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Union Square Barbershop is becoming a hotspot for Bay Area celebrities

Jerrel Brown dreamed of creating a luxury barbershop where men felt pampered.  He never thought it would be such a success.  Here, Lawrence Richardson, 12, gets his hair cut by hairstylist Chris Flores on March 8.

Jerrel Brown dreamed of creating a luxury barbershop where men felt pampered. He never thought it would be such a success. Here, Lawrence Richardson, 12, gets his hair cut by hairstylist Chris Flores on March 8.

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

Jerrel Brown leaned against a wall and surveyed the Friday afternoon scene at the Dapper Down Barber Lounge near Union Square.

Hip-hop music echoed through the fourth-floor store overlooking Powell Street. A client sipped expensive whiskey while his stylist inspected the back of his head and aligned a tapered fade just right. Another customer appeared to fall asleep as his hairdresser gently rubbed facial cleanser into his stubble.

As he built a successful career in real estate, Brown had dreamed about this place for years: an upscale barbershop, where men could escape the stresses of everyday life while a hairstylist made them look and feel their best. What Brown couldn’t have imagined was how quickly it would take off. Just over three years after Dapper Down opened its doors in a speakeasy-style setup in the Varlow Building, it’s where many of the Bay Area’s movers and shakers go.

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Its clientele includes about half the Golden State Warriors roster, a half-dozen San Francisco 49ers and nearly the entire Oakland Athletics organization. Also featured are nine-time NBA All-Star Paul George, Oakland native and “Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler, and several popular local rappers and music producers.

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InterContinental, a four-star hotel about a half mile away, recently signed a partnership with Dapper Down, sending guests to the Varlow Building for haircuts, beard trims and other services more expected of a spa than a barbershop. Business is going so well that 34-year-old Brown is starting to think about opening a second location.

“What we’ve found is that there are a lot of people who are willing to pay a little more for a luxury experience,” he said. “We meet a need in the city. Not every man wants to go to the spa, but that doesn’t mean we don’t deserve to be pampered a little.”

“What we found is that there are a lot of people who are willing to pay a little more for a luxury experience,” says Jerrel Brown. “We meet a need in the city.” And help downtown San Francisco at the same time.

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As San Francisco’s only upscale barbershop with such extensive amenities, Dapper Down has cornered its market. Some clients drive from as far as Sacramento or Tracy, navigating rush-hour traffic and limited parking for time in one of Brown’s handful of barber chairs. But considering the time and care Dapper Down stylists put into each haircut, the prices seem reasonable.

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A basic haircut, including a free drink from the on-site bar, costs $85 and takes about 70 minutes. The premium package, complete with a hot towel, facial massage, detailed blackhead removal, and straight razor cleanup, costs $100 and takes about 80 minutes. A beard trim costs another €15 and takes 10 minutes.

Last Friday, a few patrons praised Dapper Down’s “chill vibes” and friendly staff. Therein lies its charm: it’s bougie, yet somehow accessible. Dapper Down is not only the favorite barbershop of many Bay Area celebrities, but is also a must-visit for countless 9-to-5’ers.

Eight-time NBA All-Star Dwight Howard was Dapper Down's first celebrity customer.  Pleased with his hairstyle – a mohawk with purple tips – Howard promised to return with friends after his first visit.

Eight-time NBA All-Star Dwight Howard was Dapper Down’s first celebrity customer. Pleased with his hairstyle – a mohawk with purple tips – Howard promised to return with friends after his first visit.

Jerrel Brown/Dapper Down

Nathan Edwards, a tourist from Australia, heard about it while searching Yelp for the best haircuts near his hotel. After getting the premium package, he drank a Modelo at the bar with his girlfriend.

Dapper Down can be hard to find, and that’s on purpose. New customers must be buzzed in before taking an elevator or walking up three flights of stairs. There, an inconspicuous entrance offers no clue to the lounge-like activity lurking behind that doorway.

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“This is our last day in the United States before we fly back, and I’m really glad we arrived,” Edwards said. “To me, it is the epitome of what an American barbershop should be.”

It’s also a success story in a downtown where pedestrian numbers are declining. On that recent Friday, four storefronts across the street from Dapper Down sat empty.

Still, some luxury retailers continue to thrive in Union Square. Yves Saint Laurent and Chanel are expanding. A slew of watch stores, including A. Lange & Söhne and Rolex, remain busy despite their flashy prices.

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LEFT: Washington Wizards guard Jordan Poole, who spent four seasons with the Golden State Warriors, stops by Dapper Down Barber Lounge when he’s in San Francisco. RIGHT: Golden State Warriors guard Gary Payton II, a regular at Dapper Down, called his favorite barbershop “very lively.”Bryce Ward/Dapper Down
ABOVE: Washington Wizards guard Jordan Poole, who spent four seasons with the Golden State Warriors, stops by Dapper Down Barber Lounge when he’s in San Francisco. BOTTOM: Golden State Warriors guard Gary Payton II, a Dapper Down regular, called his favorite barbershop “very lively.”Bryce Ward/Dapper Down

“It’s sad to see some businesses struggling, but there are also businesses opening their doors,” said Dapper Down hairstylist Bryce Ward, who counts George, Coogler and Washington Wizards Jordan Poole among his top clients. “It’s like a circle. Things go around and around. We just have to keep doing what we are doing.”

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Union Square’s proximity to luxury hotels also helps. InterContinental, the Ritz-Carlton, the St. Regis, Parc 55, the Four Seasons and the Marriott Marquis are all within walking distance of Dapper Down.

When NBA teams are in town to play the Warriors, Ward stops by the players’ rooms at the St. Regis for a quick fade or trim. Others like to visit the store. Last Friday, San Antonio Spurs guard Devonte’ Graham was scheduled to meet with Ward, but it was canceled at the last minute due to a family emergency.

Word of mouth is Dapper Down’s best advertising. When friends from other teams in San Francisco need a haircut, Warriors guard Gary Payton II shoots Ward’s contact.

“They have good territory, good space,” Payton said of Dapper Down. “There’s a whole atmosphere there. They also have a bar if you need anything. It is wavy.”

Enzo Perdomo gets his hair cut by Mikey Soriano on March 8.  It's

Enzo Perdomo gets his hair cut by Mikey Soriano on March 8. It’s “very nice in there,” said Warriors basketball star Gary Payton II. “They also have a bar if you need anything. It’s wavy.”

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

Brown didn’t have to know long that his company would be a hit. A few months after Dapper Down opened in January 2021, eight-time NBA All-Star Dwight Howard slid into a barber chair there and made the ultimate request: Could he get a dreaded purple-tipped mohawk?

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Satisfied with his haircut that day, Howard promised to come back – with friends. That was the kind of positive review Brown had envisioned when he came up with the idea for Dapper Down several years earlier. As president of a commercial real estate company, he had long been frustrated by the lack of upscale barbershops in the Bay Area.

Conversations with colleagues showed that he was not the only one. But for Dapper Down to work, Brown knew it had to maintain a relaxed feel.

Some of his fondest memories were giving haircuts to his teammates in college. As a running back at the University of Idaho, Brown would pull up to his friends’ apartments in rural Moscow, Idaho, with a pair of hair clippers, where he would chat for hours as the players took turns sitting in his makeshift barber chair.

“There’s something special about the barbershop experience,” Brown said. “It’s really an important part of (black) culture. With Dapper Down I wanted to show that you can have that experience and get a little extra at the same time.”

Brown, a self-described amateur hairdresser, had no intention of cutting hair in his own shop. For months he searched Instagram for a dreadlock specialist, a fade specialist, a braid specialist – anyone who needed Dapper Down.

The interviews were rigorous. To get hairdressers hired, they had to share Brown’s precise vision.

Chris Flores was one of the first to come on board. Instead of laughing when Brown first mentioned the idea of ​​incorporating blackhead removal into the facial routine, Flores nodded.

“Before I came here, I had only had a facial massage once,” Flores said. “But Jerrel pushes us, which I really like.

“This isn’t just about a haircut. It’s about breaking down doors and making men realize: they have to take care of themselves too.”

Staff writer Sam Gordon contributed to this report.

Reach Connor Letourneau: [email protected]