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John Lamb, Published March 24 2013

Lamb: Hot shaves a pretty cool experience (video)

FARGO - It’s not a place most people want to be: on your back with someone standing over you, a metal blade to your throat.

That is, unless you’re in the market for a hot shave.

Straight-edge razor shaves are making a comeback as men treat themselves, and their mugs, to a little tender touching.

“It was a lost art,” says Maureen Cannon, who runs Everett’s Barbershop in Fargo with her sister Chelsey Ehlen. “A lot of people got away from it. We’re trying to keep the tradition alive.”

Tradition is one of the big attractions to Everett’s, a shop named after the sisters’ barber grandfather.

The Broadway storefront forgoes modern man spa trappings for a classic barber shop look and feel, with the exception of classic rock playing on the radio or a hockey game on the TV.

The shop opened up last spring and has already developed a steady clientele thanks, in part, to the hot shaves.

The sisters say they each do at least one shave ($28) a day and between five and 10 on Friday for guys gearing up for the weekend. Appointments are recommended on Fridays.

Customers like the relaxing aspect of the 30-minute treatment and appreciate the quality of the shave.

“A lot of guys will touch (their face) after and say, ‘I can’t get that close.’ ”

“They do things I wouldn’t do right,” says regular customer Bill Lempe, who comes in a couple of times a month to have them keep his moustache and beard clean. After Bros, he had them shave his face clean for a change.

Maureen says visitors range from curious college kids to older men who may have trouble holding a razor steady.

Even customers as young as 12 can get the razor run up the back of their neck to clean up after a cut.

“They think that’s pretty cool, just like dad,” Maureen says.

A close shave

Everett’s saw an uptick in business earlier this month around Bros on Broadway, the Hotel Donaldson’s annual facial hair fundraiser to support men with prostate cancer.

In the days leading up to the event, participants stopped in for styling and afterward men went in to get a clean shave, myself included.

Generally speaking, I quit shaving in October, let my beard grow out, then shave it off after Bros. With my whiskers long and coarse and my mug not used to open air, I knew I needed professional help.

I sat in Chelsey’s vintage 1950s barber chair (Maureen’s is from the 1960s) and let her go to work.

While the straight edge gets the close, smooth shave, Chelsey and Maureen first go over the beard with clippers to trim down the whiskers to a more manageable length.

Chelsey tips me in the chair so I’m nearly flat back. She pumps warm foam and lathers up my face to soften my stubble.

After that, two separate hot towel wraps cover my face. The towels are kept in a small counter-top oven not only to keep them warm but to disinfect them.

The fabric is wrapped so that the skin is covered and only the nose is exposed. While this may seem unnerving to some, it is incredibly relaxing and also helps open the pores and soften my bristles, which Chelsey says are particularly tough.

“This will take two blades,” she says.

The straight-edge razors they use have disposable blades that are thrown away after each shave. They, can use a fixed-blade razor too, but Chelsey says time is required to hone and strop (straightening the blade against a leather strap) the blade during the process, making it less time-efficient.

She explains how when her grandfather was learning the art of shaving, students would shave the lather off a balloon without popping it to develop a soft touch.

With a little extra lather added to my face, Chelsey offers a bit of advice before shaving:

“When I have the blade close to your face or your throat, don’t talk.”

That message came in loud and clear.

She started at one sideburn and gracefully eased down the jawline, the blade gently pressing and pulling the skin. When she got to my chin(s) and nose, her right hand held the blade as her left pulled the skin tight for a smoother pass.

Though I kept my mouth shut, I watched when I could, until I caught my own reflection in the blade as it moved over my face.

Chelsey moved around and took a final check before wiping me off, then added a menthol cream to protect against razor burn and to close the pores.

A cold towel is the final step in the treatment for a brisk finish that is as invigorating as the hot towels are relaxing.

No matter how smooth, a clean shave can be a bit of a shock at first sight to those of us who keep their kisser covered for half of the year.

Still, I was pleased with my sleek, doughy mug – at least until I walked outside and felt the cold March air slap me up. The days since have been even colder, but I’m turning the other cheek and keeping them both whisker-free for the next half-year.

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533