The writer’s first mani/pedi with Lauren Flater
Halfway through my first manicure, as my hand floated in a lukewarm citrus milk bath, I began to question my manhood.
The technician pushed and peeled my cuticles, filed my nails, then paused to ask, “Would you like some shine on these?”
It was one of many unexpected moments I’d encounter during my marathon of man-pampering at the Quinntessential Gentleman in downtown Baltimore. Since opening in 2005, QG has expanded from haircuts and straight-razor shaves to a full-on men’s spa, offering waxes, mani/pedis, massages and facials. That’s not to mention the cigar lounge, complete with a pool table and walk-in humidor.
Last December, QG debuted a retail store, with high-end clothing and accessories, a line of custom suits and a master tailor. All of these services are spread out over four levels of the same Calvert Street building, which owner Craig Martin sees as a kind of modern-day men’s department store.
A perfect straight-razor by Brendan Klekner.
“It’s like peeling open a book,” says the sharply dressed, 42-year-old Martin. “You have a story on every floor.”
My journey to find my inner gentleman started with a 30-minute head and neck massage ($55) from Amy Wittig, who said “I’m glad you feel better” in a voice that was comforting but also kind of sultry. She tugged on my earlobes—and my heartstrings.
Next up was something I swore no self-respecting man would ever get: a facial. (That’s where they pop your pimples and stuff.) At QG, they perform HydraFacials ($165), a multi-step process involving a futuristic and slightly sinister-looking
machine, which gave off a medicinal blue glow in the dimly lit room. A few tubes snaked out from behind its center display case, which contained four bottles of liquid, and the whole thing was topped with a computer monitor.
I had doubts. But Emma Greco, my skin care specialist, helped reassure me.
“I was put on this earth to remove blackheads and whiteheads,” she says. “It’s my calling.”
She wasn’t kidding. Using a wand that could both dispense and suction up liquid, she took me through HydraFacial’s four steps: cleansing, acid peel, extraction and hydration. The acid peel tingled some but didn’t burn, and afterward Greco gleefully dragged the wand across my face, vacuuming up all sorts of nasty stuff.
When she finished, my cheeks were a little flush, which she said is common. It faded within a day, and left my face looking the best it has in a long time. My pores went from “Braille” to “silky.” She even rubbed some lotion on the circles under my eyes, which have noticeably darkened in the year since my son was born.
“This will help with your dad eyes,” Greco deadpanned.
Quinntessential Gentleman has two of the manliest pedicure chairs imaginable: plush black leather cushions, dark wood frames and black whirlpool tubs. Perched on such a throne, it’s easy to justify paying someone to scrub your feet and trim your toenails. Or maybe that’s just the tyrant in me.
Modeling a custom suit and dapper accessories from the new department store.
My grooming specialist was Lauren Flater, who also handled my executive manicure ($20). She exfoliated my ankles and feet with a salt scrub, then turned her attention to my toenails, which my wife once called “pokey.” Flater said pedicures are popular with high-powered businessmen, because they get blisters from squeezing their feet into fancy yet cramped designer shoes. I got the express pedicure ($35); the next step up ($45) includes a foot massage. I didn’t want it to end.
“Your wife will be happy,” Flater said after she finished cutting my sharp corners. Grooming manager Brendan Klekner gave me an expert trim ($30), but all the while I was dreading the next phase in my pampering—having my back waxed.
Some men have a forest of hair back there; I’ve got more of a grassy patch below my neck. OK, maybe a few smaller patches here and there. But after seeing “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” I was more than a little petrified. Kelly Claaaaaarrrrkkkssssson!
Greco, whose calling it was to remove my whiteheads, also removed my back hair. I took off my shirt and laid face-down on a massage table, my face peering down through a doughnut-shaped headrest. Greco sterilized my back before slathering some warm-but-not-hot wax on me. “Breathe in,” she said as she laid a strip of paper on some wax, and then said, “breathe out” and yanked.
There was a nanosecond of pure terror as she ripped off the paper, which was followed by a full second of scorching pain. I screamed (on the inside, of course). This process ($60) was repeated several times.
I felt naked for days, as if my missing back hair was a phantom limb. One week later, the patch was still barren, save for a few strands that had hesitantly emerged to assess the damage. I’m not sure I would do that again, but I see why other, hairier men with higher pain thresholds might like it.
For the final step in my transformation from schlub to stud, I took the elevator to the fifth floor, where Phill Walters, QG’s clothier, who helped set up the retail store and custom suit corner, was waiting.
Sam with QG owner (and pool shark) Craig Martin.
Walters handed me a QG custom two-piece suit, which start at $859, a pair of Bourbon-colored Allen Edmonds “Strand” Cap-Toe Oxford shoes ($365), a gold Gitman Brothers silk knit tie ($109) and a custom QG pocket round ($25).
I looked in the mirror, and for a moment didn’t recognize the man I saw. “Hey babe,” my reflection said, “I negotiate million-dollar deals for breakfast. ”
When he founded QG nearly nine years ago, Martin went all-in, selling his house, car, stocks and even pool table, and emptying his 401(k). He started with 1,400 square feet and now runs nearly 12,000 square feet—and later this year wants to open a men’s social club on the sixth floor. All this, from a fancy barbershop.
“I’ve had probably 25 people pull me aside and say, ‘We didn’t think you were going to make it, because we didn’t think Baltimore was ready for something like this,’” Martin says.
At first, I didn’t think I was ready for it either. But us guys could use a little pampering, too.
Quinntessential Gentleman. 31 S. Calvert St. 7 days a week. 410-685-7428, http://www.theqg.com