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A Different Brew at Lab

Costa Mesa's 'Anti Mall' Offers Eclectic Mix, From Classic Furniture to Outrageous Gifts


The Lab in Costa Mesa oozes urban chic. Even from the parking lot, newcomers will sense something different at this cluster of shops and restaurants that bills itself as the "Anti Mall."

Nature surrounds the three-acre complex at 2930 Bristol St. Flowers, vegetables and an herb garden have taken over some areas. Just don't step on the snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata) that grows from a crack in the concrete.

There's also a strong sense of urban decay. Walls look as if they're tumbling down, and forget linoleum floors that make your leopard-print sneakers squeak. Here, there's only cracked concrete with an artistic tweak under your feet.

For inspiration, hang out in the sun and gaze at the poetry wall or the fountain made of oil drums.

Feel free to dance in the Thinking Place and Living Room, an open lounge area filled with vintage furniture that might have been extracted from your parents' or grandparents' home.

Suits, ties and other annoying articles of clothing don't exist here. The eclectic mixture of boutiques and shops cater to the carefree and hip.

Shop 'Til You're Cool

Urban Outfitters (#B101, [714] 966-1666; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday) is just the place to listen to electronic music while browsing through the Middle Eastern-, Western- and Eastern-influenced satin skirts, jeans and shirts for gals, or board shorts and Cuban shirts for guys.

Want to give your home a 1940s or 1960s make-over? Holli Thomas, owner of Decor Delux (#A111, [714] 540-7709; 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday) might have just what you're looking for. She will greet you with a smile and answer any question you may have.

This isn't IKEA and you won't find stacks of mass-produced chairs or desks. Just about everything in Decor Delux is classic vintage. Thomas chooses it herself and is always on the lookout for "something unique." She scours estate sales and flea markets in search of furniture from days gone by.

You can pick out a desk lamp shaped like a giant light bulb ($95) or a '60s-era Philco Predicta television set ($900) that looks like it came out of a spaceship.

What does Thomas like most about the Lab? "The cross-section of people that come through here." It's not just for teeny-boppers, she says.

If skateboarding is your passion, Empire Sports (#A109, [714] 979-1201; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday) is your place. Pick out a new board, wheels or helmet. You can also get a pair of sunglasses: Choose from such name brands as Oakley, Black Flys, Arnette and Stussy, all Orange County based.

Wondering whether you should get the latest Smashing Pumpkins CD? Stop by Music X (#A101, [714] 241-8160; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday).

Gag gifts for that irritating or lovable person in your life are at Na Na (#A107, [714] 549-0372; 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday). You can grab a copy of "The Little Giant Encyclopedia of Superstitions" ($9.95) or "The Cheater's Handbook" ($12) for those, ahem, students in need. If books aren't your style, how about a Speedy Gonzalez or Batman Pez dispenser ($1.75).

Or if you happen to be looking for a magnet ($3.50) to decorate a cream-colored fridge, you're in luck. Many of them have religious icons; Hindu deities and the Virgin Mary adorn some.

As if all of these novelty items weren't enough, Na Na also sells clothing and shoes.

Like Old Havana

If wandering and window shopping make your stomach growl, duck into Habana Restaurant and Bar (#A110, [714] 556-0176; lunch from 11:30-2:30 Monday-Friday; weekend brunch 11:30-2:30 p.m.; dinner served 5-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 5-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday).

It's the kind of out-of-the-way place you see in black-and-white movies, making it perfect for that special someone in your life. The lights are kept low and candles flicker on each table.

Cuban and American cuisine is Habana's specialty. You can have roasted chicken ($8.95 lunch; $13.95 dinner) or a succulent pork tenderloin ($16.95).

Lemon drop martini ($7) and beer ($2.50-$5) are frequently poured. Inspect the cigar menu and, if you decided to have one, enjoy it on the patio.

Need a caffeine jolt? Grab a latte or mocha ($2.25) at the Gypsy Den Cafe (#B102, [714] 549-7012; 7:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 7:30 a.m.-midnight Friday; 8 a.m.-midnight Saturday; 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday) with its artfully decorated walls and comfy cushions.


GETTING THERE: Take the San Diego Freeway and exit at Bristol. The Lab is half a mile south of the freeway.

THE WAY IT WAS: The Lab opened in 1993. The space once housed a company that manufactured night-vision goggles for the military.

THIS SUNDAY: The Lab will celebrate its sixth anniversary Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. Local bands to perform include the Blue Whales, Radar, Athalia and the Fireants. Mike Boyle from UC Irvine's KUCI-FM (88.9) will broadcast from the event. All ages are invited. Free. Information, (714) 966-6660; or


The Lab

2930 Bristol Street

* Urban Outfitters (74) 966-1666

* Music X (714) 241-8160

* Decor Delux (714) 540-7709

* Empire Sports (714) 979-1201

* Na Na (714) 549-0372

* Habana Restaurant and Bar (714) 556-0176

* Gypsy Den Cafe (714) 549-7012

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