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Goods and Services

Best Shave and a Haircut

The Quinntessential Gentleman Offers a Retro Sharp Experience

Frank Hamilton

By Jess Harvell | Posted 9/17/2008

If you're the kind of twenty- or thirtysomething guy who still takes most of his styling tips from the slovenly '90s, then walking into the Quinntessential Gentleman barbershop may fill your shaggy head with awe. Located on a block of Calvert Street near the Inner Harbor that feels half-empty even at midday, owner Craig Martin's monument to men's grooming seems a strange neighbor for Quiznos and the Current Gallery alike. It's a tear that opened in the space-time continuum and dropped a vintage high-end '50s barbershop among the downtown bail-bonds joints and greasy spoons. Starting with the working shoeshine stand in the foyer, the retro-meets-modern styling seeps from every fixture in the two-floor shop.

Polished wood everywhere; TV-equipped barber chairs more comfy than your couch; framed prints and photos depicting men among other men during manlier eras; barbers of both sexes in ties or dresses; BYOB service where clients can bring a bottle of the expensive tipple of their choice and even leave it for future visits; a pool table; top-shelf cigars; imported grooming products, and other masculine accessories for sale; private rooms for massages and mani/pedicures; Rat Pack crooners piped in through the sound system. It's overwhelming, in a good way, at least if you share Martin's love for an idealized past.

"I've always had this weird excitement for nostalgia," Martin says of the shop's throwback appeal. A Baltimore resident for the last 12 years, Martin, 36, is too young to have experienced the midcentury barbershops he idolizes, but he's certainly devoted to their out-of-time style. On a late August morning as the shop quietly hums in preparation for the first client of the day, the only things that distract from his top-to-toe re-creation of a snappily dressed businessman circa-1955 are his cell phone and his orange socks.

Martin says he had no real previous barbering experience when he first dreamed up the Quinntessential Gentleman idea almost a decade ago. (The shop itself opened in 2005.) Instead, he had a father and a grandfather who instilled an appreciation for the values of an older generation, hair-related and otherwise. Martin's attempt to bring those values into the 21st century has apparently paid off; despite initially having to acclimate customers to the idea of a high-end barber, he says his client list now numbers around 5,000, after almost three years of steady growth.

Trained in the neglected art of straight-razor shaving--as well as scalp manipulation, massage, and other male enhancements--Martin's team is dedicated to going beyond the perfunctory trim their clients would get from a chain shop staffed with recent barber-college graduates. Martin describes his ideal client as the sort of young go-getter who's scored his first serious job and needs to suddenly look spiffy; at the same time, his list of regulars includes at least one nonagenarian. "I placed [the shop] to cater to busy people that can walk here, that can relax here during the day," Martin says of QG's location amid a sea of financial institutions and law firms.

For those not employed in the banking or legal industries, Quinntessential Gentleman might seem like bit of a luxury as a twice-monthly routine. But a standard haircut at QG will only run you $25 before tip; that's about a sawbuck more than a cut at many other barbershops. (And how many of those shops offer you a complimentary beer when you walk in?) If QG's list of amenities, ranging from a $10 beard trim to an $80 deep-tissue massage, seems upscale to those of us who grew up in an era when haircuts were swift and brutal affairs, Martin only seeks to redress what he sees as the degradation of the modern assembly-line barbershop with a careful attention to vintage techniques and attentive service.

As for the quality of Quinntessential's technique: Thanks to male-pattern baldness, my haircuts for the last five years have been administered with a disposable razor. Quinntessential's straight-razor shave, however, kinda makes me long for the disposable income that would allow me to go under the blade every few days. The whole process--warm lather, oils to make the blade swipe smoothly across the skin, and multiple applications of hot towels--has an attention to detail that you may more readily associate with a salon, even if QG's vibe is more dude than day spa. And the cost--$50 for the entire head--was an affordable one-off splurge for the cash-strapped.

A friend of mine still blessed with a full head of hair--who came along as guinea pig for his own shave and trim--judged the shop's scissor-work to be excellent, noting the strand-by-strand care taken to assure everything was even. (It should be noted he's also more infatuated with the neat-and-clean Ocean's 11 -era than I am, but that just might be bald man's jealousy.) Juiced on QG's level of skill and service, all for $10 more than he normally spends at the barber, he joked that he might now have to get his hair cut on something resembling a regular schedule. That's a pretty good advertisement for any barbershop in these tonsorially challenged times.

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