In 1972, a 26-year-old pharmacist named Abdul Qaiyum walked into Merz Apothecary in Chicago — a family owned by three generations of the Merz family. The apothecary, an artifact of a more gentlemanly past in Chicago, was scheduled to shut its doors in less than a month. There was no successor.
Abdul was taken with the shop. The natural remedies and traditional health care methods reminded him of his family's business and the healing traditions in his homeland of Pakistan. Only a few days later, Abdul was the new owner of the Merz Apothecary, and by 1982, he'd moved the shop to the bustling Lincoln Square neighborhood, the heart of Chicago's German population.
Fast-forward to 1998, and Abdul's son, Anthony, worked his way into the business to found Smallflower.com, the Merz presence online. Through this national presence, Merz blends traditional products and natural remedies with offerings from newer companies bent on bringing back the more gentlemanly side of Chicago. Each year, Anthony and his brother Jeffrey, co-hosts of Smalflower TV, a men's products video blog, put together The Great Shave Event to expose Chicago's bearded and clean-shaven men to healthcare products new and old.
This year's Great Shave, hosted at the German Dank Haus, also featured a few other manly offerings — a traditional tap head pouring Metropolitan's Krankshaft, a Finch's brew, and Half Acre Daisy Cutter. Between Metro and Half Acre, the barkeep might as well have been a juggler trying to keep the line moving. And for those boys that lean more towards the spirits, Paul Hletko, founder of Few in Evanston, poured a few fingers of his micro-distilled gins. The barrel aged is still my favorite. Classy stuff.
The most impressive sites were the shaves. Anthony and Jeffrey, known as the Q brothers, demonstrated the wet shave technique for a watchful crowd. Encouraging men to re-consider both the effectiveness and joy of the technique, Anthony spoke of the classic wet shave like a yogi prescribes meditation. Jeffrey soaped up in the background, made a few elegant swipes with the razor, and toweled off before anyone finished their beer. A couple ladies from Stag Barbershop out of Milwaukee were also present. Jess Stern had a blast as she put men under the blade and demonstrated the softer side of a barber's hand.
Meanwhile, the men of Belmont Barbershop had set up for business. This outfit runs one of the tightest ships in town near Belmont and Western, offering traditional, skilled hair cutting and hot shaves for an appreciative clientele. Isaac (sleeve) has been my go-to guy this year. Josh, the owner (also pictured, in all white), was so impressed with Isaac, that he lobbied to get him to Chicago straight out of school, and I'm glad he did. Both of these guys work a cut and a shave like a surgeon.
Despite all the temptation to put myself under the knife, my 12-year-old beard remains. Maybe next year Isaac. Maybe next year.