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'The metrosexual is dead," declares Bill Chrismer, owner of Gentleman's Quarters, a new breed of all-male spa once synonymous with that term. "Men hated it," he states from his clubby Denver emporium, where real guys can indulge in body scrubs, seaweed wraps and brow waxes in the company of their peers. With today's more nuanced view of masculinity, men are more comfortable indulging in pedicures, manicures and facials, Chrismer notes, as long as they're called "foot repair," "hand details" and "skin fitness treatments."

While men's spas may not have arrived at a mall near you, an appreciation for good grooming is reaching beyond the opera-going, latte-sipping, big-city set.

"We had these two huge Harley-Davidson riders in a few years back," recalls Michael Gilman, founder of Washington, D.C.'s Grooming Lounge. "These guys were gritty as they come. But after a foot treatment and massage, one told me our services were on a par with being on his bike out on the open road."

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"There's definitely been a change in men's attitudes towards spas," observes Greg Savarese, owner of Chicago's 316 Club. "The proof is in the advertising," he says, citing the glut of ads for men's grooming products in publications such as Men's Health, Men's Journal and Playboy.

Even medical procedures such as facelifts, laser treatments and peels are on more men's to-do lists these days - less out of vanity, some would argue, than to retain an edge in business.

"I think baby boomers realize they will be working relatively late in life," says John Esposito, co-founder of Truman's Gentlemen's Groomers in New York, "and that looking good is a competitive advantage in the workplace. We see men who understand that it takes a little effort to maintain one's best appearance and are exploring options such as colour, waxing and facials."

Yet even the most enlightened males may feel a twinge of discomfort waiting for a "foot detail" surrounded by bathrobe-clad women. "My wife tells me she always feels badly when a man walks into a nail salon," says Savarese, "and all 10 women waiting for manicures look at the guy as if he's accidentally walked into the ladies' room."

Beyond the desire to infuse a bit of testosterone into the pedicure, Savarese and his colleagues feel a single-gender atmosphere is the ideal place for a man to prepare for that first brow pluck. Surroundings that say, "Men live here," with flat-screen TVs pulsing with sports and stock market numbers, dark woods and a few lad magazines are essential to a man's comfort, aestheticians feel.

The Nickel Spa for Men in New York goes a step further, adding cobalt lighting and chrome trim to confer the virile ambience of a submarine.

The décor at 316 recreates andocentric Rat Pack Vegas, with a pool table, cushy leather chairs and the libertine air of a night at the Copa. It's a place with enough sex appeal to fold chest waxes and mud masks into packages called the Player, the Pit Boss and the Capo, and to attract the likes of Chicago Wolves coach John Anderson, who recently submitted the corporeal crash sites he's collected over 12 years with the Toronto Maple Leafs to a 316 makeover.

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Since some men are trading their pub time for spa treatments, spas like the Grooming Lounge also offer an expansive bar where clients can take a pre-back wax tipple. "At a women's salon, it's highly unlikely you'll see someone throwing back a tasty brew," Gilman says.

Yet the difference between co-ed and all men's spas runs far deeper than woody walls and clever metaphors for exfoliation. Long robes and a short service menu topped the wish list in pre-opening research for El Rey - Spanish for "the King" - an Austin, Tex., men's spa where elaborate old-time barber chairs evoke the mid-century barbershop where owner Clint Campbell had his first hot towel shave.

Campbell also learned that "men won't read through a six-page menu the way women will," and that they prefer results-oriented treatments such as El Rey's Leg Therapy Massage, which promises to soothe the achy limbs of athletes and frequent fliers. Men also like one-stop shopping, so El Rey piggybacks its treatments, offering a manicure/pedicure during haircuts, as well as a four-hand massage that cuts the time and doubles the pleasure.

And since El Rey is actually a private men's club open to day members, there's a staff of executive assistants skilled at time-saving tasks such as scaring up an 8 p.m. table at Austin's hottest dining spot, booking flights, calling in a tailor for a quick repair, steaming suits and washing the car before clients are out of the Jacuzzi shower. That way, even time-pressed C-level execs can create space in their day for El Rey's 24-step straight-razor shave with a mini-facial.

Extensive research for what some might call a "male beauty salon"?

"Spas are becoming big business," says Campbell, a veteran Dell financial executive turned philanthropist and entrepreneur, "going from mom-and-pop outfits to an industry accountable to Wall Street." In fact, according to the International Spa Association, men's spas are the fastest-growing segment of the business, with males now comprising 31 per cent of spa goers and 36 per cent of spa travellers, who first become enamoured of treatments on holiday and then seek them out at home.

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Still, the biggest issue for the spa-going male is privacy. "Men like one-on-one attention," says Doug Coburn of Ottawa's Bodé Spa, where a vault-like steel door shelters two private massage rooms with nine-foot stone walls.

"They like to get the advice, get the service and be on their way in a private fashion."

Men crave a "discreet and protected environment where they feel comfortable discussing their needs," adds Chrismer, a place to voice insecurities about issues such as the unibrow and nose hair.

His Gentleman's Quarters website, http://www.gquarters.com, even offers tips such as using a scented body wash "when you just can't blame the dog any longer," and advises a solid 30-second gargle and tongue brushing to curb "breath that has more kick than Bruce Lee."

The men's spa is a place for frank talk. When that artful arrangement atop your pate is in danger of approaching a "Cincinnati sweep," you can count on these folks to stage a reality check on your hairline. And be prepared to hear the cold truth about the smoking, processed foods and sun exposure that cause fine lines, brown spots and dull skin.

Yet even aestheticians are surprised to find that the most popular treatment is waxing. Possibly because "we only service men," notes Truman's co-owner John Esposito, "so when you come in for a back wax, there's no fear of running into an old girlfriend."

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"I didn't expect it when we drew up the blueprints," says Savarese of the back, chest and eyebrow waxes at 316, whose straightforward website clarifies: "We don't wax Big Jim and the Twins, so please don't ask."

Professional groomers didn't always incite such apprehension in men. The valet of a 19th-century gentleman would run his bath, administer a straight razor shave, iron his top hat, wash and stretch his gloves and help him undress for bed. Even today, belonging to the right spa is a social requirement for business success in many parts of the world.

To their credit, North American men are bridging the grooming gap with commendable speed, creating a demand for spa services so highly evolved they're luring women - a tricky issue, since a primary attraction is the boys' club atmosphere. While most turn female clients away, El Rey offers an occasional Date Night so spouses can partake of the lavish bar, and women may visit the Grooming Lounge if they're keen for a male haircut.

Still, women are well-known "gender interlopers," as quick to appropriate their male partner's sports massage as to steal a crisp dress shirt from the closet. "My husband is a Neanderthal," an El Rey wife alleges. "He doesn't know anything about grooming and now he has better facials than I do."

All male spas, you say? Better post guards at the towers and think about digging a moat: If these spas get any better, we women will be storming the gates.

*****

Pack Your Bags

Bodé Spa 17 Marlborough Ave., Suite 100, Ottawa; 613-565-BODE (2633); http://www.bodespa.com

Women Around? A few for couples treatments.

Don't Miss: Eyelash and eyebrow tinting, $18.

Nickel Spa for Men 77 Eighth Ave., New York; 212-242-3203; http://www.nickelspanyc.com

Women Around? No.

Don't Miss: Love-Handle Wrap - exfoliation removes dead skin cells and increases circulation to the midsection, then a reducing massage with Nickel Love Handle Gel; 60 minutes; $95.

Truman's Gentlemen's Groomers 120 E. 56th St., New York; 212-759-5015; http://www.trumans-nyc.com

Women Around? No.

Don't Miss: The Total Package - hair wash/scalp massage, straight-razor shave, haircut and style, handshake maintenance, shoeshine, 60-minute massage, plus a style consultation; 2½ hours; $230.

Grooming Lounge Three locations: 1745 L St., NW, Washington, D.C., 202-466-8900; Tyson's Galleria - Upper Level 1732 U International Dr., MacLean, Va., 703-288-0355; 3280 Peachtree Rd., Atlanta, 404-467-7766; http://www.groominglounge.com

Women Around? A few getting a man's haircut.

Don't Miss: The Second Term, a rejuvenation package that includes an anti-aging facial, massage, manicure and foot treatment; four hours; $380.

Manhood: A Grooming

Gallery for Men 26571 W. 12 Mile Rd., Southfield, Mich.; 248-354-8400; http://www.manhoodgrooming.com

Women Around? No.

Don't Miss: Full body paraffin dip, $110.

316 Club Barber Spa 175 W. Jackson Blvd., Chicago; 312-880-0316; http://www.316barberspa.com

Women Around? A few.

Don't Miss: Caesars - "Just because you pulled an all-nighter doesn't mean you have to look like it," the website says - a deep facial cleansing, exfoliation, mask, hand and arm massage in a private cabana with flat-screen TV and complimentary beverage; 30 minutes; $55.

Sir Spa 5151 North Clark St., Chicago; 773-271-7000; http://www.sirspa.com

Women around? About 5 per cent of the clients are women, treated in a separate room.

Don't Miss: Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy - a massage therapist suspended from overhead bars kneads back and leg muscles with their feet; 60 minutes; $110.

El Rey 311 W. 5th St., Suite 100, Austin, Tex.; 512-472-5858; http://www.elreyclub.com

Women around? No, except in the bar on the occasional weekend "date night."

Don't Miss: El Rey Grooming Package - spa haircut or scalp therapy, luxury shave or chairman facial, spa manicure; stay all day if you like; $300. This private men's club accepts one-day memberships with the purchase of a service package, which includes valet parking, shoeshine and car wash or lunch.

Gentleman's Quarters Two Denver locations: 7777 E. Hampden Ave., 303-745-6328; 1605 17th St., 303-991-1010; http://www.gquarters.com

Women Around? A handful.

Don't Miss: Ashiatsu Massage - an ancient form of bodywork first introduced by Buddhist monks and said to stimulate the lymphatic system; from 30 minutes; $60.

Sea Me Day Spa for Men 544-46 Chaussée de Waterloo, Brussels; 0032-2344 4440; http://www.seame.be

Women Around? A few.

Don't Miss: Get Back in Shape Balneo Bath - based on sodium-free, freeze-dried seawater; 60 minutes; $95.

H20 Spa Jumeirah Emirates Tower, Dubai; +971-4-3198181; http://www.jumeirahemiratestowers.com/h2o_male_spa

Women Around? No.

Don't Miss: Oxygen Bar, said to alleviate jet lag, includes massage in Italian shiatsu chair and a movie with 3-D glasses; from 15 minutes; $20. Ear Candling - yes, that's candles in your ear - plus neck, shoulder and head massage to relieve the pressure and congestion of jet travel; 55 minutes; $75.

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