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Cover Story | Day-Tripping

Take It Down to Funky Town

Hippo foot humidors, vinyl purses and most other quirky holiday gifts you won't find in a mall can be yours on these not-so-beaten paths.


If, like me, you hyperventilate when you get anywhere near that war zone called the Beverly Center any time after Thanksgiving, here's a holiday shopping alternative. Go east, to the laid-back chain store-free streets of Los Feliz and Silver Lake, where the only malls are mini-malls.

Shopping here fairly guarantees finding that unique something no one else would think of giving--unless everyone you know is exchanging vintage lunch boxes, '50s bowling shirts or life-sized plastic chickens this year.

I suggest gathering your strength at House of Pies, at Vermont and Franklin avenues, the place to go for traditional diner food like grilled cheese, tuna melts and French dip sandwiches served by real waitresses who ask, "Is everything all right, hon?"

You could go across the street to the hip Fred 62, but only if you prefer to order a "Charles Bukowksi" and then to be (slowly) served a ham on rye by a wait-person with multiple piercings.

Santa's helpers on a budget will want to check out Y-Que (pronounced E-K) Trading Post. No actual trading seems to go on there, and the proprietors have a wacky way of insisting on cash or credit instead of barter, but the small space is crammed with quirky gifts that won't break the bank. Anyone who isn't yet sick of Monica Lewinsky might appreciate having her image preserved on a gold plastic revolving lamp for $13, and '50s pinup Bettie Page is similarly commemorated.

For someone with legal troubles (Monica, perhaps?), there's a jinx-removing candle titled Law Stay Away! Other candles purport to solve such problems of modern life as man-woman attraction, finance and the handily all-encompassing Run-Devil-Run! for only$2.50 apiece. Someone on your AOL Buddy List who's prone to daydreaming might treasure a $10 "Fantasy Island" mouse pad. And you could help a stressed-out driver in your carpool transcend road rage with an original "Dukes of Hazzard" coloring book for just $2.50.

Y-Que has gifts for the young as well as the young at heart. Uncle Milton's Fascinating Ant Farm, $12.50, comes with four "antports" and "a clear flexible antway travel tube," plus an "illustrated ant watchers manual." But be forewarned: As of old, the ants must be shipped separately. And though the Super Sea-Monkeys for $8 seem tempting, you have to wait for them to grow. For those in search of immediate gratification, how about 10 ounces of gingerbread men in a Candyland tin box for $13?

All the vintage lunch boxes seem to end up in this area of town, and Y-Que stocks some swell ones, from $30 to $400 for that hard-core "Rocky and Bullwinkle" nut. (I know several denizens of the part of Silver Lake known as "the Swish Alps" who would be happy to receive one labeled "Campus Queen," $65.) But if a lunch box is what you're after, for a less pricey $12 you could acquire a brand-new molded plastic model complete with thermos featuring either the "Planet of the Apes," the Bionic Woman or a Chihuahua with a halo. Call it "nouveau retro."

Not Everything's Cheap in the Mall Alternatives

By now you've saved so much money on gifts that you can afford to visit a more luxe establishment: Monah Li. This is as high-fashion as the neighborhood gets. Monah Li herself hails from Vienna, where she studied with Karl Lagerfeld. Both Ben and Jerry were at Li's opening last month--no, not that Ben and Jerry, Ben Stiller and Jerry "Permanent Midnight" Stahl, a close personal friend of the designer.

And while we're in name-drop mode, Li's clients include Cameron Diaz, Melanie Griffith, Goldie Hawn, Jennifer Lopez, Courtney Love, Andie McDowell, Demi Moore, Stevie Nicks, Liz Phair and Renee Zellweger. This is the place to pick up a swanky new holiday outfit for yourself or your honey.

Perfect for Xmas: the slip-like shoulder-baring X-dress, with a silk ribbon X just under the bust, in stretch satin, $235, or stretch velvet, $270. You can have it in red, blue, purple, sage, teal, dark chocolate or black. I'm especially fond of the black velvet coat, $300, with a mesh back and a bustle, removable on those occasions when a bustle isn't called for.

The men's equivalent of these fantasy outfits would resemble the get-up Los Feliz native son Leonardo DiCaprio wore in that weird movie in which he played the Sun King. But unless you know someone with a hankering to don tights, the men on your list might be happier with a spiffy new sports shirt from the Sinister Store, where only some of the new and vintage clothing embodies its name.

Hip-Cat Shirts and Lots of Vinyl Purses in Stock

A better sobriquet might be "The Swingers' Store," by which I mean the indie film, not the '70s sexual practice. The short-sleeved sports shirt by Johnny Suede, featuring a flaming martini glass (with two olives) and dice buttons, in black or white, $59, should please any real or wannabe Swinger.

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