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Spa Therapy for Your Hands and Feet
by Nirmala Nataraj on Jun 09, 2006
When it comes to the typical nail spa, you know the drill: a technician who doesn’t want to be there, much less make conversation, gives your hands or feet a cursory stroke before rushing into the treatment (likely smudging your nails in the process) and hurrying you over to a drying station before the next client plops into the chair you were just sitting in. Without the leisurely paraffin dip, soothing shoulder wrap, or service that makes you feel like you have all the time in the world, getting your nails done can feel more like being trotted down a conveyor belt of buffed and polished customers than a true pampering experience.
That’s something Pauline Mai and Keith Bui, owners of Polished Lounge, are all too familiar with. Inhabiting a cozy nook in the midst of the industrial hubbub of the South of Market area, Polished Lounge (whose motto is “think pretty, be polished”) is a gem of a find, the kind of place financial district damsels visit on extended lunch breaks for a brief but much-needed respite from their harried schedules.
The shabby chic panache of the lounge makes it feel like less of a nail spa than a tea room or a hip grandma’s parlour -- welcoming, airy, and immediately comforting. Hardwood floors, sun-kissed walls, lacy drapes, plush floral armchairs with matching ottomans, and bowls to dip your piggies into (rather than germ-ridden whirlpools) are just some of the details that festoon this charming cranny. And if you’re not reading a magazine or chatting with one of the friendly technicians, just feast your gaze on, well, just about anywhere. Eye candy like vintage jewelry and stations of tasty-looking bath salts provide plenty of fodder for the senses.
Owners Mai and Bui decided to open Polished Lounge in order to add a personal touch to the typical, anonymous nail spa experience -- and to stress the necessity of nail care. “For us, it’s not simply about the pampering,” says Mai. “Taking care of our hands and feet is something we do on a regular basis for our personal hygiene. But while it’s a necessary procedure, we want our customers to come in and be able to relax. We want to make their time enjoyable, even as they are doing something as basic as getting their nails done.” Additionally, Polished Lounge emphasizes natural nail care, so the focus is on cultivating the healthy appearance of your nails rather than applying nasty acrylics.
Also, according to Bui, Polished Lounge doesn’t believe in the typical factory line of nail technicians, whose mission is to finish the job as quickly as possible. “Most nail salons are quick to have you in and out in a jiffy. Décor is usually non-existent, cold, and austere. We were designed for comfort…we have many regular customers who come to relax, read, sleep, or catch up with their friends.”
After stashing my coat and belongings on the wall hook next to my armchair, I settle down for the Tips & Toes treatment, a simultaneous mani-pedi that’s by far the most luxurious nail treatment I’ve received in a long time. As Bui says, “All of the things we do to add to the experience lengthens the time it takes us to do a pedicure, but it distinguishes us from a ‘paint and go’ place.”
I’m given a soothing buckwheat shoulder wrap scented with lavender, as I sip a delectable cup of strawberry-rhubarb tea. After my feet soak in a refreshingly silky citrus foot bath, I’m plied with a vigorous rubdown and massage in Dead Sea salt and warm, buttery lotion. When the manicure and pedicure are done, my hands and feet are wrapped up in mittens (for further softening), and I simply sit back and relax until time starts to beckon.
After the treatment, I nose around in the boutique, which customers walk into upon entering the lounge. Assembled of random knick-knacks, the boutique ensues from Mai’s personal passion for collecting beautiful things. But as both Mai and Bui acknowledge, there’s no rhyme or reason to the gift shop. You can find everything from hand-embroidered Korean bags to organic cotton baby clothes to bracelets made from antique typewriter buttons to canisters of San Francisco-based La Bouquetiere’s strawberry-rhubarb loose leaf tea (a favorite among customers).
The lounge has already become a fixture among both locals and out-of-towners for its unpretentious atmosphere, no-nonsense approach to nail care, and all the personal attention clients are lavished with. Sundays are especially pleasant, as the lounge provides customers with a complimentary assortment of fresh fruits, cheeses, and juices. Spa parties, bridal showers, and graduation bashes are just some of the events people book the place for -- and the wait list is fairly long, so while the lounge can probably squeeze you in for a paraffin dip or classic pedicure, try to call a few months in advance if you’re looking to incorporate the cozy atmosphere into a special shindig all your friends can delight in.
by Nirmala Nataraj on Jun 09, 2006