A host of cozy designer boutiques are nestled among the East Village's streets, beckoning with occasional sample sales and a more intimate shopping experience than can be found anywhere else in Manhattan. Meghan Kinney Studio (312 E. 9th St., 260-6329) offers clean-lined women's apparel and a friendly cat; Mark Montano (134 E. 9th St., 505-0325) pairs up playful fabric with sexy patterns; at Selia Yang (328 E. 9th St., 254-9073), a sedate Shar-Pei sits in the window as if guarding the owner's sheer, layered designs; and you can't miss the bargain barrels at the Daryl K. Boutique (208 E. 6th St., 475-1255) for a great deal on those slim-fit, iridescent hip-huggers you've been eyeing.
Thicken your eyeliner and zip up your go-go boots before ponying into Drinkland's (339 E. 10th St., 228-2435) world of dichromatic geometric décor -- then make believe you're in a Fellini movie. Loungers appear suspended in a sea of milk as they recline against the padded white vinyl walls, benches and stools of an adjoining white room; the net effect: a sort of entrancing, stark surrealism -- which unfortunately dissipates on weekends when hordes of young professionals crowd the place and drown out Drinkland's retro-chic design.
Flea Market (131 Avenue A, 358-9282) is probably the only place in the East Village where the décor is intended to look like it came from, well, a flea market. But even in its choice of tchotchkes, this French bistro can't help but exude a certain elegance; green and blue vintage glass bottles along the rear wall are backlit to suggest stained glass, and antique shaving brushes and toiletries glow in cases behind the bench seats, providing the only light in the evenings. The cuisine, meanwhile, betrays none of this subtle charm; the menu boasts hearty French classics like steak frites and confit de canard, plus a fabulous $8.95 prix fixe brunch -- oeufs florentine and (of course) French toast -- on weekends. Just try not to love it when your waiter struggles through a wordy English description of the specials. C'est si mignon!
In the East Village, Little India, Little Japan, and Little Ukraine rub up against one another happily to represent the tastier parts of Asia and Eastern Europe. Where else can you feast on pierogis for breakfast (head for the Kiev, 117 2nd Ave., 674-4040), have Sag Paneer for lunch (anywhere on 6th), and then the freshest sushi for dinner (my favorite is Hasaki, 210 E. 9th, 473-3327) -- all within a three block radius?
Rifling through dressers of lacy lingerie makes shopping at Between the Sheets Lingerie (315 9th St., 677-7586) feel like digging for brassieres in grandma's closet. (The last time I went in, most of the sizes were closer to hers -- i.e., more humongous, er, voluptuous -- than mine.) And you won't find any Hanes Her Way here; everything is designed exclusively for the store. In these times of underwear-as-outerwear, Between the Sheets is the perfect place to stop when you're feeling a little extravagant and just have to treat yourself to a rose-colored, satin negligee.
Forget about inspecting the amount of fat grams per serving. Enjoy yourself, already. Even a kiddie scoop ($1.50) at Moondog Brand Homemade Ice Cream (147 Ave A., 328-0167) will prove sufficient to satisfy a hard-core sweet-tooth (a "regular" is two scoops). All of Moondog's flavors, like chocolate chip and Oreo cookie, are made with a sharp Mexican vanilla to remind you of ice cream made the old-fashioned hand-crank way. The selection changes every day; unfortunately they run out of the more popular flavors pretty quickly, so if you're craving the Green Tea, go early. And if creamy frozen treats aren't enough, sample pastries, pies, coffee, and (oddly enough) soup.
So you need a bar without a theme, without pretension, without a scene-chasing crowd. The Scratcher (209 E. 5th St., 477-0030) is a dark, Irish hole-in-the-wall pub with a yummy beer selection (sorry, no liquor here) and the friendliest bartenders (gotta love those brogues). With the recent addition of classic Irish beans-on-toast style lunches, artsy neighborhood regulars can now spend even more hours slumped at the bar. And thank the genius who recently thought to install a new ventilation system -- beer goggles could protect one only so much from the unbearable smokiness that used to dominate the Scratcher like a cold fog over the Irish moors.
Off the usual path of the 8th Street shoe-shopping circuit, 99X (84 E. 10th St., 460-8599) offers a huge selection of clunky-cool footwear including styles from John Fluevog, Doc Marten, Vans, Gripfast, and Creepers, as well as those suddenly hip, space-age-looking, bubbly Fornarinas. And all you animal-friendly fashionistas will find a wide variety of Vegetarian shoes (no animals nor animal products involved) so you can stomp and strut with a clear conscience.
To go along with your new funky-fresh footwear, Eight Ball Records (105 9th St., 337-1200) answers all your musical needs for dance, house, jungle, and hip-hop grooves. In-store D.J.s spin records for your listening pleasure, enhancing the vinyl-browsing experience while you select the perfect jam to take home and practice your groovy moves.
Quality Off-Broadway theaters abound in the East Village. To name a few of my favorites: Pearl Theatre (80 St. Mark's Pl., 588-9802), Variety Arts Theatre (110 3rd Ave., 239-6200), DUO Theatre (62 E. 4th St., 598-4320), New York Theater Workshop (79 E. 4th St., 460-5475), Orpheum (126 2nd Ave., 477-2477), Theater for the New City (155 1st Ave., 254-1109). And just think: you may be watching the next "Rent" -- but let's hope not.