By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Best Sex Shop
1779 Newport Blvd., second floor, Costa Mesa
Most adult shops throw the sex right in your face and make you feel dirty about it. It's common practice to display rows and rows of obscenely oversized appliances right over the $1.99 bin of discounted VHS tapes with the phrase "cream pie" in the title. Ick. Between the greasy guy behind the counter and the two-for-one anal-trainer sets, shopping for sex toys has become anything but sexy. Where has all the mystery gone? To Wicked Chamber. Owned by mother-daughter team Jeanne and Bright Ryan, the female-friendly boutique's emphasis is not the act of sex itself, but rather the foreplay leading up to it. Sure, there's the typical stripper-esque poly-blend naughty-nurse costume that can be found in any adult store, but Wicked Chamber also has a selection of upscale corsets and bodices in velvet, satin and lace. For the more adventurous, there's an impressive array of bondage items in leather and vinyl, including every size whip this side of a circus. Yes, they have vibrators, too, but the secion is discreetly tucked in the back of the store. Wicked Chamber brings a ladies' touch to the world of adult toys.
Best G-String Shop
Strings By Judith
644 E. Katella Ave., Orange
Why bother with the overpriced delectables at Victoria's Secret when OC has its own 29-year-old G-string shop? Founded by Judith Hill and her husband, the small shop offers a slew of other naughty products but is best known for its line of "strings." The original designs are still made by the shop's three veteran seamstresses.
Best Cigar Shop
Red Cloud Fine Cigars and Tobacco
118 W. Wilshire Ave., Fullerton
40 Plaza Square, Orange
Enter Red Cloud's walk-in humidor, perpetually set at a balmy 70-percent humidity, and your pores will open and inhale the earthen nuance. In other words, you'll soon smell like a stogie. But that's not a bad thing, especially if you're a fan of $60 Partagas 160s or the Fuente Fuente OpusX, which are only occasionally available and sell for around $30 a pop. If you don't know a Cohiba from a coat hanger, don't worry: Red Cloud's employees are knowledgeable and will recommend the best cigar for your lack of taste and wallet-to-fat ratio. If you're a heavy hitter, consider a year's membership ($250) to the cigar lounge. There you can puff freely, sip scotch, and indulge in a variety of leisure activities such as cards, darts, pool, or a ridiculously oversized game of chess.
Best Toy Store
Toy Boat, Toy Boat, Toy Boat
3331 E. Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar
879 Newport Center Dr., Fashion Island, Newport Beach
1827 Westcliff Dr., Newport Beach
21111 Newport Coast Dr., Newport Coast
Locally owned and operated, Toy Boat (for short) carries the kinds of toys that get short shrift in the Xbox era. For parents interested in raising their children with slightly more thoughtful playthings, Toy Boat carries a wide range of well-made, stimulating and/or educational toys, re-emphasizing the brain in children's entertainment. With free gift-wrapping and free in-store assembly of trikes and wagons, Toy Boat will convince your children that expanding their minds isn't nearly as painful as it sounds.
Best Used Book Store
Once Read Books
5422 E. Village Road, Long Beach
Located in Long Beach's nearly hidden Parkview Village Triangle, Once Read Books seems to be going strong even as other local used-book stores are going the way of . . . well, functional literacy in general. Anaheim's Book Baron is closing its doors, and Long Beach's historic Acres of Books is next on the list, if the developers have their say (and it's looking like they will unless Acres can convince some activists to lie down in front of the bulldozers). Yet Once Read Books still stands, a testament to the enduring power of recycled culture. With Once Read's selection of more than 35,000 used, out-of-print and rare books, you'll have no problem finding something worth your time. They even keep the fancy ones in a genuine vault, a remnant of the building's previous life as a jewelry store in the '40s. Best of all, during open hours, they roll out the bargain cart, which generally contains a lot of old manuals and encyclopedias, chock-full of pictures you can cut out for scrapbooking. And for those of you who are over the whole reading thing, they'll even buy your old books if they can use them, giving you valuable cash you can then use to pay for TiVo.
Best Book Store That's Not Open Anymore
You know how (mostly) everything in Orange County is a chain? Book Soup wasn't. (Well, their former "sister store" is located on LA's Sunset Strip . . . but that doesn't count anyway.) We mourn you, Book Soup. Not only did you always, always, always have great music playing—ranging from Gainsbourg to indie bands du jour, the perfect accompaniment to the perfect literary search—but we were able to locate books here that couldn't be found elsewhere beyond the Internet. You carried some relatively lesser-known titles, including some that covered local bands. But you did always stand out—stuck there in South Coast Plaza, right across from Bottega Veneta and next to Cartier. Even your interior was different, reminiscent of a certain dimly lit, former Beat hangout in San Francisco's North Beach, actually. It just wasn't your sort of place, Book Soup. Or time. You just didn't belong. But will it ever be? Alas, Book Soup really did close this past spring. And in its place will spring a brand-new Versace store. Cruel fate.