Far from dead, old-school masculinity isn't just still alive, it's thriving at Knoxville's own Frank's Barbershop.
Named Best Barbershop in America for the last three years by About.com, Frank's, a venture of the larger Salon Visage family, specializes in providing clients with the service and experience worthy of any distinguished dandy of yore.
"It's time for a return to masculinity," said Monty Howard, general manager of the Visage Group. "Men's hairstyles were so clean and neat for so long. But guys want to feel like guys."
Upon walking through the door of the relatively compact, South Northshore Drive-located shop, this ideal of classic masculinity is first achieved visually. Warm wood paneling and leather-accented interiors evoke the atmosphere of an old fashioned gentleman's club, said Jonathan Burkhalter, junior in history.
"It's a few cigars with a smoky haze and high balls short of being the classic gentleman's lounge," Burkhalter said. "It really plays to the idea of being a man's world in the sense of classical manhood. I imagine cigar-smoking, whisky-drinking men talking politics and women, gambling and playing cards and pool."
Billiards, darts and flat screens broadcasting ESPN serve as further adornments. A vintage model airplane and football helmet sit atop a handsome cherry bookcase, its contents sporting titles such as "The World's Best Beers" and "Heavy Equipment: Up Close."
"We also serve iced root beer in a frosted mug to everybody that comes in," Howard said, his voice dripping with a low southern drawl. "The service is modern but delivered in an environment that creates that nostalgic experience."
This element of nostalgia is intensified by the numerous fading photographs of owner Frank Gambuzza's Italian clan hanging on the paneled walls. One, depicting a beaming, light-haired young woman, bears the plaque: "My mother, Lorraine Marie Capone, Summer 1953, Long Branch, N.J." The surname "Capone" crops up in multiple other photographs, and immigration documents and certificates of citizenship cement Frank's heritage.
"It didn't feel like Knoxville in 2014," Burkhalter said. "Maybe Knoxville in 1958, but more like Chicago in prime 1928."
This intermingling of old and new is exactly what Frank himself sought to achieve within his barbershop.
"That's what we wanted to recreate at Frank's – that traditional-feel barbershop experience with modern quality haircuts," Howard said.
For Ryan McPherson, senior in advertising, the combination of quality and luxury served up at Frank's makes the average $25-30 ticket price worthwhile.
"One thing I can guarantee is a great haircut, but that's not all they give you," McPherson, also the advertising manger for The Daily Beacon, said. "Before getting your trim, your barber will give you a massage, envelope you with aromatic oils and pre-wash your hair. During the cut, you can watch TV conveniently located right next to the mirror and then get a final wash at the end of the trim.
"All that being said, your money goes a pretty long way."
Hot towels and lavender oil are used for additional pampering, and body hair waxes and "executive hand treatments" – the masculine rendition of a manicure – are also available options. Traditional straight-blade shaves round out Frank's spectrum of services.
McPherson said he believes that by offering such classically masculine amenities with an indulgent twist, the barbershop has tapped into a veritable "goldmine."
"For years, I had been going to random salons and barbershops all over town but would run into many 'stylists' that I felt were more prepared for dressing high school girls for prom," he said. "Frank's has barbers that are prepared to only give men haircuts, and I think that's exactly what I, and many other college guys, needed."
Howard, who lists the "pompadour" as one of the hairstylists college-aged clientele seek most, knew the demographic for a business like Frank's existed based on the large number of male clients coming into Salon Visage who, like McPherson, felt they had a need most salons weren't meeting.
"A lot of guys would come into the salon and want a great haircut and loved how it looked but felt like they were coming into the wrong salon to get it," he said. "There wasn't anything like this around, where you can come get a modern, stylish haircut in an environment specifically tailored to guys."
Howard said he believes that by receiving Frank's gentleman's treatment, clients can put their best foot – or, in this sense, coiffed head of hair – forward each day.
"Feeling comfortable with who you are, I think that's what masculinity, and style, is all about," Howard said. "This helps you be your best self everyday."