May 19, 2017 at 12:25 pm EST | by Mark Lee
Grooming Lounge style
Mike Gilman, gay news, Washington Blade

Grooming Lounge proprietor Mike Gilman says ‘we treat guys like kings.’ (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Similar to other successful enterprise category innovators, Grooming Lounge proprietor Mike Gilman discerned a marketplace opportunity through observation.

Those insights would lead to the launch of the first men’s personal grooming business in D.C. 15 years ago and the nation’s groundbreaking premiere upscale barbershop and spa for men.

Grooming Lounge founder and owner Gilman worked at his grandfather-and-father’s beauty product salon distribution company in suburban Washington during summers while in high school. He learned about the trade by listening to his dad’s dinner table tales.

Following his studies at Ohio State, Gilman pursued a career in public relations – first as a member of the in-house team for the California-based Paul Mitchell hair care company and later for a PR firm in Chicago. The Rockville, Md., native soon returned to the D.C. area, undertaking corporate consultation projects.

Gilman would share samples snatched up at the beauty product trade shows of the family business with his buddies when they gathered on weekends to watch football games.

To his surprise, the guys in his life loved the stuff.

Gilman recalls one friend, the type he jokes was “only a step away from not showering,” later asking about getting more samples. “You know that special moisturizer you gave me? It was great, any chance I can get some more?”

Shortly before his wedding, Gilman’s spouse prodded him to a manicurist to repair his long-bitten fingernails. He heeded her directive but ended up in a salon as the solitary male alongside 30 women.

Gilman realized that “destinations for guys to find products and services didn’t exist.”

He couldn’t convince any landlords to lease him space for his untested concept. So Gilman headed online and launched a men’s personal care product website in early 2000. Aided by a plethora of profiles in national magazines and television features as well as local media, a quickly growing customer base provided proof of the potential for success. This enabled Gilman to rent a prime retail spot at 1745 L St., N.W., in the downtown business district in 2002.

Drawing patrons from throughout the metropolitan region, Gilman opened a second location at Fairfax County’s Tysons Galleria in McLean, Va., five years later.

Gilman personifies the relaxed, down-to-earth manner and gentlemanly appearance his unique business strives to promote – unselfconscious about his own confident good looks and straightforward personality. He epitomizes the casually style-sensitive man who walks into his warmly appointed leather-and-dark-wood classic barbershops and men’s spas.

Odd as it seems today, the notion of a spa for men was an unusual and attention-getting one at the time. GQ magazine raved shortly after opening, “If Grooming Lounge were any manlier, it would be a hardware store.”

Notably, “metrosexuals” were the emerging iconic masculine trend of the time. D.C.’s dominant demographic of self-attuned, hardworking, confident and appearance-conscious professionals of all ages with discretionary budgets began flocking to the door.

A traditional oasis with a modern flair, offerings include precision haircuts, hair coloring, hot lather shaves, head shaving, beard trimming, manicures, pedicures, facials, waxing, and massage treatments – at competitive and affordable prices.

A signature line of lab-developed custom-formula shave, hair, and face-and-body products developed through collaboration with a pedigreed long-term professional staff are also available both in-store and online, along with select specialty product lines.

As standard hair salons have sought to integrate some similar services and competition has increased, Gilman attributes his success to a philosophy of “always striving to exceed expectations.”

“From technical performance to the personal experience, we treat guys like kings.”

Both Grooming Lounge locations are offering first-time-client Blade readers a $20 discount on any service. Visit for info on services and products.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at

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