What is there to be said about the monolith of all toy stores? From the big piano floor pad made famous by the movie Big to the latest and greatest its children??s entertainment, FAO Schwartz has it all. When I was a kid, getting to go to FAO Schwartz was the best of all treats. They literally have anything and everything you could imagine. It??s where my mom bought Tamagachis and Furbies and robotic dogs and Tickle-Me-Elmo??s. These days gifts for children are way more high tech; my little cousins all have Wii??s and have asked for iPad??s for their birthday presents, and FAO Schwartz definitely offers all of those products, but they still feature good old fashioned kid??s toys. Real dolls and train sets and tangible items that you can take home and assemble with your bare hands. The staff is energetic and helpful, and everyone who works there wants to help make little kid??s dreams come true, and shouldn??t that be what places like that represent? At its very core, it should be about the magic of make-believe.
On a lazy Sunday when all my friends were busy and I was tired of sitting in my apartment, I wandered into Union Square Caf for some brunch. I had a book and a glass of wine, and I was armed for being a solo diner in New York City. For the record, I am a terrible decision maker. Committing to so much as which pair of panties to wear in the morning is a difficult task for me, so you can imagine what going out for a meal is like for me, especially without the assistance of another human being to help me narrow down my options. Thank God I stopped eating meat; otherwise it would take me eight years to choose my food. On this particular day I was torn between trying their tuna tartare and the butternut squash ravioli in a brown butter sage sauce with dried cranberries. Since I work in a restaurant with a slammin?? tuna tartare, I am usually disappointed when I order this dish anywhere else. If I were smart I would just give up, but alas, I continue to set myself up for a masochistic pursuit of the world??s perfect raw tuna. The bartender was extremely helpful in aiding my psychotic inability to make a decision. He told me he would surprise me. This was wonderful. As a server, I absolutely hate doing that for people. I once had a man ask me to order his entire meal. THE WHOLE THING. Why go out to dinner if you??re going to put all the pressure on your server? It doesn??t make sense. Anyway, a very good friend of mine from college works at USC, and the kind man behind the bar sent me both of my choices. I was overwhelmed with deliciousness, but I maintain that I should really stop ordering tuna tartare out. The ravioli was a perfect blend of all of its ingredients, no one item overpowered the others, like a chorus working together to create the perfect stage picture. Though the ambiance seemed a bit stuffy, the food was heavenly, and made me incredibly happy I fought my fear of solo dining and ventured out into the world alone.
Since I was a little kid, the Sports Authority has been a place that evokes excitement in me. In my tiny eight year old brain, I always put McDonald??s play-place adjacent to the Sports Authority. From camping tents to scuba gear to baseball bats to inflatable pool floats, the Sports Authority literally has anything and everything related to sports, entertainment, and the outdoors. As an adult, the excitement does not wane. You can buy an exercise bike in the same place as a new sports bra and running shorts. Looking for a bocce ball set? An elliptical machine? Golf clubs? No problem. Even their online store is welcoming; everything is neatly organized into categories and sub-categories, which come in handy to those of us who are OCD. I would say, however, that it is a destination for the average sports enthusiast. If you??re looking for the newest, hottest styles of sneakers, the Sports Authority should probably not be your first destination. I would also say that your shopping experience will vary by location, which for me is a negative attribute. When I walk into a Gap, or a Starbucks, or a Lululemon, the experience is generally the same no matter what. I don??t feel that way about the Sports Authority. Sometimes though, you just gotta roll the dice.
I??m almost 100% certain that Dunkin Donuts has some of the best coffee in New York. I used to be a hardcore coffee addict. We??re talking three to four to more cups a day. When I entered my brief stint as a vegan, I quit coffee cold turkey, which was probably the hardest part about not being able to eat meat or dairy. I haven??t actually picked the habit back up, but I do drink coffee from time to time, usually when it??s been a tough week or I feel I deserve something special. While the quality of Dunkin Donuts is generally superior to most other chain coffee companies, the lines are usually eternal because the person behind the counter is struggling with the English language, the American people, or just their existence in general. They are usually unpleasant and rude, and this somehow slows the coffee brewing process. This is nothing compared to the fact that Dunkin Donuts does not carry soy milk. COME ON. This is New York City, circa 2011, where thousands of people struggle with dairy problems. You can??t find the capital to order a couple of boxes of soy milk for your lactose-challenged customers? You may have the better coffee, Dunkin Donuts, but the green giant of chain-store coffee will continue to get my business on the days when I desperately crave a soy latte.
Like a candy land for women, Sephora is a one stop shopping destination for all things beauty related. They literally have anything and everything you could ever imagine all under one roof. Frankly I can??t remember where anyone bought makeup before Sephora existed, and I don??t care to. All I know is that when I need to replace both my Bare Minerals powder foundation and my Dior mascara in one fell swoop, I head to the Sephora on 17th street. The staff is always friendly and helpful without breathing down your neck, like at some department stores, and they??re just as knowledgeable about their products as they are honest in the advice they give you. The only complaint I have about it is that it can sometimes be a bit overwhelming. I can never ever go in there on a weekend or during holiday season because it??s a nightmare. The music is blaring, it??s a hundred degrees, and the whole place is ridden with contrasting perfumes being sprayed every which way. It??s enough to give anyone a headache, especially when you add x amount of uncertain shoppers and tourists into the mix. I prefer to go during the week, in the morning, when everyone is at work or at home with their children. I can take my time meandering around the store, peacefully testing potential new lip colors and dreaming of a whole new makeover. That is the true bliss of Sephora.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I can??t remember when exactly I fell in love with lululemon. It??s sort of like being in love with Nutella or wine; you don??t remember the very first moment you tried it, but you know it will be a life-long affair. Everything about lululemon makes me happy. Some may say the clothes are insanely overpriced. You may be right. But for someone with my lifestyle (read: a workout freak) it is well worth the money. The clothes are of excellent quality, they can withstand any workout, be it spinning, yoga, running, dancing, or aerobics classes. They??re cute and comfortable and make you feel sexy. When I buy new workout gear, it motivates me to want to work out. I know that sounds ridiculous, but a general consensus among my friends who are lulu converts agree with me. Not only that, the staff is always incredibly pleasant. Everyone who works there is happy and pretty and skinny, and they all seem to be perfectly content folding sweatshirts and helping me choose a new sports bra for the summer season. It??s like the water has been contaminated with happy juice. Or maybe it??s the air. I am always in a significantly better mood after I??ve been in one of their stores, even if I don??t buy anything. It??s magical. Being a cynical New Yorker, this type of behavior would normally be a huge turn off. Alternatively, these genuinely kind humans make me want to be kind to others. Lululemon??s whole philosophy is based on the principles of yoga, and it??s what makes them such an interesting company. Based out of Vancouver, they make their clothes out of organic cotton, and promote a green and healthy lifestyle. Though expensive, Lululemon makes me feel like my money??s going further than my new running shorts. Shopping there makes me feel like I??m making a difference, and that is worth everything.
Searching for the perfect designer threads but don??t have the cash flow to support it? No problem. Buffalo Exchange in the East Village has got your back. Normally I am anti-thrift store; the very idea of owning something that has touched another person??s body grosses me out to extremes, but a girlfriend whose opinion I highly value recommended Buffalo Exchange to me, and I have to admit I stand corrected. With everything from 80??s style prom dresses, billowy tee shirts that I have affectionately renamed ??fat people clothes?, sparkle sneakers, a whole slew of gold jewelry, blouses, jeans, and shorts, Buffalo Exchange offers a wide variety of used goods that actually look kind of new. Excited at the prospect of owning a Theory dress for $20, I grabbed a ton of items off the racks and hit the dressing room. This turned out to be an epic fail. There??s a reason why people sell their old clothes. Either they don??t fit properly, or they??re not really that cute once you get home, or you can never find an appropriate occasion to wear said garment. After spending about an hour in the dressing room (I am a terrible solo shopper, I can never decide if things actually look good on me or if an article of clothing is worth the money), I had narrowed down my pile to two dresses. The first was a geometrically patterned BCBG dress that could have been cute, I just couldn??t tell after trying on 87 dresses. The second was a black strapless maxi dress that had this weird knot/bow thing in the center. I was starting to lose my patience, it was 100 degrees in there, and the strapless dress was $13 bucks. I needed to get the hell out of there. I bought the dress and rolled. I??d definitely go back to Buffalo Exchange, just with a friend, and with the air conditioner on.
Being a girl, I have very little video game know how. And by little I mean none. When the time came to buy my little cousin a birthday present (per the demands of my mother) I thought about what little boys like. Something baseball related could be a good idea, but the kid is so spoiled he probably has every baseball related item in existence. So my thoughts turned to a gift that would simultaneously enthrall him and make my aunt and uncle grimace: video games. Once upon a time, I owned a Playstation, and played Frogger so much that my mother had to eventually take it away from me so that I would do my homework. When I walked into the Nintendo World Store yesterday, I knew I had found the solution to my problem. The Nintendo World Store website autobiographically describes itself as ??a gaming paradise in the middle of New York City? and I can think of no better description. With its futuristic interior design and glowing neon blue lights, the store makes you feel like you??ve embarked on a trip to Mars. Or like you??ve dropped some acid. Either way, the staff was incredibly friendly, informed, helpful, and cute in a nerdy ??I still live with my mother but I smoke a lot of weed so it??s okay? kind of way. I wound up choosing a gift that married my initial idea to give a sports related gift with something that would most definitely annoy his parents as well as keep him engaged and distracted for hours should I ever have to baby-sit. It??s called the Mario sports mix, and it??s a wonderfully nostalgic throwback to my college days of playing Mario Kart at frat houses while being surrounded by copious amounts of marijuana. I wonder why video gaming correlates so well with drug use. Way to go, Nintendo. And way to go me, for being the coolest cousin ever.
If I had a dollar every time I have made my poor boyfriend wander through bookstores with me, we would probably be able to take a decent vacation. Nothing compares to the length of his groan whenever I casually suggest going into Barnes and Noble. I have literally spent close to a third of my life scanning the aisles and pouring over the ??new and recommended?, ??new fiction?, ??new non-fiction?, and ??beach reads? tables at Barnes and Noble. Everyone around me is also silently going through the tables, perusing whatever new Kurt Vonnegut book has been published from beyond the grave. When you live in New York City, finding peace and quiet is difficult to come by, especially when you??re idly killing time. Just last week I had about an hour to kill before I went to work, and I literally sat on the floor of the Union Square Barnes and Noble and read the first chapter of Sloane Crossley??s new collection of essays entitled How Did You Get This Number. It was one of the most glorious hours of my week. Nobody bothers you unless you ask them for help, and everyone minds their own business. It reminds me of what a library is supposed to be like, as opposed to its modern day purpose, which is to house the homeless during the day. I guess everyone needs their own personal time with literature, I just prefer to do mine on the comfy carpeting of the Barnes and Noble in Union Square, where everyone is happy and helpful, and the answer to the secret of life seems just within reach of the next Malcolm Gladwell book.
Starbucks is probably my favorite place to pay way too much money for a mediocre product. If my stomach didn??t reject milk I would never step in there, but alas, they make a decent soy latte. Since graduating college, I have reduced my coffee intake by approximately 3000 percent. This was not an easy journey, but I am finally at a place in life where I drink coffee for the mere pleasure of it instead of counting down the minutes and wishing that I could just insert an IV in my arm and happily wait for caffeine to jolt its way through my bloodstream and into my brain. These days, exercise takes the place of my morning cup of Joe, but that does not mean that when I??m having a rough week I don??t saunter into my local Starbucks and order myself an unsweetened grande soy latte. And yes?I saunter. I don??t enjoy straight up coffee, and I don??t really like iced coffee, but there??s something comforting and satisfying about a steaming cup of soy-infused caffeine. Do you have to wait an eternity for your coffee because every human being on the island of Manhattan happens to be at YOUR particular Starbucks at the same time? Yes. Will you pay five dollars for your coffee when you refuse to spend more than $1.29 for a box of pasta and/or a sponge? Yes. Has Starbucks completely warped our minds into thinking we cannot live without them? Yes. But who cares! You??ve definitely spent your money on worse. The only thing that I would want Starbucks to advertise (besides the caloric content of their pastries, which stops me dead in my tracks as a reach for a blueberry scone) is your soul mate. You know how in movies the main couple always seems to meet waiting in line at a Starbucks? If that were true, I would spend way more time rediscovering my caffeine addiction.