So as I mentioned last week, I was in Chicago recently and went to the State Street Barbers in Lincoln Park for a traditional hot-towel straight-razor shave. The experience was great. First, let me say how friendly everyone there is. I hate to say it but us Boston folks could learn a thing or two from midwesterners on how to be nice to people. Second, I had a great shave. Let me tell you about it.
While State Street Barbers is a relatively new place, their decor and ambiance is definitely old-school. Black and white photos hang from the wall. Cast iron signs advertise "Shave and a Haircut" for 10 cents. (Damn you inflation!) Dark wood frames the cabinets and lines the floors. This is a friendly local barbershop, complete with twirling red, white, and blue spiral outside. Plenty of fathers and sons come in and out for a haircut, and occasionally someone brings in their dog, though not for a trim.
I was in the strong, competent hands of Rich, whose grandfather was a barber and learned how to shave with a straight-razor while in barber school. Turns out they really do practice on balloons covered with shaving cream. I spent the entire time horizontal while Rich worked his magic. Apparently some people even fall asleep. You can thank ShavingStuff wife for the photo essay to the right. This was one shaving experience in which I did absolutely nothing.
The shave started out with a steaming hot towel to open up my pores, followed by three applications of pre-shave herbal oils and shaving cream. Three!!! After each layer Rich would wrap a fresh hot towel over my face, letting the goodness of the cream and oils seep into my skin and soften up my beard. Then, he whipped out his steel and with a surgeon's precision, carefully shaved with the grain. As you'll hopefully see in the pictures, the man spent some major time on my face, holding skin taut, pulling back my nose, finding the best angle. It takes me no more than 10 minutes to shave in the morning. Rich's shave took an hour. And it was great.
When he was finally finished with my entire face, he told me that what he had just done was comparable to a Mach 3 shave. Now we were going to do it all over again and get even closer. Imagine being at the dentist's office and after they finally finish scraping the plaque off of each individual tooth, being told they're going to do it again. And now imagine liking it.
Round two was the up-shave, although only above the jaw line as Rich's experience was that shaving so close around the neck can lead to ingrown hairs and irritation. Again, we went through the herbal pre-shave oil, shaving cream, and hot towel application. And again I was wrapped up like a mummy. Getting a hot-towel straight-razor shave is a guilty pleasure, and as I lay there, face completely covered in a hot towel, the sweet sounds of Hanson's MMMBop poured out from the radio. I knew this guilty pleasure could get no better. Rich finished up with a brush full of talcum powder, and my face hadn't been smoother in 20 years.
The State Street Barber shop on North Webster uses American Crew shaving products, while the other two shops use The Art of Shaving. The Art of Shaving products will be available at the North Webster location soon. $30 will get you the smoothest skin since pre-pubescence and an hour's worth of bliss. $50 will get you a shave and a haircut. Gift certificates are available too.