By Frank Sabatini Jr. / Photos by Sara Norris
Some barbers swear that straight-razor shaves keep whiskers at bay for a week. But even if a five-o'clock shadow appears the same day, the pro manscapers' hot towels and precision blades still make using a disposable Bic seem like not such a sharp idea.
Anthony Osterberg of Bay Ho doesn't have an upcoming job interview (he's currently the vice president of Baker Marine), but he did agree to go under the knife at Mister Brown's to sport a fresh look, which he swears is temporary. Hopefully, for his sake, the proliferation of barbershops hasn't created a cutthroat business.
Before the shave specialists at Mister Brown's really go to work, they give their clients - who recline (and sometimes fall asleep) in rare and expensive Ernest Koken barber chairs - a soothing, hot-oil face treatment.
"The oil softens the hairs while opening up the pores, making it a lot easier for our barbers to perform their jobs," says Lee Brown, a New York City transplant who opened Mister Brown's December 1, directly following the end of the national mustachegrowing charity event known as Movember.
A facial wrap of hot towels ensues, followed by an initial shave using a straight-razor blade with foamy cream. The process is repeated to ensure that every infinitesimal hair is removed; this time with the support of a hot, velvety type of lather Brown says predates commercial shaving creams.
Finally, the face enters into another womb of hot towels (the relaxation phase) before the aromas of cinnamon, cloves and star anise wash over the skin. The tingly aftershave astringent, called "bay rum," was invented by 16th Century sailors to the West Indies and used originally to mask body odor. Modernday commercial brands no longer incorporate Jamaican rum into the formula, but they still contain skin-penetrating oils from bay leaves and other tropical organics.
The shaving process at Mister Brown's takes about 45 minutes and costs $35. Customers in wait enjoy unconventional perks such as free pool on a vintage billiard table, non-alcoholic beverage service and a big flat-screen for taking in sports and black-and-white films.
3064 University Ave., North Park
Pro tips for a do-it-yourself shave
Achieving an ultra-close shave at home, sans nicks and chaffing, requires a clean, sturdy blade (preferably a triple) attached to a lightweight metal handle. Mister Brown's owner Lee Brown urges that blades be changed at least once a month. As for the disposables, he says to skip them.
"They're rough on the face and make shaving that much more unpleasant," he says.
Brown's recommended essentials and techniques:
-Pre-shave oils by Suavecito, Imperial, Sephora and Gillette soften the hairs closer to their roots and safeguard against unsightly rashes.
-Shaving creams with Vitamin E are among the most hydrating and give the skin a more vibrant look. Among the top brands are Malin + Goetz, Proraso Blue and Pro Shave.
-Shaving cream brushes made by companies such as Men-u and Old Bond Street aren't just for show. They help make the hairs stand on end, resulting in an optimally smooth shave.
-Razor stands allow blades to dry properly, ensuring a longer life. Makers include Dovo, iKon and The Art of Shaving.
-Perfumed aftershaves may smell nice, but they're loaded with skin-burning alcohol. Look for gentler solutions by Paco Rabanne, Proraso and Nivea.
-With or against the grain? Most barbers advise shaving with the grain of hair growth, downward from the cheekbone to neck. Shaving against the grain afterwards ensures a delayed five-o'clock shadow, but can irritate supple skin.
Other neighborhood barbershops
Floyd's 99 Barbershop
899 Market St., East Village, 619.546.6860
407 W. Washington St., Hillcrest, 619.220.4970
Hot shaves at both Floyd's 99 locations are $27. At the East Village shop, barber Jouslan Kamai applies a steamy hot towel to the face before confronting stubble with a three-inch Persona straight blade. She then seals the pores with a cold towel and clenches the deal with a face-and-shoulder massage.
Vince's Barber Shop
2030 India St., Middletown, 619.623.0798
This old-fashion barbershop has been around since the 1930s and offers straightrazor shaves by appointment only. "You're sitting on a piece of history when coming here," says owner Boris Zavurov, referring to his 100-year-old chairs that have the same age as the hot lather dispenser he uses. For $45, customers are prepped with several hot towels and pre-shave oil. Facial massages, cold towels, aftershave splash and talcum powder enter the equation as well. "This is a no-joke kind of shave," Zavurov says.
4570 30th St., University Heights, 619.641.0031
Capitol Barbershop is designed in custom woodwork and strewn with quirky bric-a-brac such as clocks, a cigar-box guitar and a human vertebra, all given to owner A.J. Henley by esteemed customers. Hot-towel shaves ($20) conclude with applications of Lucky Tiger bay rum and an unscented lotion. "We get a lot of first-timers, and I explain every step of the process up front," says Henley, who makes no apologies for a sign in his shop that reads: "Cell phone booth is outside."
Against the Grain
2744 Carlsbad Blvd., Carlsbad, 760.720.0552
With rock and hip-hop music playing at high decibels, customers kick back on comfy reclining chairs for a $25 procedure that begins with electric clippers, a hot towel and then hot foam, all before the straight razors perform their magic. The 45-minute session concludes with a cold towel and aftershave balm by Baxter of California. Despite the shop's name, the barbers here prefer shaving with the grain when maneuvering through the tricky neck areas.
1339 Garnet Ave., Pacific Beach , 858.274.5913
4684 Cass St., Pacific Beach, 858.274.1878
Leather-clad metal chairs anchored within this '60s-style dudeville environment set the stage for five-hot-towel shaves priced at $16. "It's more of a luxury now than it used to be back in the days," says owner Jason Krause, who operates two locations to meet the demand of a growing number of young professionals bent on preserving their baby-face looks.