle Blvd., W.L.A., (310) 445-9276; Mon.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sun., noon-7 p.m.
In college my friend was in a band called Fake Nun. They wore habits and cross-dressed as full-blown sisters — not strong black women, but the “Brides of Christ” variety. He worked at a gourmet-food shop, in the cheese section. This spawned the song “I Know Way Too Much About Fucking Cheese.” Now all grown up, he’s having hors d’oeuvres at his place. I immediately know what to bring. The Cheese Store of Silverlake is the quintessential one-stop shop for all that is cheese. Jazz music plays softly in the background as you get your dairy on. Britt and Kirsten were so helpful and let me taste as many varieties as I wanted. Owner Chris Pollan’s slogan is “Try before you buy.” You give them your budget and they will make you up a tasting platter to go. Perfect for a picnic, a Dodgers game or to impress your friends. Their custom wicker baskets start at around $35 and you can make it as fancy as you wish; that includes all types of yumminess like their fine olive oils (they call them finishing oils) that are bottled on the premises (Arbequina and Umbria for $20 a bottle). They have truffles, gourmet meats, tubs of aioli, Spanish white anchovies called boquerones and olives — Persian, Mediterranean and their own special spicy house blend. You may include wine, which they also sell. There’s a section dedicated to local delicacies from Chris’ home state, Rhode Island. This place is a cornucopia of treats for the advanced palate, as well as the beginner. My mouth watered over the caramels by Little Flower, a local candy maker. For two bucks they’ll wrap up whatever you want in a sweet wicker basket. You may want to include a cheese planer or spreader for $2.99 and a handmade card by a local artist. I went home with a triumvirate of a French Gruyère style called Le Marechal, Umbriaco from Italy and Mimolette from France. Also, I can’t leave any cheese shop without some aged Gouda. Just call me the cheese wiz. 3926-28 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake, (323) 644-7511. Mon., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-6:45 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.?