Putting the 'man' in 'manicure'

Men becoming regulars at salons in LA ... and NH

Los Angeles Times
November 16. 2013 8:36PM
Coco Lever gives a manicure to Kerry Som of Nashua at Chill Day Spa in Manchester on Thursday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

LOS ANGELES- The new Melrose Avenue storefront is a man's world, make no mistake.

The theme could not be stated more bluntly.

Above the front desk: the rusted front end of a 1953 Chevy pickup.

Along one wall: a vintage sign whose faded red letters read AUTO.

Scotch is ready to pour, pending a liquor license. The lights are dim, the leather chairs deep.

This place calls itself the first man cave for ... manicures.

Its name is Hammer & Nails.

It welcomed the hairy-chested public earlier this month. It offers repair treatments for mani-pedi first-timers and - in punny PR material - speaks of "Mangelenos" and promises to put "the MAN back in manicure."

Here, a macho sort who likes a buff can get his hands massaged and his cuticles pushed back while watching the game on an individual flat-screen TV. Here, he won't have to suffer the stares of a salon full of women as his feet are gently dipped into paraffin wax.

The decor isn't prissy. It's industrial lamps and a row of hammers shadowboxed behind glass. The floor is concrete, stained black. A punching bag hangs in the back.

Side tables hold virile volumes: "World Beer," "Whiskey," "Ferrari," "Mastering the Grill."

In truth, all this machismo could intimidate some on this fashionable stretch of street between Fred Segal and the Pacific Design Center.

Not to worry, says owner Michael Elliot. Those books? They're mostly for looks.

Elliot is a screenwriter who has had some movies made - among them, "Like Mike" and "Just Wright." He's the sort of casually cool guy who knows what he's wearing: corduroys by J. Crew, a Kenneth Cole watch, chukka boots by John Varvatos.

He's an HGTV junkie, into "Divine Design," who says he got the idea for the back wall covered in wide-plank flooring from an HGTV kitchen-makeover show, probably "Kitchen Crashers."

Guys don't have to watch sports on their TVs, equipped with cushy headphones.

"They may want to catch up on 'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,' and that's cool," Elliot said.

Sensing a trend

But with his male nail salon, staffed by decidedly professional female manicurists, Elliot thinks he's hit on an idea that can take off.

On a recent Thursday, he opened the salon to the media, with the lure of free treatments. The appointment book included beauty and fashion bloggers and several writers for gay-themed publications.

Jay Shore, a screenwriter, said he'd been sent in by his wife, who has a blog, Groomed L.A. At first he didn't want to give his name, partly because his male friends would tease him. Then, somewhere around the hand massage, he loosened up.

"I have to say, it's unbelievably pleasurable," he said of his first manicure. "I can't believe I've never done this before in my life."

As Elliot passed by his chair, Shore - hands wrapped in warm towels - called out to him, "This is a great idea. I'd like to shake your hand, but ..." To which Elliot replied, "Look at you - you're chillin' in a chair."

A market in Manchester

Across the country in New Hampshire, Chill is the name of a Manchester day spa whose male clientele has grown steadily in the seven-plus years Crissy Kantor has been in business.

"We do a lot of couples treatments. Wives and girlfriends bring in their husbands or boyfriends, and once they experience some Chill time, they're hooked," Kantor said of her male customers, who account for an estimated 25 to 30 percent of the salon's business. "They think it's really girly, then they come in and find out why we love it so much."

In addition to manicures and pedicures, Chill - a 2013 Union Leader Reader's Choice winner - offers an array of treatments including hair styling, body waxing and massages, and serves male customers ranging from teens undergoing acne treatment to stylish seniors seeking a bit of pampering and better grooming.

Located downtown on Hanover Street, the salon is stocked with lines of men's hair-care products, offers men's magazines and features a men's locker room for pre- and post-treatment changing and showers.

"Our male customers include metrosexuals, professionals and construction workers," Kantor said. "Once they try us, they keep coming back for more."

Franchise possibility

Back in Los Angeles, Elliot shared his franchise dreams for a Hammer & Nails in every major city.

"I just want taking care of your hands to be as comfortable as getting a haircut," he told Shore. "There's nothing feminine about the brand, you feel me? It's as manly as Gillette. It's as manly as Black and Decker. It's just a place that we go to relax."

It's also a place, by the way, for a man to put on polish, if that suits him. There are just three colors for now: black, blue, gray. Or rather: Black Velvet, Denim Du Jour, Sweater Weather.

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