Part Two Best Curious Boutique Tracy …

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Part Two

Best
Curious Boutique

Tracy Feith

209 Mulberry St. (Spring
St.)

334-3097

Carnaby
Street Updated. Sexy slips in swell colors and paisley patterns. Dresses that
make any woman look like a beautiful ballerina. Nice jewelry selection: very
delicate and not too expensive. There are some men’s shirts at Tracy Feith,
but only for the most bold. We love our almost see-through orange paisley print
blouse.

Best Calendar

Mütter Museum 2000

Boning
Up. Back in time for the Big One after a few years’ hiatus, this calendar
celebrates the famous anatomical collection at the College of Physicians of
Philadelphia. Our friend Laura Lindgren, the book designer, makes this amazing
thing happen as a labor of considerable love–she’s kind of obsessed
with all this anatomical skeletons-and-fetuses stuff, and it pays off in this
gorgeously printed, most intelligently art-directed work. Photographers Joel-Peter
Witkin, Rosamond Purcell, Olivia Parker, Arne Svenson, Max Aguilera-Hellweg
and Scott Lindgren highlight various aspects of the Mütter collection,
and different “moods” as well. There’s a haughty-looking fetal
skeleton, an otherwordly flayed corpse showing the filigreed infrastructure
of preserved veins and arteries, a cat’s brain in a jar, a wax-museumish
sculpture of a severed head.

Beautiful,
strange, dignified and unlike any other calendar you’ve seen. It’s
$14.95 at St. Marks Books, Tower, Evolution on Spring St., Shakespeare, ICP–and
in the 18th St. Barnes & Noble, where the sissy nimrods have sort of hidden
it among the medical books instead of putting it with the other calendars.

Best
Beanie Baby Selection

Balloon Saloon

133 W. Broadway (Duane St.)
227-3838

Open the
Wallet, Dad. We can only hope that Ty Warner is really going to retire his line
of Beanie Babies on Dec. 31 and spend time in the sauna of The Four Seasons
hotel that he bought recently off his earnings. If he launches a marketing campaign
for Beanie Toddlers, we’re going to be one very pissed-off pop. Anyway,
Balloon Saloon is a cool store in Tribeca that has a boatload of the criminally
priced BBs and plastic cases to contain them. We think that the owners know
it’s all a Ty scam too, but they’re not complaining.

Balloon Saloon,
if you live downtown, is also the place to go for birthday parties: not only
do they sell monster, tiger, bear, zebra and mylar balloons, but also plenty
of stuff for the goodie bags that are inevitably handed out when a shindig is
wrapping up. Key chains, fake poop, hand-buzzers, goofy glasses and other novelties.

Best Secondhand Hi-Fi
Equipment

The Bargain Stop
195 7th Ave. (betw. 21st
& 22nd Sts.)

463-9740

Boom Boxes.
It was probably our father’s fault that we became interested in high-end
audio equipment. Growing up, we didn’t have Sony or Sanyo in the house.
We had a Bang & Olufsen turntable. (With a diamond cartridge. The diamond
cartridge part was drilled into our impressionable brain.) And a MacIntosh tube
amplifier; a Teac reel-to-reel tape that we used to create our own version of
Walter Cronkite’s nightly news broadcast; and a rotating cast of speakers
that came in the size of either a pocketbook or a pygmy, but never a height
in between. When we weren’t listening to a shortwave radio broadcast (usually
BBC), we were listening to a record of chamber music or a reel-to-reel of a
family friend’s most recent recording session. More often than not, these
sessions involved some combination of an oboist, a harpsichordist, a flautist,
a violinist and occasionally a French horn player. Famous musicians with bad
rhythm were the butts of jokes in our house, as were interpretive geniuses who
always played wrong notes. And we dissected all this great music via the clarity
that our “hi-fi” granted us.

In college,
we sunk to pedestrian levels and covered up the cheap Aiwa component system
whenever Dad visited. We slowly, very slowly, converted Dad from vinyl to compact
disc, although it was only a matter of time before he returned to the warm analog
of the former. So when we finally earned enough to throw out the embarrassing
plastic hunk that masqueraded as our stereo system, we were so thankful to find
a store like the Bargain Stop. Dad would be proud. Our first purchase was an
Onkyo computer-controlled amplifier with no fewer than nine ports on its rear
including two VCR ins, a phono in, two tape ins, a CD in and the all-purpose-auxiliary
in. Fingering it in the shop, we imagined wiring up a whole studio’s worth
to its snazzy, big-volume-dialed front. To keep the sassy Onkyo company, we
bought a Bose subwoofer system, with a pair of positionable cube speakers and
a powerful bass bottom. The grand total: around $500.

Naturally we
bargained the Bargain Stop’s friendly Grenadian owner, Jassie, down a few
hundred. He seemed pleased that a young thing like us knew so much about high-end
equipment. We returned a few weeks later for a steal: $100 for an Onkyo dual-cassette
player. Our mini-studio was materializing in front of our eyes. The only price
we paid was the destruction of a once-peaceful relationship with our neighbors
and landlord. We’d never had a Bose in a small apartment, see, and just
didn’t know how thick the bass was. It didn’t matter. With this equipment
in hand, we were connoisseurs, musicians almost.

Best Travel
Agent

Kadesh Travel

908-754-4449
KADESHTRVL@AOL.COM

Just Get on the Phone.
There was a time, in a less complicated world, when people making travel arrangements
relied on the friendly agency down the street. While it can be pleasant to do
business in person, maybe become friends with the one or two people who owned
the shop, often they didn’t know squat about discount airfare rates, hotels
in Lisbon or economic skiing or mountain-climbing packages. That’s why
we ditched our own local agency and switched to Kadesh Travel. So what if their
office is in New Jersey; everything’s done by phone anyway. And Marv Kadesh
is one of the most knowledgeable men in the industry.

Whether your
dream vacation is a luxurious tour of Japan or a no-frills backpacking expedition
in Costa Rica, Kadesh will find the most appropriate itinerary. And unlike most
travel agents, Kadesh and his staff have actually traveled all over the world,
so they lend their personal experiences to your plans. If you need to schedule
a business conference at Hilton Head, weekend getaway or monthlong cruise in
the Greek Islands, Kadesh Travel is armed with all the facts, rates and hotel
and dining suggestions. Don’t be a boob and let his North Jersey location
put you off: one trip orchestrated by Kadesh Travel and you’ll be a repeat
customer.

Best
Hair Stylist

Dave Hickey at Glow Salon

36 E. 23 St. (betw. Park
& Madison Aves.)

228-1822

Not-So-Blue Glow. We’ve
all suffered our share of psychic brutality when it comes haircuts–a crummy
clipjob is a hell of a burden to bear. Our own mother–stalking us with
a pair of dull kitchen scissors–was afflicted with performance anxiety
so crippling and acute that we got smart quick, and started getting our Dorothy
Hamills chopped into our shaggy heads at John Dellaria by the time we’d
reached the tender age of eight.

By our early
20s, though, we were at once far too old for bowl-cuts and far too poor for
the sort of lush tonsorial treatment to which our mother used to treat us. So
we were forced to throw common sense out the back window and gamble our heads
at Astor Place or Jean-Louis David. We were always as sorry afterwards as you’d
expect.

Which brings
us to our more financially solvent later adulthood, and to Dave Hickey. It’s
been years now since we first submitted ourselves to Hickey’s shears; and
so years since we discovered that what we’d always considered a jittery
hassle of an experience–a trip to the salon, that is–could actually
amount to an hour’s bliss in a chair. We’ve followed Dave around over
the years: He used to work out of an Ave. D tenement; then he logged some time
at Red Salon. Now he’s at Glow, a boutique he cofounded last November.
Hickey’s an expert colorist. And while it sounds trite to say this, you
should believe us, because we’ve learned over the course of years of traumatic
comparative experience: He’s unsurpassed in his gift for the deceptively
simple business of cutting hair, which is a craft of no less integrity
than any other.

During our
consultation, Hickey listens patiently as we describe what we want our hair
to do for us; offers his advice; talks us through what’s going to happen
and keeps our expectations realistic. In other words, you feel comfortable with
the man. You trust him.

And just setting
foot in Glow Salon is rejuvenating in itself. The tucked-away wedge-shaped penthouse
garret is illuminated by a huge skylight; there are wonderful amber Lucite barber
chairs, a variety of mod furnishings and a generally relaxed ambience that’s
stylish, even while it manages to stay on this side of pretension and fashion-culture
self-indulgence.

Best
Wine Shop

Crossroads

55 W. 14th St. (6th Ave.)
924-3060

It Never Comes Up Dry.
To be perfectly honest, Crossroads took us a little getting used to. It’s–famously
enough among the oenoscenti–a rinky-dink, rattletrap, thoroughly charmless
space. Cheesy faux-brick arches evoke a time decades ago when the idea that
wine shops ought to resemble wine cellars was the central design trope. Every
available cubic foot of space is crammed with hooch: bottles, boxes, cases.
They threaten the ceiling and trouble the floor. As has been widely noted, the
aisles are wide enough to accommodate exactly one ectomorphic Frenchman at a
time. The cooler garishly floods the store with a cold fluorescent glow and
shelves are sometimes partially obscured. One enters through a tall corridor
of cardboard.

The operative
analogy is, obviously, the old-fashioned New York bookstore, where a disheveled
density of fragrant pulp is far more important–and ethical–than a
fussy arrangement of wares. It’s the task of the customer to seek out hidden
delights, treasures or favorites. Even the location–at the western terminus
of 14th St.’s cut-rate retail thoroughfare, a stone’s throw from one
of Manhattan’s seediest intersections–speaks of a down-at-the-heels
commitment to the serious consumption of wine, as opposed to debating the esthetic
merits of the labels or worrying about how prominently to display that hotshot
bestselling merlot.

Nothing is
displayed prominently at Crossroads. The sign is a lurid, plasticky yellow.
The window display seems always to be celebrating a neglected holiday observed
mainly by hobnail sad sacks who tote Strand bags from grim environ to bleak
rendezvous. The staff is uniformly–refreshingly–middle-aged. And despite
our initial misgivings, after our first few visits we began to warm up to the
place, and furthermore noticed that Crossroads understands a fundamental urge
of the wine flâneur: browsing. This completed the wine-store-as-bookstore
motif rather elegantly. Pit such a throwback democratic attitude against the
wine store as Banana Republic successfully pioneered uptown by Best Cellars,
or the wine store as snooty temple (Sherry-Lehmann); independent municipality
prepared to survive the Apocalypse, complete with private catacomb/fallout shelter
(the vast Chelsea Wine Vault complex); perfectly tailored tastemaker (Acker
Merrall & Condit); overlit micro-warehouse (Garnet); or gentrified playground
(Union Square); and it’s not hard to deduce why Crossroads is where all
truly devoted winos eventually surrender their loyalties.

All those other
places are fine, great, accomplished. But Crossroads is about very little besides
booze, and we can envision respecting that stance for years to come. Besides,
every imaginable type of customer is going to find what he or she is looking
for when they duck into the shop. Gallons of jug wine. Several feet of pinot
noir. A definitive array of California chardonnay. Astonishing surprises, like
the $140 bottle of ’69 Mondavi cabernet sauvignon, tucked in behind more
recent cab vintages, that we spotted by virtue of pure dogged luck. German gin.
(Every heard of “First Bismarck”? Neither had we.) A variety of different
ryes, for the Manhattan mixologist who must cleave to the traditional recipe.
A merlot lineup ranging from a $7 dollar Pepperwood Grove to a $45 Forman “Estate
Bottled.” Heaps of California’s latest rages–wines that haven’t
yet, and might never, enter the mainstream: sangiovese, petite syrah (including
a ’97 Ravenswood that, at $17, is probably one of the best buys in the
store), some esoteric blends. A daunting collection of Southern Hemisphere wines.
Barolo and barbaresco galore. One of the best riesling selections in the Lower
48. A refusal to skimp on Bordeaux or Burgundy, and a lovely little colonnade
of rosé, placed up high. And then our personal slice of Elysium: the
dessert wines, tidily massed in a concentrated display near the front that mimics
the sweet, dense nature of the libations themselves. How about an absolutely
superb ’96 J. Fritz late-harvest zinfandel? Three options for Hungarian
Tokaji Aszu ($30-$40). Muscat, muscat, muscat. A ’97 Voss botrytis sauvignon
blanc ($22).

We could easily
knock off several hours in Crossroads, and rarely feel compelled to buy anything.
And after every visit, the same thought occurs to us: One grenade would be more
than enough to wreck, inconsolably, the life of every honest wine drinker in
town.

Best Park
Slope Pharmacy

7th Avenue Pharmacy
274 7th Ave. (6th St.)
718-788-3218

Drug Bust.
When we first moved to the Slope, a little exploration revealed that most everything
we needed was within walking distance. And, though there was a good handful
of drugstores in the area, we chose 7th Avenue Pharmacy for convenience sake.
We’re glad we did.

It’s a
tiny place, with a small-town, mom & pop feel to it, but they stock everything
we need–various pills and solutions and ointments. The owner was smart,
kind and straightforward, and he took very good care of us–calling us at
home when we forgot something in his store, keeping a careful eye on our prescriptions,
staying open a little later if we had a last-minute need. We got the sense that
he did the same for all of his customers.

As he took
on more help, though, things began to slip a little. Some of these new employees
just didn’t come with the same sort of care and concern he did. Still,
though, we figured it was the times, and kept bringing our business there, because
we knew it was his place, and we wanted to give him our support.

That’s
why we panicked a bit two years ago or so when the monster Rite Aid opened up
less than a block away from our little pharmacy. We figured he didn’t have
a chance–and we didn’t want to have the robotic dullards at Rite Aid
handling our drugs for us. We aren’t one of those whiners who throw little
hissy fits whenever we see any corporate encroachment in the neighborhood. Some
of the encroachment has turned out to be worthwhile. But not this.

But then something
happened, in that nothing happened.

7th Avenue
Pharmacy stayed put, held its ground and continued, calmly, to dole out the
same kind of quiet, personal care they always had, Rite Aid be damned. We were
glad to see, for once, that our neighbors agreed with us, and weren’t swayed
by the flashing lights and the super-specials.

Best Car
Service

Allstate
333-3333

Look at
All Them Threes! Despite what a certain prickly coworker thinks, it is possible
to get excellent car service in Manhattan: Just pick up the phone and punch
3 until the speedy, efficient dispatcher picks up. If you’re a regular,
the whole arrangement can take five seconds. You give your phone number, they
ask you where, when and how many bags, you tell them and hang up. About 15 minutes
before your scheduled pick-up time, your door buzzer rings and Allstate’s
there. In our five years of using Allstate, they’ve been early every single
time. Once they called to say they’d be five minutes late, and showed up
early anyway.

The Allstate
drivers know where they’re going and are up on current traffic conditions,
don’t chew your ear off with mindless chatter and the cars are always clean
and comfy. Our colleague can lug two weeks’ worth of luggage to the corner,
hail a cab to Grand Central, lug some more, wait for the bus, load up the luggage,
then lug it some more at the airport. For us, it’s always Allstate.

Best Place
to Buy Bootleg Videos
Lexington Ave. (betw. 58th & 59th Sts.
)
Nickel
Bag. It’s always a gamble with these illicit tapes. But the African traders
on this stretch of Lexington Ave. who sell just-released movies on video are
still worth patronizing. The boxes look like factory originals; it’s inside
where the gamble begins. The good news: You’ve got about a 50 percent chance
of copping a watchable flick. You might get stuck with one in which people walk
in front of the camera, but for five dollars, who’s complaining? The Africans
are vicious when it comes to giving back money. And since the whole thing
is illegal, anyway…

The FBI’s
recent raid on that bunch of pirate tapers might put a big dent in this operation,
but don’t bet on it. These items just keep on coming. Close down the Africans,
and the Russians will just take over. Squeeze the Russians, and you’ll
find Azerbaijanis moving in. Are these tapes going to make it into your permanent
collection, next to your Citizen Kane? No chance. But they’re still
worth the piddling amount you’ll pay for them.

Best
Men’s Clothing

Paul Stuart

Madison Ave. (45th St.)
682-0320

We Don’t
Know From Stylin’. Problem here. Paul Stuart gets some sort of award for
its superlative men’s clothing every year. It should. So, how does a “Best
of” writer stretch the imagination to come up with copy that isn’t
similar to the last eight years? We’re trying to figure that out right
now, but know that it would be dishonest to snub the store just because it’s
won so many gold stars in the past. Sure, there are competitors: We like Sulka
for their boxers and gorgeous ties, but their suits are just too Euro for our
conservative self; Brioni is too damn expensive–we’re talking $4000
for a casual spring jacket–and we imagine that noxious men like Mort Zuckerman
might have their butler shop there for them. As for Brooks Bros., this once-grand
temple of WASPdom, which sold quality threads, is downmarket, although it’s
great for blazers, ties and shirts for your kids
.

We own about
35 Paul Stuart suits, piles of German-made slacks, even more cashmere cardigan
and v-neck sweaters, two drawers full of calf-length socks and about 10 pairs
of shoes. We’re not crazy about the ties there, and for shirts we swear
by London’s Harvie & Hudson, but on some days we wear Paul Stuart from
top to bottom. Go there for quality duds, and ask for David Rein, the most attentive
and appreciative salesman we’ve ever met.

Best Incense
Other Worldly Waxes & Whatever

131 E. 7th St. (betw. 1st
Ave. & Ave. A)

260-9188

Smokin’.
Whenever we come here, we feel like the witch we wanted to be when we were a
little girl. At Halloween, we dressed in all black, but instead of feeling scary
we felt powerful. Although the harsh realities of life have dulled our belief,
we still come here for colored powder incenses that any Brunhilda would be proud
to burn. At $5 for an ounce or $3 a half-ounce, Other Worldly’s incenses
have names such as Isis (green with silver glitter), Egyptian Temple Incense
(used to make a “sacred space”), Goona Goona (burnt-umber-colored,
and to foster trust and understanding), Irresistible (a vibrant red) and New
Beginnings (deep purple colored and vaguely minty). The incenses burn on their
own, but we like putting them on charcoal. We mix the incenses, creating our
own little spells, sometimes really believing in them too. Besides, any visitors
to your house will wonder what the hell you’re up to with little baggies
of odd colored powders, dried rosebuds and lavender flowers. Even if you’re
a pretend witch, maybe you can cause a little gossip amongst your friends, and
if you can get them to think you’ve got special powers, then you’re
just about a spellcaster. Think about it.

Best Small
Hotel on the Upper East Side

The Franklin
164 E. 87th St.
(betw. Lexington & 3rd Aves.)

369-1000

Franklin,
Mint. We’ve put our mother in here a bunch of times, and for that kind
of challenge–older, single woman traveling alone and in need of pleasantly
urbane but perhaps not overly solicitous temporary digs–the Franklin can’t
be beat.

But how incongruous
it is, tucked in the middle of a block that seems to have been zoned exclusively
for parking garages. Brassy sign, neon lettering. Retro, to be sure, but that
particular strain of retro we believe meshes nicely with the city: the retro
of mellow-toned wood paneling, zinc bars, black-and-white silver gelatin prints,
nickels and pennies and other forms of useless but esthetically appealing currency.
The Franklin–a hotel that jangles in your pocket as reassuringly as loose
change in small denominations. A hotel that captures your loyalty (and not just
because of the marvelous automatic espresso/cappuccino machine, to which we
beat a path whenever Mom invites us over for the complimentary breakfast).

The rooms are
fairly small, but stylishly appointed. One of our favorites combines a full-length
mirror with a sort of partition/closet, an idea that strikes as being an ideal
solution for the closet-dearth of just about every studio apartment in town.
Beds have gossamer canopies. Headboards are backlit. The decor seems designed
to evoke that incontrovertibly classy Manhattan of the prewar episodes–chrome,
glass, black lacquer–on a boutique scale, but minus the boutique prices
(singles start at $235 per night; doubles at $255).

Looks to us
as if the Euros really love the place. Come to think of it, we sort of love
it, too. It’s an intimate hotel we could easily talk ourselves into inhabiting
full time.

Best Bookstore
for Annoying HepCats

Shakespeare & Co.
716 Broadway (Washington
Pl.)

529-1330

Novel
Idea. Despite the best efforts of the Internet and the predictions of various
tech pundits, we still love browsing through bookstores. All kinds of bookstores–chains,
independents, used, wherever we can find something we’re looking for, or
something we never knew existed.

Let’s
establish that first of all.

Let’s
also establish that we have, indeed, found things in Shakespeare & Co. that
we’ve never found elsewhere. And we thank them for that.

But fact is,
the prospect of setting foot in this place–whether they’re the only
place that carries what we’re looking for or not–gives us the willies.
Even more than Tower, even more than St. Marks Books, the staff and the general
population found behind those glass doors–all those goatees, all those
fashion statements, all those (archaic as they are) piercings and tattoos, all
those cutesy-pie pop-cultural references bandied back and forth in a knowing,
snotty way, make Shakespeare less a real bookstore than the Kim’s of literature.

They have a
very good and worthwhile film section–which, unfortunately, means the place
is full of insufferable film students. They have all the latest and hippest
gay literature, so they can maintain their p.c. credibility. And they have all
that “transgressive” nonsense to assure their continued appeal to
the rest of the students at NYU. Just don’t try to talk to them about Joseph
Conrad, or anything else (even though they may well carry it) that was written–or
deals with anything that takes place–before 1986.

Best Food
Website

chowhound.com
After
Such Knowledge, What Forgiveness? These foodie websites: vanity projects for
yentas who want to launch into cyberspace every semiliterate impression of a
restaurant their palates have generated since they sprang from their mother’s
womb, and began, somewhat like the infant Gargantua, to bellow, “FEED ME!”
Which is really what this whole “foodie” movement of the last decade
has really been about, isn’t it? Upper-middle-class gluttons estheticizing,
in order to justify their extravagances and compulsions.

Still, some
food-related websites are useful indeed. Steven Shaw’s New York Restaurant
Review & Food Guide, for example (www.shaw-review.com), is a great resource,
well-organized and offering smart, often contrarian–Shaw’s not a real
big fan of Chanterelle, for example–reviews of dozens of New York restaurants.

And then there’s
chowhound.com, Jim Leff’s eccentric site. Leff used to write about food
for NYPress a long time ago, and he now seems–if his website’s
any indication–to spend much of his time amassing a body of knowledge about
lower-end New York eating–which is the type of eating we tend to do most
often. Need a take on, say, Tribeca’s Capsouto Freres, to stack up again
Ruth Reichl’s pan of the place? Fine. Look to Steven Shaw. But if you want
to find the best and most soulful of mustached wetback taco-slingers manning
a food cart at the edge of a semipro soccer field Saturday afternoons in Corona,
then you’ll want Leff’s help. What a grasp of culinary marginalia
this guy has. Interested in the quality of the cuisine at that world-renowned
culinary institution Las Brasas (“a Spanish place on 37th Avenue in Jackson
Heights,” as the site explains)? Leff’s your man. Visiting Rego Park
in the near future? Load up Leff’s site, and he’ll hip you to Andre’s
bakery, an Hungarian establishment in that sturdy immigrant neighborhood that
according to Leff purveys an extraordinary cheese danish. Leff’s the culinary
equivalent of that war-buff uncle of yours who can describe for you in mind-boggling
detail what happened that day at Appomattox Courthouse. You don’t need
to hear from him all the time, but it’s wonderful that he’s around.

Best
Kids’ Presents

Kidding Around

68 Bleecker St. (betw. Crosby
St. & B’way)

598-0228
60 W. 15th St. (betw. 5th & 6th
Aves.)

645-6337

Rx for
Toys R Us. We’ve been fans of the Bleecker St. Kidding Around for ages.
From their “Best of Manhattan”-award-winning puppets (armadillos,
pigs, aliens, bisons, though the best is still the cockroach) to the lovely
clothes (brightly colored Le Top plush velour sleepers, for example), they’ve
never let us down when we’re in the market for nonmainstream kids presents.
Our four-year-old goddaughter was into fairy princesses last Christmas, and
the satin-ribbon-and-flower festooned crown we sent made us number-one in her
book. This year we might get her a whole costume from Kidding Around–they’ve
got a big selection to choose from, including bee outfits and tutus and fireman
and cowboy getups.

Star Wars
figures are not sold here, but you will find the full line of Brio toddler toys;
they’re the clunky vehicles and structures meant for indelicate little
hands. They’ve also got some of those wooden and plastic playthings–educational
and safe as hell–from those companies with the Euro, slightly fascist names:
Bilderlotto, Tolo, Lanna, Chicco, Schiebespielzeug. They’re opposite the
checkout area, where you’ll find dozens and dozens of gewgaws and knickknacks
like little girls’ necklaces, finger puppets, keychains, yo-yos, stickers,
rubber sea creatures and rolling eyeballs. Look to the right for beautiful wood
or cardboard puzzles.

Kidding Around’s
east Chelsea outpost is considerably larger, a bit less charming, but with the
same stock as Bleecker St., plus some edifying items: sets of “How Ants
See” lenses for two bucks; “Slimey Chemistry” sets and Alien
Slime Labs; starter archaeology kits where little Louis and Mary Leakeys can
“Uncover the ‘bones’ of one of the earliest hominids”; and
the Lamaze line of “Infant Development Systems” to form them right,
right out of the gate.

The staffs
at both locations are friendly, know their wares thoroughly and offer helpful
gift-selecting suggestions. Plus, they wrap your gifts beautifully for free.

Best
Novelty Store
Jimsons Novelties

28 E. 18th St.
(betw. B’way & Park Ave.)

477-3386

Whoo Ha
Ha Ha! Need a whoopie cushion? How about a battery-operated remote control electronic
fart noise generator? These guys even have a bubble machine consisting of a
fat guy with his pants around his ankles blowing bubbles out his butt. It looks
a little like Peter Vallone.

Plastic vomit,
fake dogshit, bogus scratch-off lottery tickets (every one a winner), fish-flavored
candy, candy that turns your mouth blue, you name it, they’ve got it at
Jimsons Novelties. We’ve been into this stuff since we were six years old,
and this is the best selection we’ve ever seen. These guys have things
we’ve never seen before.

Best Gourmet
Retail Ravioli

The Ravioli Store

75 Sullivan St. (betw. Spring
& Broome Sts.)

925-1737
www.raviolistore.com

Chef Boyargee!
Ravioli is one of those childhood favorites a taste for which has accompanied
us into maturity. Of course, we now seek out the exotic in our pastas, which
is why this little factory in Soho comes in so handy. All of their ravioli,
gnocchi, cappelletti, tortellini and agnolotti are made in-house, assuring freshness
you don’t find in most specialty stores. The Ravioli Store uses egg-based
pastas, naturally, but you’ll also find shells flavored with saffron, atoli
blue corn, squid ink, lime, parsley and black peppercorn.

And they stuff
their little 1-by-2-inch masterpieces with a blend of ingredients that work
in delectable harmony with each other. Some ravioli favorites? Wild mushroom
and white truffles in saffron pasta, black beans and Monterey jack cheese in
atoli blue corn pasta. More challenging? How about caviar and squid ink ravioli
or smoked salmon pansoti–a triangle-shaped herb pasta stuffed with fresh
and smoked salmon. It’s designer stuff, to be sure, but reasonably priced.
A dozen ravioli run between four and eight dollars, depending. There are plenty
of sauces, tapenades and gourmet sides available here, and later this fall,
the folks from out of town can get in on the act when the Ravioli Store starts
selling their gourmet pastas online.

Best Futon
Store to Avoid

World of Futons

361 Broadway (Franklin St.)
274-1852

Rest on
Pieces. When our girlfriend told us that she had just bought us a new futon,
we were very happy. Over the past several years, we’d slept the one we
had flat, and were left, essentially, sleeping most every night on the hard
wooden slats of the frame. It was a bit too spartan, even for us.

After checking
out a few other places, she’d stopped into World of Futons. It appeared
respectable and well-established. It didn’t seem like a place that would
fuck over their customers–after all, if they fucked over their customers,
how could they stay in business as long as they have?

A salesman
showed her a series of different brands and models, and she chose a very nice
and sturdy one. Paid for it, and arranged to have it delivered to our place.

The day of
the delivery, we took off work to wait–as with all such things, the truck
could pull up any time between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Our girlfriend came over to
wait with us (as it turns out, she had to pay the delivery man when he arrived–she
couldn’t pay for that beforehand). So we waited. When he arrived, he dragged
the futon out of the back of his truck, ran it up to the apartment, dropped
it in the middle of the kitchen floor, grabbed his money and spilt.

Well okay,
we figured, maybe he has a lot of deliveries to make and he’s in a hurry.

But after we
pushed and pulled the futon into the other room, ripped the plastic from it
and flopped it onto the frame, it became clear that something was wrong. First,
it didn’t come with a cover, as was expected. Second, the stitching job
along the seams was shoddy and loose and already coming apart in places. And
finally, when our girlfriend unzipped the corner to check out the filling, she
found that it wasn’t the futon she’d ordered. In the showroom, she’d
been shown cross sections of various styles, and chose one with two support
layers of corrugated foam sheeting inside. The one we’d been given was
just stuffed with, well, stuffing.

When she called
World of Futons and got the salesman on the phone to see if maybe they’d
delivered the wrong one by mistake, she was informed that no, they hadn’t.
When she told him that in that case the one they’d delivered was not the
one she’d ordered and paid a good deal for, he told her that she was wrong.

Pardon?
We’re the ones with the futon right in front of us. She knew what she’d
ordered and she knew that this wasn’t it. And now the salesman was telling
her that she’s wrong? He then not only didn’t offer to send
a correct replacement model over or refund the extra money she’d paid for
the nicer model, he became indignant, rude and accusatory as he lied through
his rotting teeth.

In the end,
we kept the futon, reluctantly, but we’re still furious about the lousy
treatment and cheap deceptions and the too-late-to-do-anything-about-it bait
and switch techniques we found lurking behind the well-respected, stinking bastard
walls of World of Fucking Futons.

Best
Secondhand Suits

Gentlemen’s Resale Corp.

322 E. 81st St. (betw. 1st
& 2nd Aves.)

734-2739

Beating Down the Dogs
of Retail. Probably not the cheapest secondhand suit, but sometimes you want
top drawer at cash-in-the-shoe prices. Gentlemen’s Resale rarely disappoints,
though like all consignment shops, it’s sometimes necessary to make frequent
visits because the stock constantly rotates. This can be a delight, however,
since you might set off in search of a three-button charcoal pinstripe and,
failing to snare that, become entranced by something more exotic. Which is another
strength of this adeptly managed store (the staff is uniformly helpful, chatty
and knowledgeable): conservative suits from Paul Stuart share the racks with
fashion-forward kits from Boss, Paul Smith and Prada, among others. Prices range
from around $100 to upward of $300-$400, depending on the provenance. The back
room features a three-way mirror fast by the long racks of suits (all ranked
by size), so you can sift along and try different makes and models on to your
heart’s content. Plus, once you decide on a suit, there are plentiful shirt,
tie and shoe selections, as well as blazers, belts and outerwear. Quality is
of the highest order, everything has to be dry-cleaned before the management
will accept it, and with numerous sales during the year, we figure you have
to be nuts to suffer retail with options as reassuring as this.



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