Best of the Bay 2010 Editors Picks: Shopping

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Best Boutique Starr: Bianca Starr
PHOTO BY MIRISSA NEFF

 


Best of the Bay 2010 Editors Picks: Shopping


BEST SUBJUGATION TO A QUEEN

Well before colony collapse disorder became a phrase of terror, Bay Area bee geeks were eyeing their neglected backyard anise and eucalyptus plants as potential ambrosial fill-up stations for honeybees. In 2008, Her Majesty's Secret Beekeeper entered the scene, giving the city's swelling ranks of colonial wannabees the ultimate sweet spot: a one-stop source for everything Apoidea. The clean, light-filled store — which has the distinction of being the only urban beekeeping store in the country — stocks backyard starter kits and supplies, those fabulous white hazmat-style suits (and really, haven't you always wanted one for demonstrations or Halloween?) beeswax candles, books, bee DIY products (i.e., honey and honeycombs), and, yes, bees. Let's face it, you haven't really tasted SF or embraced its hive mentality until you've drizzled some Gold Fine Crystal over your locally baked artisanal bread.

3520 20th St., SF. (415) 744-1465. www.hmsbeekeeper.com

 

BEST STEAMY SHOPPING

Shopping at P-Kok can be exhausting. You have to the cross the street, sometimes several times, just to take in all the cute clothes, bags, jewelry, scarves, etc. (and all at affordable prices) at P-Kok's two Haight Street locations. It's enough to make you want to find a tranquil garden, flop down on a chaise lounge with a beverage, and soothe your weary self with a sauna. At the P-Kok on the even side of the street (the one at 776 Haight), you can. Formerly the site of a day spa, P-Kok has preserved and replanted the inherited backyard garden sauna — renamed Eden — and rents it for $15 an hour. The best part: it accommodates up to 10. Packed like sardines or solo, it's the perfect antidote to bustling Haight Street— and the perfect refreshment before going back out into P-Kok(s) and loading up on more cute stuff.

776 Haight, SF. (415) 503-1280, www.pkoksf.com

 

BEST PLACE TO PLAY FOOTSIE

Distraction is the enemy of sock shopping — you came for ultrathin running socks, but omigod, the store has lilac suede Fluevogs with four-inch heels! Before you know it, you're out $250 and you still have no socks. That cannot happen at SockShop Haight Street. The small, newish, locally-owned store has nothing but socks and sock-related habiliment, including high socks, low socks, toe socks, boot socks, jock socks, kids socks, dad socks, tights, slipper-socks, and sock monkeys. And within those categories, SockShop goes way deep with wool socks, striped socks, plain socks, dot socks, cotton socks, argyle socks, cashmere socks, skull socks, floral socks, flag socks, food socks, animal socks, music socks, holiday socks, fox socks, blocks socks, and rocks socks ... Really, need we say more?

1780 Haight, SF. (415) 396-5400, www.sockshoponhaight.com

 

BEST MAJOLICA RUSH

OK, not all of us can afford to buy some ancient heap of stones fixer-upper villa in Siena where, caressed by sun and Italian hunks, we blossom into writers (bite us, Under the Tuscan Sun and Bella Tuscany). No, we must make do in our fog-shrouded garrets, scrounging for dropped change for a $2 cappuccino. But at some point, we can all afford to splurge on at least one small piece of authentic Italian splendor to add luster to our hardscrabble lives. That's when we head to Biordi Art Imports in North Beach, a floor-to-ceiling treasure trove of hand-painted Majolica ceramics. And once you start sipping your coffee from a gorgeous De Simone mug or spooning your gruel from a colorful Eurgenio Ricciarelli bowl, the virtual sunlight comes rushing in. You won't miss that stinkin' villa at all. Maybe the hunks.

412 Columbus, SF. (415) 392-8096, www.biordi.com

 

BEST CACHE OF GRACE NOTES

Be it ever so humble or token, city dwellers always seem to crave some connection to the natural world: the single bathroom orchid, the three desktop seashells, the rock and glass arrangement lining the windowsill. When it comes to finding these small grace notes (outside of illicitly pocketing them from Glass Beach or Muir Woods), our vote goes to Xapno. The small one-woman shop in the Lower Haight offers a beautiful and fragrant cornucopia of the best that nature and humanity create: fresh and dried flowers, plants, vases, candles, jewelry, cards, shells, branches, cacti, books, paper, paintings, and sometimes clothes and shoes. Furthermore, about half the artists are local, including a ceramics student at City College who has been baking baskets-full of delicate ceramic roses in varying shades of ivory, peach, and pink.

678 Haight, SF. (415) 863-8199, www.xapno.com

 

BEST GIRLY GIFTERIA

Ombre feather earrings, Hollywood Regency lamps, and two-headed chicks by way of the taxidermist — that's what BellJar is made of. Less evocative of Sylvia Plath's total collapse than a delicate glass chamber filled with oodles of fascinating objects, the Mission boutique has made a name for itself as the discriminating gothette or vintage girl's go-to for unique tchotchkes and gifts for loved ones — or, better yet, one's own bad, sweet self. Here, and on the store's recently revamped website, you'll find delightfully retro-esque and oh-so-womanly clothing, witty trinkets that draw inspiration from nature's bounty, exquisite earrings and necklaces, and founder Sasha Darling's dark-femme 'n' fabulous eye for the Francophile, the girly, and the gorgeously Grimm.

3187 16th St., SF. (415) 626-1749, www.shopbelljarsf.com

 

BEST HANDCRAFTED NIP-HUGGERS

Seductively snug latex over a perfectly pert nipple — yes, please! Skip the tassels, beads and sequins, and go for a super-sexy set of pasties that show off your breasts and hint at the budding shape beneath. The Heartbreaker pasties by Madame S are individually fashioned by hand in the SoMa fetish wear and sex shop's very own latex production lab by Madame's devilishly talented crafters. Hidden in the back behind kinky-costumed mannequins and closed doors, your breast's friend is taking on a cute, heart-shaped form right now and you should be anticipating ways to fit them into your daily wardrobe. Traditional black- and red-rimmed, these pasties are coquettish, classy, and come-hither all at once. Guaranteed to make jaws drop and temperatures rise with appreciation.

385 Eighth St., SF. (415) 863-9447, www.madame-s.com

 

BEST GOLD-GILDED GUIGNOL

Nothing celebrates life more than death — or at least, nothing is more invigoratingly creepy than opening a beautifully wrapped gift to find a life-size crown of thorns made with an assortment of deceased birds' legs. Haight boutique Loved to Death is stocked with goose-bump inflicting fancies, many of which are gold-encrusted and way more thought-provoking than a living bouquet. Say "I love you" with a 24-karat badger-claw brooch, surprise him with a scorpion in a vial, or show her you care by putting an antique baby doll head under her pillow. Taxidermy (no animals were killed in the making — they were dead already), resurrected art, antiques, and goth-hip jewelry are way more fun when they test your lover's limits. And if your delicate beloved can't handle your purchase, you'll get to keep the muskrat mandible gold-gilded earrings yourself.

1681 Haight, SF. (415) 551-0136, www.lovedtodeath.net

 

BEST HOMEGROWN DISNEY ALTERNATIVE

"We want to make things that have joy and humor, but that people aren't embarrassed to have lying around their house," says Gama-Go cofounder Greg Long. When Long and Chris Edmundson quit their day jobs at an East Bay toy company 10 years ago, they were following a dream to make well-designed, cartoon-inspired clothing and products that played off the enormously popular, collectible-crazy pop surrealism movement happening in L.A. at the time. It was a vision that launched a thousand T-shirts. Today, some of Gama's cute-with-bite stock characters like Tigerlily, DeathBot, and that cuddly ice-bluish fave, Yeti, are common sights on city streets, clubbers' chests, and shopaholics' totes. And now there's Go for your pad too. Guitar-shaped spatulas and "pot" holders that resemble big old Mary Jane leaves make perfect gifts for that urban class clown.

335 Eighth St., SF. (415) 626-1213, www.gama-go.com

 

BEST SMELL OF AEROSOL IN THE MORNING

Photo by Ben Hopfer

Screw a monument and urban planning: we live in City Beautiful. Walk down nearly any street in SF and there on the pavement and buildings you will find the stencils, murals, super burners, tags, and — how do you say? — art that makes this town rich in color, rich in mind. So where does the discerning street artist go for the tools and gear she needs to make these blocks pop? It's gotta be 1:AM gallery, where prices on paint pens and aerosol spray trump the art supply and hardware stores every time. (1:AM as in "First Amendment" — and a tagger's preferred rise and shine.) Not to mention the whole gallery side of the space, which hosts some of the most original sometimes-street artists around — who often tag the outside of the store's Sixth Street walls in kaleidoscopic temporary letterings and designs.

1000 Howard, SF. (415) 861-5089, www.1amsf.com

 

BEST MAKEUP AS DRAMATIC AS YOU ARE

Word to the aspiring pageant queens: (apparently) it's not all about the Vaseline on the teeth and duct-taped boobs. You want that crown, you need a face full of grade-A goos and glosses — and we know just the place to get them, girl. Kryolan Professional Makeup has been in the primp game since 1942, plumping and perking a passel of pretties, including the 2010 Miss USA contestants. But maybe you're a DIY kind of queen? All good — Kryolan's got a kaleidoscopic showroom full of the glitz and glamour for them bright lights, including glitter in animal, vegetable, and mineral form (the company produces more than 16,000 products in 750 colors — over the top, just like you!). If you need help slopping it on in style, or just some tips on how to blend with a little subtlety, then strut, mamma, strut to application classes in the same building.

132 Ninth St., SF. (415) 863-9684, www.kryolan.com

 

BEST RUN TO FREEDOM

Better circulation, cardiovascular health, time to reflect: running makes you free. (Especially if it's away from an out-of-shape cop.) But pounding these city streets can be tough on the joints and bones. You'd like a little freedom from aching discomfort as well. So jog over to On the Run, an Inner Sunset shoe store that specializes in helping peeps in pain — seriously, half the store's first-time customers arrive with a doctor's referral. Its trained staff will send you for a walk on an electronic pad that measures foot pressure, plus pronation and supination (both refer to the angle at which your foot hits the block). They use a fancy device to measure your feet accurately, then hook you up with some sweet kicks that have you feeling fit, fast, and fab. You pay a bit more for all this podiatric prognostication, but hey, all runners know there's gotta be some pain in the gain.

1310 Ninth Ave., SF. (415) 665-5311, www.ontherunshoes.com

 

BEST SUCCOR FOR SUCCULENTS

The fog makes a great excuse for those with black thumbs. Usually we can blame our houseplants' premature striptease of this mortal coil on the clouded vagaries of our mini-ecosystem. However, even fact-based finger-pointing fails when it comes to the death of a beloved succulent. One simply should not be able to kill a cactus. And yet one does. Sigh. Should your astrophytum be stymied or your once-verdant aloe shade into an unbecoming red, Succulence is there. This secret garden store is hidden away on a Bernal Heights video store's back patio, packed with many a bulbous, spiny, or just plain prickly new friend for you to take home in an inventive recycled planter. But don't ditch that sickly chum languishing in your window box! Succulence also mixes a special soil blend that can resuscitate even the saddest looking ball o' spikes.

402 Cortland, SF. (415) 282-2212

 

BEST TEMPLE OF LIFE

In some lovely, distant universe, all we buy are magnificent orchids, and all the money goes to AIDS prevention and relief organizations. This impractically gorgeous fantasy becomes reality at nonprofit Orchid Mania's beautifully named Orchid Temple, based in an unassuming house in the Excelsior District that contains a three-climate greenhouse. OM has packed its temple with orchids that resemble dancing ladies, some smelling of blood (all the better to woo their insect pollinators), that will stop your housemates in their tracks with their glory on your kitchen table. Call ahead to alert the temple guards — or show up during the all-volunteer operation's open orchard hours, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sundays — and take your time browsing for a worthy cause. The temple also functions as a bulb foster home to keep rare species from extinction. Let's just say they're into the preservation of beautiful lives all around.

717 Geneva, SF. (415) 841-1678, www.orchids.org

 

BEST ONE-STOP SKULL SHOP

You can't walk by Martin's 16th Street Emporium without ogling the ghoulish delights displayed in the windows. Casual strollers might be forgiven for thinking the place is called "The Skull Store" — an apt description, anyway, considering that the store is stuffed floor-to-ceiling with skulls galore. Though it's not open very often (try Thurs.-Sat. afternoons — look for the pirate flag out front), it's well worth a special visit to pick up a gift for your favorite skull collector. Sterling silver jewelry is the main attraction, with everything from dangerous-looking knuckle-duster rings (scary skull!) to delicate pendants and earrings (fashion skull!). It also carries skull figurines and other knickknacks, not all of them skull-related, but many of them vintage. Imagine stumbling upon an uber-cool, slightly spooky estate sale. If the estate was owned by Cap'n Blood, that is.

3248 16th St., SF. (415) 552-4631, www.skullsinsf.com

 

BEST STASH OF CULTURED BOOTIE

Do you need a dashiki-looking starter jacket, a grafted Italian fresco, an antique colored glass chandelier — like, yesterday? Friend, welcome to the power of collection. And welcome to Cottage Industry, the domain of a one Claudio Barone. The Italian-born Barone has spent the last 22 years traipsing about the globe, purchasing goods from indigenous craftspeople (at prices reasonable to all parties involved), and then retreating to Fillmore, treasure secured and ready to be squeezed into his darling shop — waiting for the day when you must, absolutely, positively, have that carved ebony figurine from the Congo, right away! Even if your mission lacks a hysterical level of urgency, do drop by. The piled shelves of goods ranging in price from 10 cents to $30,000 will either heighten or assuage the most pressing case of wanderlust.

2326 Fillmore, SF. (415) 885-0326

 

BEST FOLDING FANATICS

A gorilla sits in Japantown's classic origami store. She's squat and a little wrinkly, but say what you want about her lumps and rolls, she's fantastically multidimensional — and even carries a little baby on her back. You can expect that kind of artistic wonder from Paper Tree, opened by the Mihara family in 1978 and run to this day by sisters Vicky and Linda, who constructed the primate in question. Not only can their shop meet your most fantastical origami needs (and those for quirky Japanese "office supplies" like sushi-shaped erasers and beribboned money envelopes), but the Miharas are serious about taking a role in their neighborhood community. Their lively origami classes and art, a staple for the last 43 years at the Cherry Blossom Festival, are testament to their desire to share the love of a good fold.

1743 Buchanan, SF. (415) 921-7100, www.paper-tree.com

 

BEST BEACHY DREAMS

There are those who blow and bluster about the lack of true beach weather in our city of rolling fog. And then there are those that smile and manifest sunbeams. Of the latter faction is Meggie White, whose Marina boutique, .meggie., imparts the same hope for rays as its fetching blonde owner. A breezy interior of hardwood and weathered white fixtures plays snazzy backdrop to .meggie.'s wonderland: fly floral sundresses share racks with the thinnest of sherbet-colored tees and cardigans. So stock up — what if that freak summer sunburst pokes through, and you without your pastels! .meggie. stocks several local designers, and White herself makes a supremely sand-worthy line of hand-forged silver, stone, and shell jewelry. So much more fun than that panicked schlep to J.Crew.

2277 Union, SF. (415) 525-3586, www.meggiejewelry.com

 

BEST SOLUTION TO THE OMNIVORE'S DILEMMA

Stymied on the menu for tonight's dinner? Try this: start with a solid base of local, independent business, add two cups of foodie focus, stir in equal parts retro chic and current craze, bake with a product no one can get enough of, and never allow to cool (serve each slice with a celebrity sighting.) Problem solved! Such is the taste of your new culinary North Star, Omnivore Books, which happens to be the hawtest cookbook-only lit shop in Noe Valley. Owner Celia Sack has stocked her shelves with yummy tomes both new and old, and the small space packs in hungry audiences for its stellar author events. Recent speakers have included New York Times food writer Frank Bruni and local cheesemonger Gordon Edgar. It's enough food inspiration to sate the least decisive dining divas among us.

3885 Cesar Chavez, SF. (415) 282-4712, www.omnivorebooks.com

 

BEST TL ROUGHNECKS

So you're headed to psych class at City College one day when, on a dime, you say forget it — I'm going to follow my love and start a mini-skateboard empire in the Tenderloin instead. Welcome to the life of Johnny Roughneck. The boarder opened tee shirt treasure trove Dwntwn Skate Supply to hawk his Roughneck line of skate hardware and give a hand to new designers, like those of TL-repping clothing line The Loin, all while establishing a let's-have-fun attitude in a neighborhood that often has its odds stacked against it. Occasional barbeques out on the Hyde Street pavement have given the shop some presence on the block, and Dwntwn has even played jump-off to some wildly legit skating events. Check out the video of the Roughneck crew's 2010 Caltrain tour for Bay skating inspiration.

644 Hyde, SF. (415) 913-7422, www.dwntwnsf.com

 

BEST PRINTER WITH A PURPOSE

Raising your fist is all well and good, but if your arm gets tired, you'll want that rebel yell printed on your T-shirt for good measure. After helping to found the Mission's community screen-printing shop, Mission Gráfica, radical artist Jos Sanches opened Alliance Graphics in 1988. He needed a place where he could continue to churn out his poster print protests against the world's various sources of evil (capitalism, neoimperialism, commercialism, and a busted justice system, to name some of his faves) — and still be a resource for the progressive causes that to this day need a voice on the street. Does your war cry scream out to be monogrammed on a bumper sticker, backpack, or umbrella? Alliance can get the job done right, with union labor and made in the USA products to boot.

1101 Eighth St., Berk. (510) 845-8835, www.unionbug.com

 

BEST FAST TRACK TO THRIFT BLISS

Lord, these used clothing stores. The racks of oversized leggings, the bins of kitty-appliquéd sweatshirts, the puff paint visors. (Wait, are those hip now?) Who has the time for such excavations? There are times when you just want to throw your hands in the air like you just don't care and head to the local Anthropologie. But back down off that ledge! Delisa Sage's Collage on Potrero Hill can be your one-stop cool kid shop when you haven't the time to rifle through Grandma's old church dresses. Skone-Rees has stocked her boutique with well-edited used clothing at prices not too far above Goodwill price gouges. (Her nifty store of scavenged home décor is next door.) And you'll never find her array of locally-made jewelry and well-preserved boots and slippers at any Salvation Army. But be forewarned: Collage's collection of late 1990s failed tech startup mascot hats is a bit lacking.

1345 18th St., SF. (415) 282-4401, www.collage-gallery.com

 

BEST BOUTIQUE STARR

Is there anything that Bianca Starr owner Bianca Kaplan can't do? After moving on from her and hubby's bangin' DJ spot, 222 Hyde, Kaplan turned her eyes from beats to threads — secondhand designer label threads, which her Mission boutique sells to all the fly ladies looking for a clubby, classy, strappy looks (with just a hint of "Dynasty" decadence and chola sass) in which to creature up the night. Dresses, separates, handbags, belts, jewelry, and footwear: no detail is overlooked. Always collaborative, Kaplan picks chic up-and-coming designers to feature at her packed monthly stylist boutique events, and hands them the reigns to her racks for the night. And if you happen to stroll past Bianca Starr (so-called for her childhood friend's coolest name ever) on a sunny day, you might just catch Kaplan and her girlfriends lounging streetside with a bottle of champagne. Wearing the cutest frocks you've ever seen, natch.

3552 20th St., SF. (415) 341-1020, www.biancastarr.com

 

BEST FANTASY FABRICATORS

Photo by Ben Hopfer

The mother-in-law's birthday approaches, and all we know is that she likes to knit socks. Maybe we can help out with her frosty feet at the ImagiKnit store we always pass in the Castro? Probably great for some yarn — maybe a little bit fusty, too, though, and maybe somewhat intimidating to those who've never pearled. Imagine our surprise as we enter a rainbow wonderland busting with spectacular spun materials — spiky mohair, luminous silk, titillating cashmere, speckled cotton — and staffed by immediately accommodating people who don't want to stick needles in our naïve newbie eyes. More shock: we run into several of our hippest friends leafing through vintage pattern books and holding court at the DIY wool winders. ImagiKnit's community vibe and vibrant stock draw us in for hours. In the end we make the momentous decision to knit those socks ourselves. Sorry about the six toes, Mom.

3897 18th Street, SF. (415) 621-6642, www.imagiknit.com

 

BEST NIBSTER

Fountain pen lovers are a strange bunch. We spend hundreds of dollars on something that's part status symbol, part jewelry, part objet d'art and, oh, yes, part writing instrument. Sometimes these works of exquisite craftsmanship write beautifully; sometimes they leak, skip, spurt ink all over the paper (and our hands), and don't write at all. That's why Stephanie Boyette, the fountain pen expert at Flax, is our favorite nibster. She can help you pick the right pen and ink, tell you how to use acrylic flow enhancers, give you tips on maintenance, and often tell you with a quick glance why your precious pen is malfunctioning. In fact, she's so devoted that she's been chosen to work as an apprentice to John Mottishaw, the Los Angeles nib-repair expert who is widely regarded as the best fountain pen surgeon in America.

1699 Market, SF. (415) 552-2355, www.flaxart.com

 

BEST PLACE TO FLIP YOUR WIG

What's that on your head? If it ain't a wig, get thee to the Wig Factory, pronto, because every man, woman, boy, girl, dog, cat, bird, and goldfish needs at least one follicular embellishment to send their look into another, more fabulous dimension. The Wig Factory's capital selection includes everything from utter realness to costume frivolity — it's got you covered like Andre Agassi's cranium after half a can of Ron Popeil's spray-on hair. Devotees know that Wig Factory is subject to some controversy because of its rules limiting the number of hairpieces you can try on in a single visit, which some people complain about. Such folks conflate whining with Yelping — ignore them. Do you want to try on a wig that's already been tested by a hundred finicky entitled shoppers who think their scalps don't stink? We don't think so. Queens and princesses, beauty is here, on a mannequin head. Kings and princes, you can look like Adam Lambert or a Brylcreemed silver fox in a single fitting.

3020 Mission, SF. (415) 282-4939

 

BEST MINTY FRESH FASHIONS

It's easy to show your California love when it's directed at Mint Mall, a SF-based online clothing shop that mixes fine originals with vintage finds. An appreciation for natural fabrics, an eye for vibrant eras of well-known and obscure labels, and the type of tough dedication required to make the best thrifting finds are three of the special ingredients that make up Mint Mall. But the two main factors are co-owners Corina Biliandzija and Genevieve Dodge, who teamed up over half-a-decade ago and have refined their own designs and vintage visions with each passing day. Mint Mall items are fun to wear and born from the pair's love and enthusiasm for fashion and everyday style. Native fringe, Aztec or cartoon prints, bell-sleeved tunic tops, Grecian gold thread minis, Bergdorf Goodman floral maxis, Diane von Furstenberg silk wraps, Givenchy platforms, original hoodies — the dynamic duo behind Mint Mall work hard for your closet, so you better treat them right.

www.stores.ebay.com/the-mint-mall

 

BEST SWEET SHOP TO MAKE A SUPERSTAR PROUD

Even before it opened, Candy Darling had a reputation, thanks to its fabulous name and kicky red plastic sign. Passersby were left to wonder — would it be a candy shop, or a drag queen fashion emporium? Those with a sweet tooth were the ones who received the happy answer, though, to be honest, there's something wonderfully Grey Gardens about the store's vintage 1960s or '70s feel. Candy Darling the Warhol superstar was utterly unique, the essence of feminine glamour, and as soft and lovely as a lilac-scented breeze. Candy Darling the corner shop is a little paradise of sea-salt caramels, milk chocolate turtles, rocky road clusters, English toffee bars, and dark chocolate-dipped candied ginger. It does its namesake proud, which is no small feat. Visit Candy Darling just once and you might never see Mrs. See again.

798 Sutter, SF. (415) 346-1500

 

BEST BOOK HAVEN FOR ART LOVERS

A great bookstore is almost like an inspiring place of worship, except more fun and more grounded in palpable truth. Some of San Francisco's best bookstores are nestled into nooks, like the esoteric Bolerium, or ready to move, like 871 Fine Arts. The numbers in this tome emporium and gallery's name are enigmatic: for years, it brought some historical heart and heft to the art biz maze that is 49 Geary, and now it's at 20 Hawthorne, another half-hidden location. (So the name's obviously not address-oriented; perhaps it refers to the year Viking king Bagsecg died?) Owner Adrienne Fish has developed a selection of art books that is simply second to none in SF — 871 mixes old and new titles, is well-organized, and brings a sense of depth and breadth to any movement or era. The layout and lighting are attractive and efficient, and browsers and buyers can also enjoy an art show during a visit, since Fish's curatorial acumen regarding California art is extra-sharp.

20 Hawthorne, SF. (415) 543-5155

 

BEST KANDI WHEN YOU'RE RANDY

Great reasons to use a glass dildo: they last longer, they're less likely to harbor harmful bacteria, they retain temperature well — and on first glance, they more resemble works of fine art than hump handles. It was this urge toward aesthetic excellence that compelled Samantha Liu to open Glass Kandi, the display shop for her online catalog Glass Dildo Me. Liu provides expert guidance to the adventurous singles and curious couples who grace her door, smoothly introducing them to the exact masterpiece of whorled glass and embedded metals that will rev their engines. And don't worry if you have a lady who likes to accessorize — Glass Kandi's arsenal of whips, wigs, jewelry, and more is tinglingly top notch.

569 Geary, SF. (415) 931-2256, www.glasskandi.com

 

BEST SQUEAKY-SHARP WHEELS

It's a bad cliché. The snooty bike repair dude, sniffing down his (lensless) thick-frame glasses at your beloved, if somewhat mind-boggling, bicycle. Will he overquote you? Will he really fix the problem with due diligence? Will you regret asking him the question in the first place? Blow by those stereotypical scaries and enter the world of Roaring Mouse Cycles. Racks and racks of high-quality road, track, and mountain bikes await to be sized expertly to your frame. (Should your size not be in stock, they'll order it for you with a perfect-fit guarantee). Plus, the racing enthusiast staff is pro enough to know exactly what your two-wheeled buddy needs to get rolling again. They pride themselves on a steel frame code of service, and definitely won't hurt your bike — or your ego. You'll never feel velo-vapid again!

1352 Irving, SF. (415) 753-6272, www.roaringmousecycles.com

 

BEST REFINED RUGGEDNESS

Photo by Ben Hopfer

Way out west, where Midwestern dreams take form, there's a Victorian that predates the great 1906 quake. There, you'll find men's workwear goods refined to something like an art form. They're well-arranged in a shop known to sport an American flag or two, not in any jingoistic way, but as a reflection of its "finest quality dry goods": jeans, shirts, bags, boots, and other masculine items, all selected by Todd Barket, whose design eye has influenced some of the more popular mass-market clothing brands on Market Street. The attire in Unionmade is considerably pricier for the most part, but with a sharpness, durability, and practical ingenuity (they've carried Chester Wallace canvas bags built to fit two six-packs) you won't find for a lower tag. While a different nearby store has Japanese denim for those whose wallets can indulge in jean dreams, Barket stocks Levi's from the '40s, '50s, and '60s, a tack that taps into the brand's SF past and relates to it newer brands such as Woolrich and Gitman Tanner. Look for the Unionmade label, or rather, for the stamp on your bag when you've made a purchase.

493 Sanchez, SF. (415) 861-3373, www.unionmadegoods.com

 

BEST FRILLS OF A LIFETIME

If you can't find something to geek out on in Japantown's five-story New People Tokyo fashion mall, you're not doing it right. But not many of the pop culture palace's multitudinous corners have spawned their very own local subcultures — which brings us to Baby, the Stars Shine Bright, a Harajuku ministore mecca, and one of the original brands responsible for the "Sweet Lolita" dress up movement in Japan. Lady-like Lolita adherents flounce around in intensely festooned outfits otherwise seen only on the most precious of collectible baby dolls. And since this is the BSSB brand's only U.S. retail source, pretty-pretty princesses come from far and wide to partake in the store's frillfest of matching dresses, bonnets, Mary Janes, and parasols. For extra credit, the Lolitas can play at BSSB-organized tea parties, held at pinkies-up swank spots all over the city.

1746 Post, SF. (415) 525-8630, www.newpeopleworld.com