So, one of the things I missed most about New York — shallow as it may be — was getting a decent, cheap manicure. I wasn’t crying into my mushy peas about it, but a girl likes to have her nails groomed. On a regular basis. For less than a ten-er — in both currencies. It’s just one thing that I prefer not to go all DIY on. Yes, I have my own files. And a nail clipper and even a crap-load of polishes that are probably getting all gooey and gross under my sink as I write. But nail grooming is a skill, and not one that I possess.
Sadly, finding a nail salon in London, let alone one that was good and less money than a Roast, proved close to impossible. Unlike here in New York where there’s a Bloomie Nails or Spa Belles in between every Starbucks and Hale & Hearty, they’re few and far between across the pond. Londoners, it seemed, just don’t care all that much about their nails.
At the salons that DO exist (in some far off neighborhood for which I had to take tubes and buses to get to), they charge astronomical prices and have all sorts of confusing levels of treatments. For example:
- Basic manicure no. 1, which includes filing, and polish change
- Basic manicure no. 2, which includes filing, cuticle-cutting and polish change
- Spa manicure, which includes all of the above, and a hand massage
- Gel manicure, the basic manicure with the two-week polish
- Spa Gel manicure, the spa manicure with the two-week polish
- Polish change, exactly that — no added bonus
Here in New York, it’s simple. You have two options:
- Full manicure, which includes filing, cuticle-trimming, hand-massaging (best part!) and polishing
- Change of polish, which includes exactly that. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, they’ll give you a quickie file to fix any ragged or uneven edges.
While the prices will vary depending on where you go (and whether you choose the popular new two-week Gel for an extra $10), the majority of New Yorkers — from Vogue editors to school teachers — drop into the cheapish spots that proliferate the city’s grid, offering both services for anywhere between $10 to $15, as opposed to lush spas that charge upwards of $40.
In London, you had mediocre and expensive, and mediocre and exorbitant.
Over the course of the five months, I can probably count on my, er, hands how many times I had them done. Of those, two places really stood out, and by stood out I mean were either down a side street and a set of stairs in North London, or on a dingy stretch of a High Street in Zone 2 South London. Not, as one might suspect, at Harrod’s where my father — yes, my father! — and I splurged on 45-POUND manicure. (Hey, it was snowing out. In March.)
I found the first when wandering Stoke-Newington on a late Sunday afternoon. I did that almost every weekend — ventured from Wapping to get my nails done. Kidding. I ventured to explore different neighborhoods. I just happened to be on the prowl for some pampering, too. I probably wouldn’t have even found the tucked-away spot if it weren’t for its sign on the sidewalk. It directed me, via several arrows, down a set of stairs and through an ominous looking set of doors with hand-painted butterflies on them.
Inside, I found the loveliest spa run by one woman. That’s right: one woman. When I arrived, she was finishing up with a client and said that despite her normally being booked up, she could take me in 10 minutes. The space, while sparse, was quiet and comfortable and I had it all to myself. Heaven. While she didn’t have a great color selection, I was there for almost three hours. (I got a pedi too, and she had one of those massage chairs!) Success. The whole thing cost 50-pounds.
I found the second place in Balham while staying with Clare. To my pleasant surprise, there were actually quite a few salons to choose from in the area. So many, in fact, that Clare and I popped our heads in and out of about five one afternoon before we — or rather I, the picky New Yorker — chose one off the New Road. Why this one? I don’t know. The price was right (20-pounds) and I got a good vibe — despite their no frills decor and lack of tranquil music (think Rihanna and Robbie Williams). And I was right: I instantly fell in love with Stacy, the cheeky half of the two sisters who run the place. A sign of a good technician? They paint the tips. And my girl painted the tips.
Had I been living in Balham the whole time this post might not have existed.
Still, I did miss Eve in the West Village. I’ve been going there for almost 8 years now — I’m probably what they consider a frequent filer! Dozens of my friends go there now too. In fact, Ellie went while she was here and my friend Anna and I can’t even go together anymore because we argue over who gets to see Jane. (Though, really, all the technicians are great.)
The prices are reasonable for a spa that’s a step up from the corner chains, the staff are friendly, the music is practically straight outta my iTunes library, and they polish the tips! But truth be told, it’s Jane’s hand massage that I really look forward to. If only that lasted a week to 10 days.