Usuhari beer glasses are ubiquitous in Japan — loads of restaurants and bars carry the super-thin, super-light glasses. Bert Youn didn’t understand why. “The cups were everywhere,” he said. “It didn’t strike me as interesting at all — it’s a thin glass that’s super light, what’s so special about that?” Then he ordered a beer served in one.
“It was the smaller glass, and it was served on this heavy wooden coaster at a tiny bar, and it just clicked,” Youn said. “The size, shape, weight was all perfect — once I took a sip I basically said, ‘Holy shit, I need these.'”
Youn, the owner and proprietor of The Good Liver, a tightly-curated general store in the shadow of I-10 in Los Angeles, California’s Pico Gardens neighborhood, has a lot of stories like this one. “Everything we have in the store is about the context it’s used in — like those glasses. It’s products that you need to touch and use how they’re meant to be used to ‘get it,'” he said.
Youn started The Good Liver as an online venture in 2013 with the goal of bringing products like the Usuhari beer glasses to more people. Its wares are varied, made by independent craftspeople, centuries-old family businesses and the occasional familiar (and dominant) industry names (Lodge cast-iron skillets, for instance). But there are a few throughlines that run cut across the catalog, which, the more you look at it, begins to feel like the world’s coolest and most obsessive collection of travel souvenirs.
Youn, for his part, is a world traveler and says that’s how he’s discovered most of the products he now sells. He also readily admits to “getting kind of obsessive about finding the absolute best versions of things — teapots, mugs, lights, whatever… I literally spent months looking for a desk lamp,” he said. (He settled on a rare vintage Jieldé in glossy black, by the way).
Youn’s store also requires the product to have some sort of relevance or story. “We look for stuff that’s timeless in design, functionality and that’s well-made,” he explained. “All the stuff we sell will mix in with everything you already have, but I care a lot about the history and culture that created the product. That’s gives you another reason to hold on to it.”
Youn’s collection (he doesn’t call it a “catalog”) is stuffed with products as mundane as dish towels and paper clips, and as titillating as diamond granite bookends and the world’s first functional toothpaste. Here are three of his favorites, each with Youn’s own brief, lovingly written explanation of its importance.
“British Desk Lamp”
“In 1932 automotive engineer George Carwardine developed a formula for a new type of spring. He discovered that pivoting arms supported by a sequence of these springs can be repositioned with the lightest touch yet will remain perfectly in place once released. This lead to the blueprint for a groundbreaking articulated lamp that combined ultimate flexibility with perfect stability.
“This iconic British lamp was first launched in 1935. It has set the standards by which other desk lamps were measured. Now sensitively updated for modern life, this lamp has become a design classic, beloved by design aficionados around the world. It’s even appeared on a set of Royal Mail stamps!
“The flexible shade is designed to concentrate the beam for maximum efficiency and the durable structure of the lamp is cast in metal. So, when a World War 2 bomber fitted with this lamp was salvaged from Loch Ness in 1985, remarkably the lamp still worked.”
Note: the lamp is not available online right now. It is available in-store or by phone or email order.
“German Table Cutlery”
“For over 100 years, this firm, founded by a husband and wife in Germany in 1910, has continued to manufacture the finest quality cutlery. They even maintained production through the two World Wars, without the slightest drop in quality.
“As a result of their proven dedication, the oak leaves with the letter “M” have become a symbol of first-class hand-forged cutlery. In addition to the enclosed half handles, which characterize the quintessence of hand-forged cutlery, the parts are made from stainless chrome-vanadium steel forged from one piece, which helps to reduce abrasion, oxidation, and corrosion.
“Though the firm originally only produced forks and knives, the introduction of a spoon lead to diversification, and the creation of several varieties of dessert, fruit, and serving cutlery.”
Usuhari Shiwa Tumbler
“These remarkable thin drinking glasses are carefully hand crafted by master craftsmen from Japan. The manufacturer of this glass company was established in 1922 and first started off by manufacturing the glass portion of the electric light bulbs.
“Since then, they have developed the “Usuhari glass” series based on the knowledge they gained from making the glass for the electric light bulb. The feel of it in your hands, the sound the ice makes when it swirls in the cup and how fine the rim is are all exquisite and unique to this glass alone.
“These glasses appear to be extremely delicate but it can be handled with the usual care as other glassware. Not recommended for dishwasher.”