Best Of :: Shopping & Services
The place needs little introduction to these parts, but here's a brief recap for the hell of it: run by barber-turned-MacArthur Genius Grant winner Reuben Martinez, host to almost every major Latino author of the past 25 years, and one of the last remaining independent bookstores in Orange County, period. But due to the ravages of the book industry, Libreria Martinez was in danger of closing until Martinez's daytime employer, Chapman University (where he works as an ambassador to Latino students) stepped in to turn it into a nonprofit. Now rebranded as Libreria Martinez de Chapman University, it'll reopen this month, stronger than ever and relevant as always.
Family-owned auto shops are still the way to go in a world of EZ Lube drive-thrus and the Walmart-ification of car work. Adolfo Lopez runs Excel Auto Care in Lake Forest, and his crew can get you in and out pretty quickly, whether you need a new muffler or work on your catalytic converter. His guys—Sergio, Hector and Alex—know their nuts, so if your hooptie needs a tune-up, push it into their shop. And say hi to Hoss, the bulldog. Just don't do finger-guns on him: An otherwise friendly fella, that's the one thing that gets him riled up. Oh, and call ahead, as the place is always hopping with cars. The not-well-kept secret of this shop's great service has gotten out over the years.
Pound for pound, there are probably more vintage Volkswagens—split-window Kombis and Squarebacks, sleek Kharmann Gias and boxy Things, and Bugs upon Bugs upon Bugs—in Orange County than anywhere in the United States, driven by surf bums and weekend warriors alike. But the damn things break down similar to a subprime loan, so a good mechanic is a must. And while OC does have more than a few specialists, the true VW enthusiast knows the best repair shop is down Imperial Highway in Downey at Al's VW. Not only do Alfredo Reyna and his crew specialize solely in Volkswagen engines and offer quick service at affordable prices, but their shop is also located in a sea of VW specialists—paint jobs, sound systems, bodywork and the like. And Al's is just minutes away from Bill and Steve's, the Southland's ultimate original VW parts store, which VW owners already visit because their damn love always breaks down.
For sneakerheads, finding a rare pair of kicks is akin to stumbling upon the Hope Diamond. And in OC, there's no greater treasure chest than Attic, a streetwear shop on steroids across from Knott's Berry Farm. Inside the industrial-warehouse-like space, limited-edition and vintage sneakers are displayed on a mechanical conveyor belt for fanboys to salivate over. Gems have ranged from the Air Max Infrared Hyperfuse to the Foamposite Pro Gym Green to the Hundreds Selvedge Denim Johnson. But get 'em while you can—new releases come and go as quickly as the Space Shuttle Endeavor. And if you happen to notice a line of hipsters wrapped around the store, move those stylin' feet fast.
Hipster or hippie, gangster or gamine, everyone wants a hoppin' sound system for their transportation, be it a lowrider, Lexus or Vespa. Bristol Sound, off—you guessed it!—Bristol Street in Santa Ana, can service all of those vehicles, transforming even the lowliest, oldest car into a movable concert. It sells all the great stereo systems; offers more speakers than there are stars in the sky; and works fast, honestly and cheaply. And the staff will assist you in shaping your stereo needs, whether you want the lush sounds of classical music to dominate or want a bass level that'll turn your bones into pebbles.
Believe it or not, traditional barber shops have become their own scene in the past few years, with true-school cutters leading a pack of poseurs that has opened shop with all the trinkets of the trend, from rockabilly memorabilia to beer on tap. That's fine, save for the sad fact that the stench of pretension has crept into many of these joints. Enter brothers-in-blades Philip Hernandez and Eric Webb, co-owners of Circle City Barbers in Old Towne Orange. These vets present a laid-back atmosphere where a man can get a clean cut and a straight-razor shave without the too-cool preening that marks so many of their competitors' shops. Man-talk about bikes and broads is common here, and you're just as likely to hear classic rock as you are to hear Misfits and Johnny Cash. Spend about 45 minutes in one of their chairs, and you'll be hooked for life—or at least as long as you live in SoCal. It's a bullshit-free barber shop, so don't even bother to ask for an appointment.
Because Americans continue to puss out to the Nanny State, public places for smokers to enjoy a puff or two are growing rarer by the day. So head to Old Towne Havana in Orange, where cigar aficionados can still enjoy a smoke without getting the stink-eye. It stocks hundreds of varieties, from $5 cigars to $40 lung darts, as well as all the tools of the tobacco-smoking trade—"Everything for your bad habit," says owner Budz Bedwan. The 2,300-square-foot shop features a 30-person smoking lounge available for private parties and three TV screens for your viewing pleasure. Pay Budz a visit and take a big whiff of that tobacco-soaked room—you'll be a better person for it.
Remember those places called "pool halls," in the days before higher-end establishments opened and became places to be seen, rather than places to, you know, actually shoot pool? Mulligans Sports Bar and Grill in San Clemente is a throwback to those times, when one could slap down some quarters, drink American beer that didn't have a stupid name on the label, and concentrate on the recreation at hand—kicking your buddy's ass in a game of billiards. Sure, it's in a rather dark corner of San Clemente, and those with lesser constitutions for such things give it poor reviews on Yelp, but that's exactly what a pool hall and bar should be—just dangerous enough to keep the cool people out. And for bonus points, there aren't any bro dudes with mixed-martial-arts tank tops scowling at everyone.
Old Towne Orange has gotten a little uppity in the past decade or so. Thankfully, Rod's Liquors is holding down the old-school fort, with its semi-circle driveway for convenient parking and a down-to-earth staff that puts up with all manner of bullshit, from drunken homeless people to drunken Chapman girls to hipster dicks who frequent the nearby pubs. With a nice selection of American brews and plenty of booze with contrived names, Rod's has also turned itself into a little mini-mart, so if you need nachos with your rubbers, it'll hook you up. A clean store with a cool exterior, Orange County natives and noobs need to hit Rod's at least once before they die.
This year, Starbucks came out in support of a bill to legalize gay marriage in Washington state. JCPenney put out a Father's Day ad featuring a gay couple playing with its children. Oreo showed its true colors by posting an image of a rainbow cookie on its Facebook page in celebration of LGBT Pride Month. And Facebook added status icons for same-sex marriages. More and more corporations are sticking it to the haters (ahem, One Million Moms) and embracing equality. Sure, supporting gay rights may be good business (Starbucks stock rose after an anti-gay boycott of the company), but the movement is reassurance that LGBT acceptance has reached mainstream America. Hopefully, at a time not too far in the future, this "trend" will be hardly worth noting.
If there's one thing that can zap your zen faster than a violin class for preschoolers, it's clutter. The quandary of too much stuff is only magnified when you dwell in a tiny-ass apartment or dorm room. Luckily, the Japanese have perfected space optimization. (That and making really awesome game shows.) Daiso, a pink-walled discount superstore in Irvine's Heritage Plaza, is stocked with aisles and aisles of stackable, hangable, compartmentalized household goods that make organizing feel as if it were a massive game of Tetris. Everything is fun and functional—think plaid bento boxes, frog-shaped sponges, pastel laundry nets, microwavable rice steamers and slippers with microfiber dusters on the bottom so you can clean as you stroll through the house. The best part: Almost every item is a buck-fifty! Watch out, Ikea.
Plop down on a comfortable seat, take full advantage of the remote-controlled massage chair you're in, revel in a spa manicure and pedicure, and don't feel guilty because this salon's prices are reasonable and well-worth it. Forgot to bring your own nail polish? Don't fret; there's a wide palette of colors to choose from. The staff is friendly, with everyone doing their utmost to ensure customers are satisfied with the experience. To top it off, grab a refreshing drink of cucumber-infused ice water on your way out the door.