Shave-and-a-Haircut Puts on the Ritz at Posh Barbershops
The red, white and blue striped pole is there, that much is true.
The Seattle Times
April 13, 2008
The red, white and blue striped pole is there, that much is true. But little else at Capelli’s holds any resemblance to your father’s barber shop. Here, guys can slouch on the plushy leather chair, gazing dreamily at SportsCenter while getting a manicure. Or sip a complimentary espresso while getting a hot towel and back-of-the-neck shave in the barber chair. Or get their brows waxed during lunch break here, across from the Seattle Central Library. The ones snipping with the shears? All females, many young and attractive, dressed more fitting for a night out in Belltown. Have you noticed? These days, barbershops have morphed into, well, the man spa, with scalp massages, and plasma TVs with Dolby stereo in waiting rooms that look like a den or bachelor pad. “They’re popping up everywhere, especially in Miami, Boston and Seattle,” said Charles Kirkpatrick, executive director of the National Association of Barber Boards of America. “It’s like a men’s club in there. They have a checkered table for chess. NASCAR designs on walls. A vibrating chair to relax. “They have expanded to spa services, but they don’t want to get rid of the word ‘barber’ because it’s such a masculine word,” Kirkpatrick says. Capelli’s, billed as a “gentlemen’s barbershop,” recently held a grand opening for a second downtown location, with plans for a third branch in Bellevue. Valentine’s in Greenwood, which started out as just a barber shop 15 years ago, has morphed into the ultimate man spa, with plans to add full-body massage, waxing and even a shoeshine service by summer. Weldon Barber, the popular high-end chain based in Spokane, has opened seven branches in less than four years across the state, with plans to expand to Seattle and Portland by summer. Guys, even alpha males, love to be pampered — but not in a unisex salon where Redbook and People magazine are your reading options in the waiting area, said Bill Nordstrom, founder of Weldon and a cousin to the retail-chain family. At Weldon in Kirkland, the posh waiting room features large leather seats and a plasma TV. An attentive female staff serves free Starbucks coffee and Tazo tea and helps you with your coat. A deck of playing cards, a domino set and two dozens men’s magazines — from hunting to muscle cars — are fanned out on the square coffee table. “Weldon is designed for men. We don’t apologize for that,” Nordstrom said. “We’re proud of it.” About three years ago, Nordstrom opened his first upscale barber shop in Spokane. It was a hit. Customers sometimes had to book days in advance for Weldon’s signature service: haircut, shampoo, scalp massage with optional cleanup around the eyebrows, nose and ears. Soon, Weldon will add shoulder and neck massages, facials and manicures at some locations. Kirkpatrick, head of the barbershop trade group, feels ambivalent about their success since many upscale barbershops hire stylists with cosmetology licenses, not barber’s licenses. Both require significant training, but only barbers must take 300 hours of training with clippers and memorize the 14 steps to a straightedge razor shave, hallmarks of the trade, he said. Several owners say cosmetologists’ versatility — from coloring to facials — meshes with the man spa’s variety of services. In most cases, the shops hire at least one stylist who specializes in straight-razor shaves. Tradition has been broken in other ways. Gone are the rows of barber chairs in tight quarters, the setting that helped make barbershops a social hub in many neighborhoods. Also gone are those bland, white short-sleeved, comb-pocket uniforms. “In” are individual stations, and in some places, pool tables, cigar rooms, dart boards or PlayStation 2. “It’s just a relaxing atmosphere,” says Matt Walters, 26, of Madison Park, who gets his hair cut every three weeks at Capelli’s, a popular spot for attorneys and real-estate brokers. “I like to pop in during March Madness because there is always a game on. I grab a cup of coffee [with a haircut].” Capelli’s feels like a man’s den, said John Rostas, 48, of Sammamish. “Cutting my hair used to be one of those evils,” said Rostas, a former executive at Washington Mutual. “Now I can say for once in my life, this is something I actually look forward to.” At Oslo’s in upper Queen Anne, a men’s boutique with a barbershop in the back, barber Chad Oringer created a men’s club mystique by serving his customers whiskey shots with their $35 hair cut — that was until a guy from the Washington State Liquor Control Board paid a visit and admonished him for, uh, his creative marketing. In this fiefdom, the straight-razor shave serves as the ultimate indulgence, often as a Father’s Day gift or birthday present from wives and girlfriends. “Guys see it in movies, and they all want it,” said Oringer, who charges $50 for the “Royal Shave.” His signature shave takes 45 minutes, including two shaves, once with and once against the grain, a massage to the jaw line, an ice-cold towel wrap to close the pores, toner to hydrate the skin, an aftershave balm to moisturize, topped off with a clay mask. It sounds like a facial. But guys see the straight razor, said Oringer, and “they think it’s tough.”