For Men, Luxury Regains Its Edge

T.K. Maloy is shaved with a straight razor at Spiro's Barber Shop in Bethesda. "It's just really relaxing," he said. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
By Steve Hendrix
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Shave and a haircut: 920 bits.

It may cost a lot more than the two bits of old, but the traditional barbershop shave is making a comeback. Even as the service disappears from old-style barbershops, a new generation of Washington area chins is discovering the indulgent pleasures of the hot-towel, warm-lather professional shave at upscale salons, men's spas and specialty retail shops.

And some licensed haircutters are discovering that those long-ago shaving lessons from barber college weren't such a waste of time after all.

"In most states, you're still required to do a shave for the barbering test, and in most cases, that's the last time a barber picked up a razor in his career," said Carl Cwiok, a master barber at the Art of Shaving shop at the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City. "That's been changing in the last three or four years. But it can be hard for us to find guys who have experience."

Cwiok is in charge of recruiting razor-ready barbers for the Pentagon City shop and other outlets of the Miami-based Art of Shaving chain, which has 25 "barbershop spas" across the country and plans to open two more in the Washington area in the coming months. Those stores will join a growing number of area venues that offer hot lather shaves for $35 to $45. A shave-and-haircut package at the Grooming Lounge downtown runs $115 (the aforementioned 920 bits) and takes about 90 minutes.

"There has been a big resurgence," said Michael Lubecki, a barber at the Grooming Lounge, which also has a branch at Tysons Galleria.

Lubecki said he gives three or four shaves a day, the most since the start of his career in the late 1960s, and notes that he is working just one of the shop's six chairs. "When I was working at unisex salons, we didn't even offer it," he said.

Still waiting to see the resurgence is Darryl Grymes, a 14-year master barber at Wall's Barbershop on 15th Street NW and one of the razor jockeys who have been approached by the Art of Shaving. Grymes said the brisk trade in shave customers that used to be referred by hotels has slowed to a trickle. Only about once a month does he have to heat up the barber towels in the microwave and insert a new disposable blade in his straightedge handle. In this age of high concern about infectious disease, most barbers no longer use bone-handled razors sharpened on a leather strop.

A shave at Wall's is $20.

"We hardly get them at all anymore," Grymes said.

He pulled out his tattered barbering manual and opened it to the chart showing the 14 basic shave strokes that are still the industry standard. The hardest, he said, is number 14, coming up under the lower lip.

Grymes developed his light touch through the usual training technique of shaving cream off a balloon. He never popped a balloon and has never cut a customer, he said, and is seriously considering the Art of Shaving offer to apply for shaving shifts.

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