D / L Cerney (13 E. 7th St., 673-7033) sticks to the classics with 40s- and 50s-inspired clothing. With the exception of vintage shoes and ties, all of the clothes here are new, so you don't have muse over the circumstances behind the acquisition of those perfect high-drape pants (Did the original owner of these die? Why would anybody give these up?) nor rush to the dry cleaner to remove that musty odor.
The Holiday Cocktail Lounge (75 St. Marks Pl., 777-9637) is always something of a freak show. If you're not subject to the ravings of Stephan, the owner and Sinatra-crooning bartender, then the regulars at the bar will invariably engage in some sort of row for your entertainment. And with mixed drinks running a mere $2.50, you can't help but get your money's worth -- it's like watching the WWF and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? at the same time.
If you've succumbed to the herbal remedy hype as of late (some of us have known about echinacea for years, thank you very much) and you simply must score another bottle of gingko biloba before your brain disintegrates, step into Urban Roots (51 Ave. A, 780-0288), a health food store that manages to avoid the usual sterile, clinical feel. UR stocks an enormous supply of vitamins and herbal supplements in addition to a decent selection of organic and natural foods. The fruit and vegetable juices from the mini-bar in the middle of the store are made-to-order and super tasty, too.
Aside from stopping by for a quick morning coffee and muffin, I sometimes like to sit down at Veselka Coffee Shop (144 2nd Ave., 228-9682) on a weekday morning and pretend that I'm a regular customer like the old Ukrainian man invariably at the table by the window, and whose coffee arrives with his menu. Always decorated festively -- and humorously -- to reflect the latest holiday (pink, heart-shaped signs urged "Be My Pierogi" for Valentine's Day), this always-open greasy spoon is a beloved neighborhood institution. Afterall, where else can you get perfect potato pancakes and piping hot borscht at three in the morning?
Become your very own Japanimation character (sort of) for just three dollars at the Neo Prints photo booth at K-Mart (770 Broadway at 8th St., 673-1540). An enthusiastic cartoon girl on the Neo Prints monitor leads you through your choices of backgrounds and borders that will decorate the sixteen tiny stickers bearing your face. You get three tries to pick the best portrait of you and a friend sipping fancy (cartoon) frozen drinks or smooching through a ring of red hearts.
If you're into serious down-home cooking (we're talking fried okrah, meatloaf, corn salad) and you haven't been to Mama's Food Shop (200 E. 3rd St., 777-4425), then you should, well, be grounded. The tiny "dining area" is always crowded (it's about the size of an apartment dining room), as are the walls (covered with portraits of moms, from thrift-store-style paintings to vintage photos). The portions are enormous (Eat! You're too skinny!) and incredibly cheap. All the vegetables are served cold (except for the to-die-for mashed potatoes), but they kindly provide a microwave (seriously -- right by the cash register; you can heat up your buttered carrots to just the right temperature). So dig in.
Descend to the depths of the basement bar Sake Bar Decibel (240 E. 9th St., 979-2733) and imagine yourself in hiding from the Japanese mafia, or ducking out of a torrential rain to meet a lover for a secret rendezvous. Squeeze onto the wooden bench of the bar and choose your poison from the wall of sake bottles as your feet crunch on the pebble-covered floor. Even in the main dining room, where larger parties share tall wooden booths, the lighting glows other-worldly.
I am forever indebted to the friend that introduced me to B & H Dairy. Hearty soups, fluffy-sweet challah, and made-to-order fruit and vegetable drinks satiate any omnivore, but particularly satisfy a vegetarian (like me). Park yourself at the counter of this very endearing old-fashioned diner and listen to the catty banter of the cooks while you help pass dishes and menus to the patrons at the tables behind you. In a matter of moments you'll feel part of the family.
Pommes Frites (123 2nd Ave., 674-1234) -- an entire restaurant devoted to the food that could be single-handedly responsible for tipping the scales on American obesity. But the fries at this teeny storefront (the interior amounts to little more than a grill, a few seats, and a perpetual line of customers) are Belgian, and come with a selection of mayonnaise-based sauces (I know it sounds gross, but they really do taste better than ketchup) like pesto and Thai peanut. And their oily crispiness -- they're fried twice (why do they have to tell us that?) -- will turn you away from those secret, late-night, sunglasses-sporting trips to Mickey D's.
Etherea Records (66 Avenue A, 358-1126) is one of the best places in Manhattan to find indie-label CDs and vinyl. You can listen before you buy (grab the latest Blonde Redhead or that Lambchop album you've been hunting for), and the guys behind the counter seem to know everything about every band they stock. Etherea will even buy your used CDs, though I doubt they're interested in any of the crap I would want to get rid of. (Actually, I'm just too embarrassed to bring it in.)