Part Two Best Bike Shop Bike Works ...
Best Bike Shop
106 Ridge St. (Rivington St.)
Mad as Hatters, But They Know Their Stuff. Like bunny rabbits, warm cinnamon toast or Schindler's list, the bicycle is an absolute good. Even in the hands of the reckless, there's something about a bicycle that is karmically pure, free of negative associations, un-evil. In many ways bikes are the ultimate instrument of conveyance?beauty married to purpose propelled by manpower. What's better than that? We believe the bicycle mechanic ranks fairly high on the totem of saintly professions, and for this reason we can't help but like the fellows who run Bike Works.
That said, they're a little spacey. No biggie, of course. They sure don't fleece you?about $25 for a tune-up, two months of free repairs with every used-bicycle purchase. Still, every time we walk into their tiny shop on Ridge St. it's like we've passed out of New York City and into some strange bicycle-land vortex. It begins with the scratchy transistor radio buzzing in the background, canceling out all identifiable street noise. Then our noses pick up the heavy alloy odor of fresh rubber and WD-40. We see a gajillion bicycle frames?stripped-down carcasses of a once great dream?crammed higgledy-piggledy into a tiny back nook. And them. The dry, cracked, oil-scarred skin of their hands. Their blackened fingers, their grease-streaked faces, their crow's feet caked with oily dirt and tiny metal shavings. There's the way the bearded guy can talk animatedly about the gear-clearance ratio on a 1965 Ross three-speed or the design history of the Molten from conception, all the while staring at an imaginary point on your hairline. Just a little disconcerting, that's all. It's axiomatic that the connoisseur, being a close cousin to the obsessive, will be in possession of a few personality tics. And it bears mention that these guys are not know-it-all pricks in the manner of, say, high-end stereo salesmen. No, they're odd, but they're friendly. They strike a chord in us, albeit diminished. They're not dilettantes. They don't dabble. They've dedicated their lives to bicycles and yeah, it's warped them a little. So?
So who's to complain about anything? Their selection of used bikes is abominable. So what? Good, cheap repair work. That's what they do. They love bicycles, they believe in bicycles, they're dedicated to...bicycles. As far as we can tell they're perfectly content making three dollars here tightening spokes, seven dollars there repairing brakes. It all smacks of a higher calling and that, given this age of rich-quick digital hucksterism, is a wonderful thing.
Best Brooklyn Grocery Store
991 Fulton St. (St. James Pl.)
Body Bag Boys. Everyone has their favorite bodega or corner store they insist on supporting, but we make a weekly trek to the Met in the Clinton/Washington section of Brooklyn to stock our refrigerator. We like it not because it offers a great produce department, because it doesn't, but because it's right down the street from our apartment. It actually doesn't excel at much, especially for those interested in eating healthier. But this Met does have a framed picture of Biggie Smalls in a red running suit hanging behind the checkout counter, and the prepackaged brown sugar is always spelled "brown suger." Funnily, no one seems to mind that Met keeps "summer hours" and sometimes close as early as 6 p.m.
Come on Sundays to get a free newspaper with every $10 purchase. And if you don't have enough cash or credit line left on your welfare card, just sign the I.O.U. book and pay later. It's unlikely that you'll get out of there without some kind of mistake on your grocery bill, but that's okay, because it's likely to be in your favor. Be sure to tip the bag boys.
Best Use of $86
An Evening Tennis Lesson at Midtown Tennis Club
341 8th Ave. (betw. 26th & 27th Sts.)
Fuzzy Yellow Ball, Scruffy Green Clay. The crew of teaching pros at Midtown Tennis Club are a supercool lot. They fit incongruously into their milieu, a half-indoor/half-outdoor (during the summer?the rooftop courts are bubbled when the weather gets cold) facility whose overall decor hearkens back to the era of the Jack Kramer Autograph and Bud Collins' heyday. In short, the place is a touch on the shabby side. And not shabby cool, like something out of a Wallpaper magazine spread. Just flat-out shabby. Decrepit seating and a television that looks as if it might have broadcast the Ashe/Connors Wimbledon final. The courts, at least the lower ones, are in relatively decent shape, and the pros who work this Har-Tru green clay realm are generally dandy. They will patiently feed balls to absolute beginners, but they will also dispense useful advice to higher-level players who are after an educational workout. On balance, you probably won't get to hit this many balls?to develop the crucial ability to groove your strokes?by dinking it around with your usual partners for an hour. And over time, excessive dinkage will wreck your game. Every so often, your game needs an adjustment, and at Midtown, this can be affordably obtained year-round, from a group of genuinely admirable guys who know what they're talking about and, furthermore, can kick your cocky ass.
Best Roommate Service
57 W. 16th St. (betw. 5th & 6th Aves.)
GRIN Found Us a Place to Bare It. You know how tough it is to find decent housing in the city, especially if you're a member of the entry-level, under-30 set, cannot afford Manhattan's exorbitant broker fees and haven't dot-commed your way to millions. We'd been furiously searching for just the right share situation?scouring classifieds, logging onto various online sites. We didn't think it'd be that hard to find a place, and were hoping to locate a share in Brooklyn or Manhattan before the rush of new students in the fall.
Nothing worked until we discovered a veritable diamond in the rough for gay people searching for housing?the Gay Roommate Information Network. A friend of ours first recommended GRIN a while ago, but we hesitated, remembering horror stories about other share services being total ripoffs with fake listings. Then, one Sunday afternoon in mid-August, we received the sign we'd been waiting for: a front-page article in the real estate section of The New York Times describing the success that some guys had finding cool roommates through GRIN. Seeing that article helped legitimize the organization for us somewhat, so we ran down to their Chelsea office, paid the $49.99 one-time fee (which covers advertising costs) and immediately received a printout of about two dozen share listings in our price range in several different neighborhoods. It didn't take long before we were making appointments on a regular basis.
We hit the jackpot less than a week after signing up with GRIN, much to our surprise, and found the perfect share in Williamsburg. Our new place has everything we want?a funky neighborhood, reasonable rent, close to the train, nice bedroom and (gasp!) a kitchen and living room, too, plus stellar views of Manhattan. We're grinning thinking about it.
Best African Dance Studio
Djoniba Dance & Drum Center
37 E. 18th St., 7th fl. (betw. 5th & 6th Aves.)
We Got the Rhythm. We've gone to several other dance studios in the city. We've tried ballet and hiphop and capoeira and butoh, where week after week in an "artist's space" The Master told our class to "take 10 minutes to walk across the floor" while recording us on a G4 PowerBook. What ended up bothering us most about these classes was that they made us feel like the beginner we were.
What we love about Djoniba is that we don't have to wait until we're good to enjoy ourselves. At Djoniba, we're dancers, have wildly manic delusions of fucking it all and going off somewhere to do it for real. We get so exhilarated with ourselves when we move with anything like grace that we half-wish there was a mom outside watching and pumping her fists with pride?that's what Djoniba does to the sensitive parts of our brain.
The hour-and-a-half African dance classes are split into two parts: first we learn the routine and then we're sent off toward a row of drummers seated at the end of the room. When we reach them, we bow. The teacher stands in front of the lines and shows us a new move, and we hoof it down the room and back to start. A Carolee Schneeman experience?multitudes of sweating, stretching, squishy bodies, and we with our joy and our exercise-endorphins. Djoniba offers a host of African dance classes, including Congolese, Senegalese and African, as well as karate, hiphop, belly dancing and more.
Best Nadir for Young New York
640 5th Ave. (betw. 51st & 52nd Sts.)
Cool as Finns in Paris. Those on the precipice of adulthood in New York vacillate between two competing monoliths when it comes to picking out clothes. Old Navy is cheap, bland and broad-market. The patterns are cute, the colors and choice of fabric up to date, but it's flavored like cream of wheat. Techno-chino? It's not a bold experiment. Old Navy can display a pretense of fashion-forwardness, but outside of the store and into the workaday grime of the city, anyone can tell that the youthful variations on the traditional is what keeps people coming back.
Then there is Urban Outfitters, an outright, cloying fraud. Old Navy shoppers are forthright; they admit without embarrassment why they frequent the store. Never will this sort of disclosure be uttered in an Urban Outfitters. Oversized thermals with frayed edges and eclectic prints, in colors like rust or bruise or peat moss. Shiny anything and everything. Predictable vintage, too, direct from the sweatshop. Down with hiphop, yo. Needless to say, this contemporary, self-styled vox populi is more expensive. Urban Outfitters can take any subculture and distill the signature elements to a market in search of a more dangerous breed of mall. Catch the self-conscious reference to its urbanity in the name?enough to make Barthes have la jouissance.
The more discriminating fringe customers of either shop?hipsters of one mold or another?are still slothful at heart, and the convenience offered by both franchises trumps other concerns. These shoppers know they're engaging in a delusion, since there are moments where UO positions itself close to ON's ground, especially with its t-shirts, in search of the profits born of accessibility to a larger market. And while Navers may feel like the Outfitted, with their pretense of sophistication, sneer at them every once in a while as, as with the techno-chino, a theme is plucked from its incubation at Urban Outfitters and presented in even less interesting form at Old Navy. Distinctions blurred, how does the hipster even know who he is without a brand to identify him, or his peers? It's the horns of a dilemma. Where else to go? The Gap, or its phony-tony sister, Banana Republic? Scoundrels take refuge. Diesel? Too expensive. Who has time to wade through Canal Jeans? The thousands of smaller boutiques in the city? Get out of the fever swamps.
And then in March, the Gordian knot was slashed. H&M seemed fresh to these dissatisfied customers by appealing to a classic theme with deep roots in New York youth: Eurotrash. The most powerful semiotic agency through which to jettison an awkward immaturity and announce a blossomed elegance is the hedonism and ostentation of Britain and the Continent. Tocqueville knew it; Henry Adams knew it; Edith Wharton knew it. And so the purple faux-snakeskin pants, designed to accentuate the FUP. So the shiny shirts with jarring pockets, the clunky pink sunglasses, the longhaired male models with moist and open pores, the Paul Weller sportsjackets with four buttons. We've seen it before, and we appreciate the perfection of its niche marketing.
It's also incredibly inexpensive and laid out on three floors, like an outlet mall in the one of the world's most fashionable shopping districts. It's worked incredibly well so far. H&M claims to get a new shipment every four hours. The lines at the fitting rooms are so long that the absence of glory holes is criminal. Shopping on weekends demands navigating a human whirlwind.
H&M will probably not dislodge either Old Navy or Urban Outfitters, both of which are too entrenched. The influence of H&M will be reflected in the way the duopoly, especially Urban Outfitters, responds to the insurgent new contender. It should be noted that the product H&M is pushing experiences periodic fluctuations in popularity over here, and urban fashion developed, partially, in response to what is largely an outside force, a force that triggered the sort of adapted traditionalism that is Old Navy's stock in trade. The early success of H&M, which could not have been fully anticipated, reflects a dearth in Europroduct carried by ON and UO. It's no wonder the youth have taken to it so urgently this year, but if they can be placated and co-opted, the hipsters will come back into the fold, where, doubtlessly, it is considered they belong.
Best Brazilian Bikini Wax
Richard's Body Beautiful
94 E. 7th St. (betw. 1st Ave. & Ave. A)
The Hair that Dare Not Speak Its Name. Our ex requested such niceties from us, we obliged him, and now we've grown used to the practice. We're selectively hirsute?we like hairy pits for their Meret Oppenheim-like semiology, but hair down there? Eeew. Still, we skip the porn star's hearts and stripes for a more tasteful sans cheveux.
Once we were embarrassed about getting this done. We'd look for people who'd do it for us (there weren't many then) and we'd pay under the table in horrible places?"Could you please go up a little higher?"?in tremulous voices, and they'd try to get it over with as quickly as possible. They'd snag our skin on the wax and we wouldn't be able to sit for a week. But Richard's our man. He doesn't mind at all?we book ourselves a Brazilian all out in the open. We're made to feel like women, go in and announce our intentions and then we let Richard take over. We've developed a choreography of sorts at our monthly appointments. Richard knows how we like it, and he does it with such dexterity that we're barely crying when it's over. He does our legs and brows as well, in a place that's one of those small miracles of new age, which is to say spotless, with warm lighting and all sorts of organic daubs and scents administered to our nethers. We can tell that Richard likes us, too, though he opts out of small talk during our appointments, so we spend the hour to ourselves, daydreaming or napping on the table.
Best Place to Learn Photoshop
International Center of Photography
1130 5th Ave. (94th St.)
Photoshopaholics. In the homogenized mall culture of America, where the landscape is as tedious in Los Angeles as it is in Miami as it is in Chicago, we love New York because it's still home to small-scale and highly specialized institutions. The International Center of Photography is one of them. We've been members of ICP for years because they offer interesting, cutting-edge exhibits and support humanistic work. Best of all's their dedication to education.
For years, ICP's labs were the best place in town to learn how to develop and print film, learn lighting and work with antique techniques. And with the surge of electronic imaging and digital photography, ICP had kept pace with the times. They wasted no time setting up classes for electronic photography. Their Digital Media Lab is home to a series of the best classes in town in which learn how to use the new media effectively. The current lab?a room with 10 computers, printers, scanners and a projector for the instructor?is now housed in a cramped space in ICP's 5th Ave. townhouse; when the new facility opens in Midtown next summer, the lab will be considerably expanded.
We took the 10-week, 30-hour Photoshop I class, figuring it would be a cakewalk. Wrong. It was an intensive immersion in the software, teaching tricks, tips and some extremely cool practices that we had no idea Photoshop could do. Three hours a class is great for personalized attention and is enough hands-on time to really learn something. The teaching staff is energetic and skilled?most of them are working photographers and know the ins and outs of making digital prints. (The starstruck could have joined Graham Nash this past summer in a tutorial on using the high-end Iris printer to make museum-quality prints.) Equipment at ICP is state-of-the-art, so when you're done, you'll be in sync with the rest of the world and not two years behind. Tuition ranges from $300 to $700 per course, depending on the class, materials fees and your membership status.
Best Williamsburg Vet
Dr. Andrew Kaye at the Doggie Bag
39 Bushwick Ave. (betw. Ainslie & Devoe Sts.)
At Bayside Vet Center: 718-229-5577
When Fido's Feeling Sickly. The dog's neck was a mess. Apparently, sometime during the night, a cow-sized, canine incubus had visited our mutt and shaken him about in its maw. The wounds told the story: a series of wet gashes around his neck, spaced in such a way that they were obviously caused by an animal much larger than ours. He hadn't been in any fights?ever?and no corporeal, cow-sized dogs had been seen in the vicinity as of late. Or ever. So if not a nightmare cur, then what?
After a day of this conjecture?the wounds now runny with pus?we decided it was time to go to the vet. But we didn't have a regular vet out there in East Williamsburg. We had our regular jerkoff in Manhattan from the days when we lived there, but we always felt screwed after leaving his office with a $20 tube of what was likely bacitracin and a $30 bottle of aspirin. And anyway, we weren't taking the dog on the subway again ("Don't you have anything better to do than give me a ticket for bringing my dog on the goddamn subway?!"), and no way we were forking over $15 each way for a car service to take us to that jerkoff vet.
Our friends at Doggie Bag, the pet food store previously located at Graham Ave., but recently moved to Bushwick Ave., told us that they've got a vet who has weekly office hours at their store. Dr. Kaye normally works out of Bayside Veterinary Center, but also holds court at Doggie Bag every other Thursday evening. When we met him, Dr. Kaye was casually chatting with customers and the Doggie Bag employees; he's the type of vet who instantly puts you at ease and doesn't cause you to clutch your wallet more tightly.
He looked at our now-scabrous dog for about 30 seconds and dispelled the demon-dog theory: his leather collar was irritating his skin in the hot, humid weather. He recommended we buy a harness collar and wash the affected area with soap and water until it healed in about a week. No need for an expensive tube of antibiotics. No blood tests. No "since you're here" booster shots. In fact, no charge at all.
"Charge you for doing that?" he asked, genuinely confused, when we took out the checkbook.
A normal visit costs about $20, though it will vary with the demands of the visit. Dr. Kaye's hours at Doggie Bag are 5-7 p.m., every other Thursday. You can make an appointment directly with the Doggie Bag.
Best Place to Beat the eBay Price on CDs
Disc-O-Rama Classical & Clearance
146 W. 4th St. (betw. 6th Ave. & MacDougal St.)
Aluminium Gold. First, in that great TV Guide tradition, a "Best of" within a "Best of" to a certain used CD store near St. Marks: this shop is the proud winner of "Best Record Store to be Stormed by Villagers Like in Frankenstein," due to the weasely owner's detestable practice of actually trying to sell his stock on eBay before putting titles out for his walk-in customers. This is certainly not the norm for any decent record store. In fact, it's the biggest problem facing the music industry today, as sleazy profiteers take the good stuff off the racks and sell to the highest eBay bidder.
Now, in contrast, consider the wonderful world of Disc-O-Rama's Classical & Clearance shop. This is a true populist franchise full of incredible finds. There's already a good case to be made for this being the city's best used CD store, since despite its generally crappy stock it is loaded with certain cool imports. But the wonder of this outlet is long-forgotten CDs by acts that long ago went out of print to the notice of nobody. Nobody, that is, except for the kind of avid collectors who are willing to shell out big bucks for these hard-to-find items. We've had no problem finding copies of the Newsies soundtrack and Redd Kross' Neurotica for $5.99, when each went for at least 50 bucks on eBay. There's also always been plenty of Vanilla Ice's Mind Blowin, priced at $3.99 and easily selling online for $35. But don't you be a sleazeball and try to make your rent off some idiot in St. Louis willing to pay top dollar for a CD of the Tapeheads soundtrack.
Best Video Store "Horror" Section
Video Rent All
129 Christopher Columbus Dr. (betw. Grove & Barrow Sts.)
Jersey City, 201-432-6533
Soul Vengeance, Too. We know that the days of lowlife scum are over, and today's young hipsters would rather be watching bootleg Hong Kong videos and touching tales from the filmmakers of Iran. Still, there have to be some cretins who still think a good Saturday is one with tin foil on the windows and horror films playing on the VHS all day. (Trust us, it'll be DVDs soon enough.) And for those misshapen gorehounds, there's a true treasure trove of great slimy horror films to be found. The only problem is that you have to brave the PATH train to Jersey City, where you'll wander a few blocks from the Grove St. station. There, you'll find the Video Rent All, in its brand-new location on Christopher Columbus Dr. They just moved in from their old location this Sept. 17, but you can be sure the stock is the same. These bastards don't throw away anything. That's why they've got one of the best selections ever of premium 70s and 80s schlock. We're talking about all the flotsam and jetsam that stocked the video stores of your forefathers, back when everyone was desperate for stock.
There're some real treasures in their collection of sci-fi and blaxploitation films, and the documentaries have a fairly strong mondo presence. But the sleaze factor really stands out in the horror section, which is overflowing with banged-up boxes that serve as a mark of quality. You'll find horror films that you haven't seen since you were a little kid being told by your mother that there was no way in hell she would ever rent you something that would rot your mind in that diabolical way. We're talking about prime schlock like Cathy's Curse, Zombie Lake, Alien Prey, Twilight People and a bunch of other really lousy movies that are still great fun to watch. Hell, this is the only place we've ever been that has a copy of Micky Dolenz's 1972 thriller Night of the Strangler.
We're also talking about plenty of those oversized boxes from the likes of Prism Entertainment and Continental Video, with that bulkiness that served as the true mark of no quality. They even have Terror on Tape, a definitive compilation of miserable grindhouse sleaze. Cameron Mitchell hosts it, you know.
As these films eventually make it back to DVD, we know that the fine folks of Manhattan's TLA Video will be carrying these lost classics. Until then, the store's selection of horror tapes is only second-best. And we suppose that maybe those guys at Kim's Video may carry some of these cool titles, but, honestly, how could you tell? It's not like the people behind the counter would ever be any help in telling you anything. Yo, they all still think they're Tarantinos. Make the circuit to Jersey City, and bring something along to read for that long ride back to return the tapes.
Best Reason Not to Renew Your Prospect Park YMCA Membership
The Men's Sauna
357 9th St. (betw. 5th & 6th Aves.)
Cramped, Dank, and...Cold? We got hooked on saunas after a visit to L.A. a few years back, when in the span of a few weeks we were granted a tour of the Finnish cultural attache's Bel Air sweathouse and became addicted to the sauna at a Korean spa. Once back in Gotham?or, more accurately, Brooklyn?we just had to find us a sauna of our very own. Enter the Prospect Park YMCA, where a brand-spanking new one had just been installed. Wonderful, we thought, and wonderful it was for the first six months of our membership: an hour of weights and cardio followed by a good stretch and a good sweat. We felt inhumanly healthy. But then the sauna began to suffer. Already, the abuse: old codgers and chubby young 'uns drying their swimwear, dangerously, over the coals. A tendency of some sauna users to stretch out a bit too generously, in an already cramped space. Too little nudity, too many baggy white briefs. A drag, and then the final straw: the Y installed a temperature-alarm system that went off every time the sauna got too hot. Formerly, you could establish a great sweat in there. With the alarm, however, you beaded, at best, very lightly. A grave disappointment, and given the generally slapdash quality of the facility (despite a lengthy renovation), we bagged it. At the very least, a sauna should make you sweat.
Best Place to Buy a Necktie in a Hurry
The Atlantic Center
625 Atlantic Ave. (Nevins St.)
A Quick Cure for the Cravat Blahs. Our ties sometimes bore us. We stare into our tie drawer and we thing: dull. Naturally, we tend to do this staring while dressing for an event or something, and what the act does is spur in us the desire to purchase, and quickly, a new tie. But who wants to spend quality-neckwear dough on an impulse? This is where Marshalls comes in, because at Marshalls we can always find a reasonably interesting tie for less than $20. Admittedly, we need to study hard their haphazard selection (Nautica, Hilfiger, Dockers an and assortment of mysterious "Italian" labels). But eventually, at least one tie from the more or less conservative roundup strikes our fancy and, for a few weeks anyhow, we're satisfied, sated on silk and pattern.
Best West Village Haircut Deal
Free Time Haircutters
87 Christopher St. (betw. 7th Ave. S. & Bleecker St.)
Tip-Top Chop Shop. We used to stroll the West Village in search of the perfect haircut, usually ending up at overpriced salons run by prissy bitches in which hairy French men wearing too much cologne would snip about eight hairs from our head, slop on some Elmer's Glue-type gel and then charge us $75 (plus tip) for a mere 15 minutes of work.
Fortunately, we discovered a haircutting gem?Free Time Haircutters. You know it by the red awning and the words "Free Time" in the window. At Free Time, the service is fast, friendly, neighborly and reasonable (men's haircuts run about $12), and even though we don't live anywhere near the shop, we always walk in feeling like "one of the guys." Plus, unlike many froufrou salons in Chelsea, you won't find yourself intimidated by the attitude of the stylists.
For us, the haircutting experience should be short, professional and worthwhile. Don't just cut around the edges and then claim to be finished, in the hopes that we'll come back sooner. So we put ourselves in the capable hands of Isaac every six weeks or so?often enough that we don't have those annoying longer hairs growing on the back of our neck but infrequently enough that we don't cut into our expanding clothes budget. He shaves and cuts away large swaths of our bleached hair with his clippers first, being careful to square off the back and trim our sideburns short. Then a little tweaking with scissors and comb, leaving some hair on top for that spikey, slightly messy look that we love. Finally, raising the mirror so we can see his handiwork, he asks, "How's that?" Perfect.
Best Travel Agent
Kadesh Travel Agency
Skip the Web. Marv Kadesh appears in the "Best of" issue each year and believe us, it's not because he sends, like so many other merchants, schmooze graft three weeks before the issue comes out. He doesn't need to. Get frustrated trying to get the lowest airline rates on the Web? We do: that's why we simply call Marv and let him do the scut work. Why waste time when a pro can do it for you?
The travel business is in a peculiar situation these days. In addition to United and Continental (our personal demon carriers) overbooking, canceling flights and letting passengers stew on the runway for hours at a time, do-it-yourself passengers are bypassing travel agents for mythical bargain rates via the Internet. Here's a question: Can your computer give you tips on the best hotels in the Caribbean? Does dirtcheap.com tell you about a cozy one-star restaurant in Nice? We didn't think so.
Give Marv Kadesh a call the next time you're planning a trip, whether it's a grand tour of Asia or a simple jaunt to Chicago. And if you get caught up in conversation with the man, which is invariably fascinating, a word of advice: don't mention the fraudulent "journalist" Gail Sheehy. You might get an earache from the screams of horror on the other end of the phone.
889 Broadway (19th St.)
And Other Locations
Riedel Is for Suckers. Well, sure, Riedel and Spiegelau are, on balance, much much much better. But you know what? We break glasses. All the damn time. We don't want to send our stemware out. We want to keep doing the dishes at home, like men. Like men dispossessed of dishwashers, but men nonetheless.
And for us, for the time being, Fishs Eddy does the trick. Besides, you have more than enough choices at the operation's several locations to adequately convince you to steer clear of Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn and so on and so on. Our el cheapo Bordeaux balloon glasses hail from Fishs Eddy, and we like 'em fine. Do they gracefully funnel the ripe aromas of a spirited young red toward our snouts? Not really. Do they perform like crystal Stradivariuses when subjected to a firm swirl? Hardly (they aren't even crystal). Can we bust one across the countertop and cut your punk ass if you cross us? That we can do. And feel no significant twinges of guilt afterward. There's always more where that came from.
Best Button Shop
143 E. 62nd St. (betw. 3rd & Lexington Aves.)
The Best and the Onliest. You wouldn't think that losing a button off your coat could make a sucker out of you, but it does; and so does trying to locate a store this side of Kmart from which to buy something as necessary as a needle and a thread with which to sew your torn undershorts together. That's because that establishment that Aristotle might as well have discussed in his Politics as a necessary component of the humane polis?we mean, of course, the humble notions shop?seems to have disappeared from New York.
So when a friend of ours who works on the Upper East Side called us one wintry morning this year to register her enthusiasm about having discovered this amazing button shop in her neighborhood, we responded to the news without the same boredom with which we'd usually audit news of this city's niche retailers. As it happened, we'd for weeks been actually clothespinning together a jacket of ours, and a button (plus, of course, a certain contempt for ourselves), we felt, was all that stood between us and our appearance in one of those "Public Eye" features about appealingly dressed New Yorkers that appears weekly in the front of Time Out New York.
But man, if Tender Buttons doesn't stock every fastening device that humanity's ingenuity has over the centuries engineered. Tender buttons, bone buttons, plastic buttons, metal buttons; buttons in great cornucopian plenitude; big buttons, little buttons, sleek buttons, dopey buttons; are all taxonimized and stored away neatly in cardboard boxes on the shelves that line the walls of this quiet, gentle, amber-lit little shop. Seriously: it's hard to imagine that this place couldn't match any button you could ever dream of needing. The friendly staff sends you to the right button-box in a moment's space?and they'll sell you thread, too.
Lite Brite Neon Studio
475 Keap St., 3rd fl. (Metropolitan Ave.)
And with Refills, You Can Make Bugs Bunny or Bozo the Clown. There aren't too many neon shops in New York. Not nearly as many as you'd imagine. And only a few of them offer workshops designed to teach the novice how to get started. And most of those classes, we're told, aren't very good anyway. Nothing but frustration in the end.
The exception, however, is the courses offered by Matt Dilling at his Lite Brite Neon Studio in Williamsburg. In an eight-week intro course, Dilling teaches a small group of students safety, materials and theory, lets them blow a little glass and then helps them create a neon piece of their own design.
Apart from being a fine teacher, though, Matt Dilling's a superior craftsman. He only first started learning about neon art about four years ago, but in that time has taught at several institutions, and, by the age of 20, had not only opened up his own Lite Brite Studios in Boston and New York, but had already made quite a name for himself in the industry. He's one of the very best around. Working with artists and designers, he's created some really remarkable pieces?for both artistic and commercial purposes?one-of-a-kind artworks of glass and color and light. Why, he even made us a "Vidio" sign, just like the porn shops of yore used to have in their windows!
The eight-week introductory class costs $300 (plus a little extra for materials and the finished piece), and is worth every penny, especially for artists and designers who are thinking about employing neon sculpture in their other work. It's also perfect for those of us with no artistic background, who simply love neon, and everything it's come to represent.
For those without much spare time, a one-day class is offered on the weekend. And for the merely curious, he also offers a great studio tour. Dilling is smart, talented and nice as can be. It's worth checking out.
33 Bleecker St. (Mott St.)
Strap Us In, Watch Us Work. Exercise is something we came to late. Barring our dead-at-the-gate high school basketball career, we've long avoided any sort of physical exertion beyond the most cursory; our limbs flailing, catatonic, then finally failing us whenever we'd take up any athletic endeavor. Then we were graduating college, went through some kind of crisis and found that spending upward of three hours a day at the idiotic circuitry of our school gym to be the only thing to calm our nerves.
We've stuck with it. Pilates, the strangely effective form of exercise created as convalescence for bedridden Army boys, is our current favorite. Now practiced primarily by dancers, it's the closest we'll get to being ballerinas this late in the game, but we find complementary benefits as well?long striated muscles and better posture, and an arsenal of physical strength. re:AB's co-owned by the Amazonian entrepreneur Brooke Siler and the actress/model Michele Hicks, and they've hired a crew of multinational strong-armed babes as trainers. Ours, Maria, who looks like Penelope Cruz and helps teach our extensive limbs to obey us, is genuinely interested in the most mundane aspects of our posture, hip alignment and foot placement, and screams with such glee when we get it right that we try just to hear her tell us so. She straps us into one of the machines, the Reformer or the Cadillac, and we use the straps and springs to work against our own weight, ensuring that we don't develop the kind of bulky muscles that weightlifters get from training. re:AB offers personal sessions as well as daily mat classes.
Scott Jordan Furniture
137 Varick St. (Spring St.)
Good Wood. We slept on a bed we inherited from a deceased relative for 10 years, as the frame bowed and the mattress folded into a deep V. Mornings, we'd wake with pain shooting from below our ear down to mid-thigh (we gripped the edge of the mattress as we slept, so we wouldn't roll into its abyss). Cricks and stiff necks became the norm. Finally, after working ourselves into near nervous exhaustion over backaches we were convinced were kidney cancer, we capitulated and went looking for a new rack, vowing not to waste our money on some cheap pine or pressboard crap that would last two years. We would invest for the long haul.
Scott Jordan's beds caught our eye on a neighborhood stroll. The sleek frames in the showroom are strong and elegant. No ornately carved headboards or scrolly sleigh-heads, these bedsteads, we discovered, are crafted in simple, clean designs. Jordan's Prairie and Waverly beds (from their Signature Collection) are mission-style, and differ mostly in the size of the slats on the head- and footboards, while the Ashland, Atlantic and Willoughby styles?a little more 60s California swingin'?have similar plain frames to hold the mattress but different solid headboards (curved, small peak, sharp peak). There are also post beds, with or without canopies. What all the beds have in common is their simple beauty: American black cherry wood, which ages from a soft medium brown into a deep reddish brown, is crafted here in the city, at the Jordan workshop in the Brooklyn Navy Yards. These beds are beautiful?smooth and heavy, richly finished.
We chose a gorgeous bedstead from the Vermont Furniture Designs line that Jordan carries but does not manufacture; they do, however, refinish the Vermont pieces and double-bolt the footboards to bring them up to Jordan standards. Our Crown Mission queen-size has head- and footboards with 3-inch slats; it's mission style, yes, but much more luxurious than the spartan name implies. In the time we've had it, there hasn't been so much as a squeak from the frame, so solid, and solidly put-together, is the thing.
These lovely pieces don't come cheap, which will surprise no one who actually inspects them for themselves. The Signature Collection beds run from about $1100 for a twin "Low Willoughby" up to about $2500 for a king-size "Pencil Post" model; the Vermont line is a little less (about $700-$1500). The price doesn't include mattress or (small) delivery charge. Scott Jordan Furniture also carries kids' beds, including some clever bunkbeds that can be turned into little indoor playgrounds, plus dining sets, dressers, cabinets, desks and other study furniture. In short, almost anything you'd like for your home in strong, dignified, superior wood.
Best Swiss Army Knives
Weiss & Mahoney, Inc.
142 5th Ave. (betw. 19th & 20th Sts.)
Cut Men. Their clientele might range from the irksome to the scary, from 16-year-old hipsters to Vietnam vet bikers, and they may shamelessly play to both those crowds with their fashionable, overpriced military surplus and their "Kill 'Em All" t-shirts, but there are a few things for which Weiss & Mahoney can't be beat?one of them being Swiss Army knives.
We've tried ordering them online, we've tried the things they sell in Korean trinket shops, we've tried various hardware stores, and discovered that what you'll find in most of these places are cheap, Asian knockoffs, not worth the plastic their blades are made from.
Walk in Weiss & Mahoney, stroll past the first display case (where they keep musical cassettes like Bugle Call Favorites) and you can't miss them?they're to your right, and down. They carry about two dozen models, in with the compasses and the other multi-tools, and they're the real thing?from simple two-blade models up to the James Bond variety, ranging in price from about $15-$75 (which is actually cheaper, we've found, than you'll end up paying online).
They have plenty of cool hats there, too.
Best Cubicle Decor
Look, then Leave. Dayjobbing can suck balls sometimes, and we've got a good dayjob. Pity the corporate cubicle-dwellers who represent the life once expected of us: the summer temp job that would've turned "f/t" come September, the automatic 4-percent yearly salary increase, the dopey grin of casual Fridays?and the dreaded cubicle.
So what if we work in a cubicle? It's a cubicle despite itself. We've got all the crap our wife wouldn't let in the house. Obscenity, gore, blasphemy: everything inside our soul, now on the walls of the cube. All that and plans for a few things from Despair.com, the premier provider of "demotivational" items. For every "Hang in There" poster you've stared at while filling in for some fat-ass, dumbshit secretary out on maternity leave, Despair.com has a more appropriate alternative. Take, for example, these "
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A love-hate relationship with height
A love-hate relationship with height
Ground Zero then and now