Image by BY VIKTOR HANACEK

Holiday Gift Guide: From the Mall in Barbra Streisand’s Basement

Recently my friend Duncan shared a new Barnes and Noble commercial with me, featuring Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett.

My first thought was “wow, this is kind of an uncomfortable pairing” and “why are their faces so stiff and lifeless?” But then I also thought, “there is no Barnes and Noble on the planet that looks like this.”

But of course Duncan loves this commercial and being the mensch that she is, had a retort.

Probably the one in the private mall beneath Barbra Streisand’s house.

I’ve been aware of this facility for quite some time. I think maybe I saw it on Oprah or a Barbara Walters special or something. But, I think it’s one of those pieces of information that is so intense and real and unbelievable, you kind of just block it out of your brain so that you don’t have a meltdown. It’s kind of like what people say would happen to your brain if you were to actually experience the supernatural.

Of course now that my brain has matured a few years, I’m able to retain that information and have become fixated on it. So now you get to experience my therapy, via blog.

Of course, i’m not the only one who is in wonder and awe of such a magical place. Jonathan Tolins wrote Buyer and Cellar, a one-man play about a down-on-his-luck actor who becomes the sole employee of Barbra’s basement mall.

Here’s the deal. After decades of fame and fortune and unbridled acquisition, Barbra has a lot of stuff. Who doesn’t? But Barbra didn’t want some run-of-the-mill basement to keep it all in. Barbra doesn’t like run-of-the-mill anything, although she does, in fact, run a mill…

As Tolins points out, there is a water wheel attached to the main house.

Recently, it was reported that Ryan Murphy and Lady Gaga visited the basement mall during what can only be described as a “terrifying” dinner party. In attendance were Barbra and James Brolin, of course, Ryan and Gaga, and then John Travolta and Kelly Preston. They ate frozen yogurt.

I like to think that maybe that dinner party is what inspired Ryan Murphy to create this dinner party for the current season of American Horror Story:

Discussions on the topic with Duncan ultimately culminated in a monumental question, which will be framing the rest of this article:

What holiday gifts can we buy in Barbra’s basement mall?

So I should pause here to talk about this mall. It’s not what you would imagine as a mall, per se. There’s no Orange Julius, or Sbarro, or Espirit, or Barnes and Noble (though really, if there were a bookstore, it’d probably be a B. Dalton hanging on for dear life).

To find out just what I can find in Barbra’s mall, I went to the source: Barbra’s 2010 book My Passion For Design. I applied for a library card and ran immediately to the Bull Street branch of the Live Oak Public Library to find this tome before someone else checked it out and lost it.

Barbra was inspired to create a street of shops to house her collections, like she had seen at Winterthur. Buyer and Cellar also pauses in narrative to investigate just what or where Winterthur is. I myself kind of imagined that it was in Europe somewhere, and I was just an uncultured, untraveled neophyte. Maybe it was a location in Game of Thrones that I hadn’t seen yet because I didn’t read the books. But no. Winterthur is actually an unincorporated estate in Delaware containing a museum decorated to look not totally unlike Diagon Alley. To be fair, Winterthur is also a town in Switzerland, so I wasn’t so far off in my thinking.

It’s fairly quaint and exceptionally well detailed, if you like that sort of thing. Although I did read that the cobblestone walls are actually faux-finished and not actual stone. ::side-eye emoji:: Come on Barbra, this isn’t a Medieval Times. Spring for the real stone.

Knowing that this is not a real mall and we can’t actually shop there, instead I decided to be inspired by the mall. So if you’ll join me on a tour, I’ll share my gift suggestions and maybe i’ll buy you an Auntie Anne’s on the way.

BEE’S DOLL SHOP

In the book, Barbra shares that she now collects dolls because she didn’t have any as a child. She had a hot water bottle filled with warm water that she pretended was a baby. That’s kind of a grim story, but also a real story of the American Dream and one I think we can all relate to. I am a collector myself, and a lot of it is nostalgia-based. Or at least the idea of nostalgia for the things I wanted but didn’t have as a kid.

So this portion of the gift guide is gift ideas for the young and young-at-heart.

  1. Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan; $12 — This youth book is part fairytale, part historical fiction, and part story of survival, all wrapped up in music. I think Barbra would love to share this with the children in her family.
  2. 24" Chewbacca Plush; $85 — Star Wars is so hot right now. And what kid won’t want a Chewie doll that’s almost as big as them!?
  3. Funko Pop figurines; $10 — These collectable vinyl figurines have been exploding in the collectable market. They depict just about every character you could want.
  4. Hunger Games Katniss Everdeen Barbie doll; $55 — This is a Barbie I could get behind my daughter having. It’s also luxe enough to even be on display in Barbra’s shop.
  5. LEGO Ghostbusters Ecto-1; $50 — Barbra has doll houses, and isn’t that essentially what LEGO playsets are?
  6. Adventure Time Munchkin; $16 — The Munchkin games are easy to play and really addictive. Made even better themed with Adventure Time, one of the most popular cartoons for kids and their parents.
Update: A coworker read this and said “I wish that the Chewbacca was a hot water bottle cover, and that we could send it to Barbra for her baby doll.”
And then she found one.
Too bad it’s out of stock.

SWEET SHOP

Barbra’s candy shop features licorice, jelly beans, and frozen yogurt. These sweets will make unique and tasty stocking stuffers.

  1. Taza Chocolate Oaxacan Sampler; $12 — Inspired by Mexican chocolate, Taza produces fine chocolates that with a gritty and earthy texture, unique from any other chocolate you’ve had.
  2. Pastiglie Leone candies; $5 — I first experienced Leone candies during my travels in Venice. They can be a bit difficulty to find in the states, unless you order online…which is pricey. They cost about $2USD in Italy. I’ve heard that local Italian shops in larger cities sometimes carry them, as does World Market. These things are about the size of Altoids, and come in dozens of flavors and fragrances. So yummy.
  3. Matcha Pocky; $5 — For another bit of international flavor, Pocky makes delicious, creamy cookie/cracker sticks. Matcha green tea is huge right now, and they add a unique flavor to the Pocky sticks.
  4. Salty Road Taffy Holiday Trio; $22 — Made right in Brooklyn (Barbra’s home turf), this taffy will make you dream of a day out on the boardwalk.
  5. Sour Belts by Dylan’s Candy Bar; $16 — Another New York find, Dylan’s Candy Bar makes tons of yummy candy, including these rainbow sour belts that will take you “over the rainbow”. Speaking of, I’d be remiss to not mention one of my favorite Judy Garland and Barbra performances, their duet of Happy Days Are Here Again.

ANTIQUE SHOP

Barbra’s antique shop is filled with items that she couldn’t bear to part with, but didn’t really go anywhere else. She also mentions that she likes to gift things that last longer than just flowers. So I thought, why not gift beautiful, handmade items that will last a lifetime? Something you can pass down?

  1. Cup~Blue Band by Ben Medansky; $48 — I’ve followed Ben on Instagram for quite a while, and I am constantly in love with his work. Barbra loves to gift pottery, and I’d love to receive some of these!
  2. Horn and Bone Servers; $48 — These beautiful servers will even make the salad a conversation piece.
  3. Cast Iron Candle Holders; $70 — Growing up in my mom’s house, I’ve always loved cast iron. These holders look wonderful with beeswax candles. A perfect, simple gift.
  4. Bookhou Mobile; $160 — This Calder-inspired mobile can transition from nursery to den and stay super chic.
  5. Nick Offerman’s “Build Your Own Damn Stool” Kit; $145 — Did you know that Parks and Recreation’s Ron Swanson is an accomplished woodworker in real life? For those beginner craftsmen and craftswomen in your life, Nick offers this kit to build a stool with logs he cut down and milled from his own property. Constructed so it will only get stronger as the years go by.
  6. Three Clay Planters; $110 — More pottery. How can you go wrong, really?

THE GIFT SHOPPE

The Gift Shop is a space where Barbra stores items she has found with the intention of giving to others and where she prepares those gifts with beautiful papers and ribbons. Here’s what I’d like to be gifting with this year (I actually did purchase a set of #5!)

  1. Winter Wonderland Wrap; $9 — I can’t turn down a floral, and this is a great one that doesn’t SCREAM Christmas, but is perfect for the holiday.
  2. Tweed Wrap; $7 — Unfortunately this is out of stock right now, but I love the simple patterns.
  3. Pine Tree Gift Wrap; $13 — Have I mentioned that I love kraft paper? I love how this paper looks hand drawn.
  4. Bottom of the Stocking Wrap; $15 — If you want bright, but funky, this is your choice.
  5. Under the Tree; $5 — As I mentioned, I have actually already purchased these cards here in Savannah at Shop the Fox. The vintage styling with the gold embossing is just to pretty to pass up.
  6. Snow Globe Card; $5 — Another vintage-inspired card that makes me want to bundle up by a fire.

THE ROOT CELLAR

The root cellar is allegedly meant for keeping produce and flowers fresh, but you know, it also makes sense that this is where they’d keep the alcohol, right? So that’s what this group of gifts focuses on.

  1. Oakwood Bird Corkscrew ; $13 — You can never have too many corkscrews. And this one is just cute!
  2. Tour wine glasses and karafe; $9-$100 — I love the shapes of this glassware from Crate and Barrel. It’s modern, but also mid-century modern.
  3. Kinkajou bottle cutter; $50 — If you have a root cellar full of flowers, you need some way to display them! This bottle cutter is a great way to turn all those wine bottles into vases and cups.
  4. Napkin Coaster set; $12 — I intended to showcase a different coaster design, but I couldn’t pass this one up because it’s another knockoff of Topher McCulloch’s design. You can read about that whole thing here.
  5. Marble cheese board; $54 — Perfect for displaying cheese, veggies, and treats for guests.

THE ANTIQUE CLOTHES SHOP

The idea here was something seasonal, simple, and functional, with some unique character. These are classic items I think we’d all be happy to have in our closets.

  1. Asos Knitted jumper; $54 — The knitted details on this sweater ALMOST remind me of a lace or crochet, which Barbra’s shop is full of!
  2. Pink Clove tile Maxi; $51 — I don’t know, but this dress really reminds me of something Barbra would have worn back in the day, in that On A Clear Day, You Can See Forever era. Yes?
  3. Enzo weekender bag by Well-Loved; $560 — Gianina Gabriel is a hugely talented designer here in Savannah, and I am in love with just about every bag she makes. This bag from her Limoncello collection may just be one of my favorites ever.
  4. Indigo Duck Canvas jacket; $280 — Mercy Supply in Grand Rapids, Michigan, creates rugged and beautiful work wear. But I think this jacket would be just wonderful after work, too.
  5. Stone and Cloth rolltop backpack; $150 — I’ve had a Stone and Cloth backpack for about year now, and people constantly ask me about it. They’re really well-constructed and will last forever.

Happy Holiday,

Steven