From the moment you walk into the incense-and jazz-laced setting of BBraxton, you know this is not your average Harlem barbershop. From hot-towel shaves to foot care to massages with complimentary cocktails, BBraxton prides itself on catering to the Y chromosome that has a keen appreciation for X chromosome–level pampering.
Owned by a husband-and-wife team—Tony Award-winning Broadway actress Brenda Braxton (Chicago) and Anthony Van Putten, a personal trainer—the salon, which offers specialty packages that include transportation to and from the spa, groom and groomsmen events, and personal fitness regimens, is above and beyond the shape-up and shave many come inside for. "Most [spas and salons] don't really cater to men of color," explains Braxton. "They don't really have a loctician, barbers that cut black men's hair, or [those] that understand the razor bumps issue.
We just needed someplace where African-American and Latino men could come to address their physical needs." With six barber chairs, two aestheticians, an on-call loctican, and one manicurist, Braxton and Van Putten made certain that each exceptional staffer would be able to skillfully accommodate the ethnically diverse clientele—and deliver a high level of service. The vital importance of the latter came into perspective when the couple took a trip to Japan before opening the shop. "We were just blown away by the service [in Japan]," she says. "Everyone asked, 'What can I do for you?' 'How can I help you?'—just so gracious, and I loved it. [Here,] we just want well-groomed people with personality who make a gentleman feel special and comfortable." The comfort factor is actually a bigger issue than some might think. Although more men are accepting of the fact that their grooming regimen should transcend a simple bar of soap, many still struggle with the notion that manicures and facials are not just for their wives, mothers and sisters—especially when it's in a mostly female environment. "Men tell me they're a lot more comfortable in an all-male environment," explains Sasha Robertson, who, as BBraxton's sole female manicurist, is quite familiar with that type of discomfort. "Men don't want to feel like they're being watched or gawked at, and [BBraxton] has more of a barbershop feel, where they can just come in and talk about whatever they want to talk about."
Charging moderate prices ($30 for a hot-towel shave) that are on par with many high-end barbershops farther south of the Hudson River, BBraxton is officially the first uptown salon to carry the complete The Art of Shaving luxury grooming line and to collaborate with the legendary tailor Ike Behar to create Shirt in a Box, a custom shirt service that, with two and a half yards of handpicked fabric and a sizing chart, culminates in a personally fitted button-down waiting on your doorstep three weeks after ordering.
The idea for BBraxton was planted 10 years ago after the couple read an article on men's body care. "[Anthony] said, 'You know, I wouldn't mind getting a manicure and a pedicure, but I'm not gonna sit in one of those little places with all the women looking at you,'" Braxton explains. "We talked about it forever, then decided to open something in Harlem, because more men [here] feel the same way." In fact, Harlem's ongoing revitalization and America's newfound appreciation for the well-groomed man were the basis for BBraxton's location, whose comfortable spot on Fifth Avenue and East 116th Street makes it easily accessible.
"We bought our home in Harlem almost 10 years ago when we saw that it was getting ready to really blow up," says Braxton. "Back then we didn't know exactly where our lives were going, but [now] we're having a ball here. And Harlem is ready for this.