No-Sweat Gift Guide


We sympathize with your gift-giving dilemmas (too little time, too little money). We’re even aware that maybe—just maybe—you’ve done a little procrastinating, and so now it’s Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or (gasp!) Christmas Eve. Knowing all this, we’ve drawn together a lifesaving list of one-stop shopping palaces where you’ll find unique and affordable gifts for all your loved ones. Happy shopping.

The salesman at Gold Palace, a jewelry store in the Fulton Street Mall strip, pulls out a velvet tray of removable gold teeth, some diamond-studded, others platinum-tinted, and one of them plated with the name “Tony.” “You know Erykah Badu?” he asks, “I put a dental mold in her mouth and made her gold-and-white caps. They were beautiful.” For $80, you gift yourself with iced-out, name-plated gold fronts molded to fit your very own molars. Gold Palace also sells 10- to 15-karat name-plated necklace pendants ($59 to $100), chain bracelets ($100), even rings with your loved one’s name spanned across three fingers ($170). If name-plate jewelry doesn’t have enough holiday bling, you can also purchase an oversize diamond-studded Jesus medallion for $350. CATHY HONG

Gold Palace, 254 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, 718.855.8696

The regal granite mansion housing the New-York Historical Society sits adjacent to the Museum of Natural History and faces Central Park. No less interesting than the exhibits are many of the objects on offer at the museum’s ground-floor gift shop: Highlights of the top-notch book collection include M. Lasek’s 1960 illustrated children’s classic This Is New York ($17.95); Stephen O’Connor’s Orphan Trains ($27), documenting the more than 250,000 city children shipped to Midwestern homes; and Michael Henry Adams and Paul Rocheleau’s Harlem Lost and Found ($65), a social and architectural history of the world-famous African American neighborhood. There are also luscious “Study of an Orchid” box cards ($9.95); an illustrated “Art of Our Town” 2004 calendar ($11.95); a New York chess set in which pawns are cabs, natch ($220); and magnets quoting E.B. White and Ambrose Bierce (consider “New York is cocaine, opium, hashish”; $3.50). And while you’re roaming the grand hallways, check out “Children at Risk: Protecting New York’s Youth, 1653-2003,” and think about donating to The New York Times‘ “Neediest Cases” campaign. It would make a great gift for the girl or guy who has everything. CARLA SPARTOS

New-York Historical Society, 2 West 77th Street, 212.485.9269,

The most unorthodox of gift givers will find plenty of sexual playthings to surprise their loved ones without coming off as dirtbags at Toys in Babeland‘s sleek new Soho store. Timid receivers will enjoy the beautiful images and recipes included in Intercourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook ($24.95) and those sulking over a relationship gone awry may take solace in the “Tainted Love” package ($25), which includes soap, bubble bath, body lotion, and lip balm. The “Sex Toys 101” set ($60) is great for newbies, featuring Sex Toys 101: A Playfully Uninhibited Guide, the Nubby G vibrator, a petite Silver Bullet vibe, a red silicone Little Flirt butt plug, lube, and batteries. Seasoned folks may relish the “Fiery Nights” gift set ($37), replete with body wax candle, a Finger Fun vibe, a vibrating cock ring called the Diamond Ring, batteries, and lube. For female clubbers, the Audi-Oh! ($80)—a wearable vibrator that moves in rhythm with music—could forever change their nightclub experience. If you don’t want Grandma eyeing the naughty toys you dole out, you can stash them inside the Treasure Pillow ($33)—a plush cushion shielding what lies within. Now that’s getting down for the holidays! KEISHA FRANKLIN

Toys in Babeland, 43 Mercer Street, 212.966.2120

Glaringly austere Moss looks like one of those fabulously off-putting design shops you’d find only in Soho: Objects are displayed in glass cases, and a mere table setting can cost upwards of $10,000. Pricey plates aside, there’s an eclectic array of affordable gifts, and some are downright warm and fuzzy: A set of five hand-crocheted finger puppets ($35)—lions and tigers and bears and other creatures—makes for creative child’s play. The “Buildings of Disaster” collectible, on the other hand, is definitely not for the kiddies: Perfect for morbid history buffs, each $95 nickel-plated miniature reproduction (twin towers, Dakota building, Chernobyl, etc.) is inscribed with the date of the tragedy. A plastic-and-sterling “Tagalong” bracelet ($25.50) tightens to fit any modern-day romantic’s wrist; tiny porcelain rose earrings ($116) make more appropriate adornments for Mom. And since no holiday shopping list would be complete without music, there’s the homegrown “Turntables on the Hudson” CD series ($17 each). CARLA SPARTOS

Moss, 146 Greene Street, 212.204.7100,

Antony Zito of Zito Gallery is a master of the found object, rendering breezy designs on old 78s or a winsome portrait on a discarded car muffler. When commissioning a portrait here, you’re encouraged to suggest or even to bring in the item on which it will be done. Noncommissioned paintings start at $25. Among those currently available are a portrait on a piece of a refrigerator door ($40) and a pinup girl on a rearview mirror ($150). Commissioned watercolors start at $100 and oil paintings at $300. The painted 78s are $35, or two for $50 (check out the titles, such as “Scrub Me Mama With a Boogie Beat.”) Signed color prints of original works are $10. On loan in California now, but pictured on Zito’s website, are highly covetable portraits of musicians painted on covers of their albums (Jimi Hendrix done on Are You Experienced is a great one), starting at $200. Zito can get these out in time for the holidays if there’s one you must give (or must have for yourself—don’t they say charity begins at home?). PAMELA GROSSMAN

Zito Gallery, 122 Ludlow Street, 646.602.2338,

It’s easy to miss the drab office-building facade of Elizabeth Center. Just follow the Chinatown pre-teens down the building’s escalator to the basement and you will find a veritable maze of shops selling Mashimaro scented erasers, Pucca-illustrated mugs, soft Piyo Piyo bedroom slippers, and Astroboy cell phone holders. These anime baubles, which range from $2 to $12, will make whimsical stocking gifts for your 10-year-old cousin or for friends who can’t resist gel glitter pens decorated with dewy-eyed pandas. As the Japanese say, so “kawaii” (“aww, so cute”)! CATHY HONG

Elizabeth Center, 15 Elizabeth Street, no phone number

Trying to find the ideal present for recent NYC expatriates is a puzzle, which is why the ceramic Parthocups ($20)—inspired by disposable coffee cups—at Our Name Is Mud are as reliable as a 24-hour deli. Their look is absolutely faithful to the original (right down to that shade of not quite powder blue)—although stretching a flat lid over them might be something of a challenge. The cups are also available in ornament size ($7). Our Name Is Mud’s glazed offerings aren’t only useful for out-of-towners; anyone who got a relationship pink slip for the holidays will appreciate the Ex-Boyfriend in Hell votive candle holder ($10), while the lively ceramic menorahs ($50) add a little extra brightness to Hanukkah. Those interested in giving out teapots and plates with a personal touch can grab some spiked nog and head to the store on Thursday and Friday nights; it’s BYOB night, when the ceramics are at your disposal for inscribing while imbibing. MAURA JOHNSTON

Our Name Is Mud, 59 Greenwich Avenue, 212.647.7899

What do you get when you hybridize FAO Schwartz with a fetish emporium? That test-tube baby would be It’s a Mod, Mod World, an East Village specialty store with stock that could make the word eclectic blush. A combination of religious kitsch, queer culturama, and bona fide collectibles makes the store a destination for downtown hipsters, action hero fanboys (and girls!), retrophiles, and even crunchy granola types—Mod is big on recycling. Bejeweled clocks dominating the walls are made from empty boxes of Tide, Cat Chow, Oreos, mac and cheese, and Irish Spring, among others ($18 to $60). Think Wonder Woman lunch boxes ($15) next to “reworked” Barbie dolls—Fetish Barbie, Giraffe Barbie, and Kali Hindu Goddess Barbie—probably not what Mattel had in mind ($60 to $200). Vinyl shoulder bags boast both Che Guevara’s face and ads for Japanese whorehouses ($24); imported cowboy hats and purses from Thailand made from soda cans ($15 to $28) hang beside tank tops proclaiming, “I Only Sleep With the Best” ($27). Of course, there are the requisite Slinkys, Pez dispensers, lava lamps, soaps, picture frames, shower curtains, change purses, trinkets, kiddie toys, racy magnets, buttons, cards, and nontraditional holiday ornaments. Don’t miss the goldfish pond in the back. NIKKI MOUSTAKI

It’s a Mod, Mod World, 85 First Avenue, 212.460.8004

Stuck having to take your Midwestern relatives to see the Rockefeller Christmas tree? Block off an hour or two for the massive and intriguing Kinokuniya Books. Caffeinate at the silent, time-warped café before you browse Kinokuniya’s selection. For your dog-loving best friend: an adorable, species-spanning photo book, aptly titled The Dog, packed with enigmatic translations ($21.75). But not all your pals are dog freaks or bookworms. Scan a huge selection of CDs (from pop to Takeshi Kakehashi Plays Mozart, $18.95), DVDs, and videos. Akira Kurosawa’s Drunken Angel runs $19.95. There’s anime, manga, Yu-Gi-Oh action figures, clever New York map books, a range of calendars, stationery, and Japanese gift-wrap paper ($2.50). Spread that out among the film nerds, geeks, and aesthetes. Now, snag a mini-rice cooker for your cousin in college ($29.95) and a limited edition Hello Kitty doll/book set ($14.95) for the kid sister! You have enough left over to buy your lame F.I.T. friend a Swedish style magazine in Japanese ($17.40), and Origami—the Complete Guide to the Art of Paperfolding for your retired parents ($27.50). People better get you awesome gifts this year, because giving is all about getting paid back in equal amounts. CHELSEA PERETTI

Kinokuniya Books, 10 West 49th Street, 212.765.7766

Though Brooklyn’s once down-at-the-heels Fifth Avenue has gained attention recently for its upsurge in fashionable bars and restaurants, the strip still retains enough of its immigrant Latino heritage to make it the perfect spot to satisfy your spiritual friend’s Afro-Caribbean religious needs. Along with parts of Williamsburg, this western fringe of Park Slope has long been one of the richest in the city for practitioners of Santería, the medley of Catholic and Yoruba religious traditions found mainly in Puerto Rico and Cuba, and is a good place for a holiday nod to the orishas (deities). At Botanica Universal las Mercedes you can buy a Justo Juez or fragrant Chango Macho devotional candle ($2 and $2.50, respectively), a statuette to receive the Santería orisha of Olocum ($18) or peacock feathers to adorn the orishas of Ochun, goddess of love, and Yemaya, the mother of the waters ($1 each). Herbs such as sandalwood and mint are also available, running $2 a portion. If you have a friend heading away on a trip, a block away, pick up another candle for Oya, ruler of the winds and the cemetery gates ($2), at Bontanica San Miguel, and your friends could be forgiven for thinking you are auditioning for the role of the babalawo (as the faith’s priests are called) for your little posse. MICHAEL DEIBERT

Botanica Universal Las Mercedes, 376 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn, no phone; Bontanica San Miguel, 399 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn, 718.369.6051

Can’t afford the 19th-century Zairean lion’s teeth (promoting strength; $58 to $8,500) or the 18th-century lacquered Thai Buddha (inspires wisdom; $100 to $5,000)? Beads of Paradise houses plenty of inexpensive treasures from Southeast Asia and Africa, many with powerful implications. Thai devotional gold-leaf-wrapped candles or incense in the shapes of elephants and temples ($10 and up) to purify; colorful soaps ($6 and up) in scents ranging from coffee to cucumber-dill to husked rice to cleanse; and Vietnamese silk scarves ($24) and shawls ($48) to add shimmer. But the store’s name is drawn from its back-room collection: literally thousands of beads of all sizes, shapes, and materials and origin. There are budget-friendly glass beads from Bali (50 cents and up) and Ghanaian wax-cut brass froi-froi ($48 a strand), as well as pricey Nepalese inlaid bone beads and glittering semiprecious stones for that gem of a girl in your life. Also leather, lace, hemp, and metals on which to string things, and willing experts, whose classes are open to your giftee. LARRY BLUMENFELD

Beads of Paradise, 16 East 17th Street, 212.620.0642

Suspicious shoppers may eye the shiny 20,000-square-foot space of Pearl River‘s Soho digs with mistrust, but while the clutter of Canal Street has vanished, the Broadway location still teems with chinoiserie stocking stuffers. Coriander and sandalwood soaps in cheerful wrapping retail for a dollar. Crimson Chinese New Year’s cards and candles in the shape of sushi are equally inexpensive, as are endless varieties of Pocky cookies and Sanrio sweets. More luxurious gifts, such as silky rayon robes ($20 to $60) would be fine to unwrap. Also worthy of a place beneath the tree are sandals with sparkly decals ($5.50 to $15.50) and purses shaped like cartons of Chinese takeout. Puffy reversible coats ($85)—scarlet on one side, gold on the other—should help keep the winter wind at bay. Big spenders can buy their best friends $108 mounted gongs or a couple of fearsome sculpted guard dogs at $395 per pair. ALEXIS SOLOSKI

Pearl River, 477 Broadway, 212.431.4770

Odds are this curious but well-curated yard sale of a design store in Williamsburg is the only boutique trying to make a buck on decades—old New Mexico road maps, geography jigsaw puzzles, and change purses fashioned from laminated yen notes. Despite an apparent identity crisis, M Space has stayed consistent by focusing on Brooklyn paraphernalia for robustly proud residents and wannabes, such as L- and G-train shirts ($20), and extending from there into Americana terrain. Kitschy souvenirs like magnets ($1.50 each) and aluminum West Virginia plates ($15)—relics of 1960s road trips to Niagara Falls or the Wisconsin Dells—sit beside the human anatomy floor puzzle ($15), a different take on the map theme and a fun way to learn about your vital organs. Globes old and new dot the towering shelves ($10 to $40). But the most ingenious specimens of the map/decor genetic splice are the homemade coffee tables; although the tabletops are just state or New York City borough maps mounted to wooden planks, cut down to silhouettes and covered with Plexiglass, the spectacky-ular charm of a neon-green New Jersey ($225 to $300) knows no bounds. EMILY WEINSTEIN

M Space, 548 Driggs Avenue, Brooklyn, 718.486.2825