Spring is the season for sandal-wearing, shapely nails and salt scrubs. And sandals don’t look good on shabby toes. After looking up the priciest and cheapest nail salons in Sacramento, junior Emma Boersma and I made our two choices — Blush Nail and Beauty Bar (1338 Howe Ave.) and Noble Nails Spa (442 Howe Ave.). To judge the salons fairly, we decided to order the most basic services at each — no acrylic gel, no hot stones and no nail art.
Tattoos of teardrops and tubs of warm water. TARDIS-blue toenails and green tea that’s hotter. Lavender scrubs for your exhausted feet. These are a few of my favorite things …
And no, I’m not talking about some strange “Sound of Music” reboot. These are all found at Blush, which Emma and I went to on March 2.
“Wow,” Boersma said, gazing up at the fluorescent, grocery-store-produce-section-bright lights. “This place is fancy.”
The intense white light made the chairs and plastic-crystal-gilded lamps gleam — almost excessively so. Seriously, it was borderline blinding. Our eyes got used to it after a few minutes.
Sitting on the chairs nearest to the door, two men — both Vietnamese and adorned with facial and arm tattoos — were enjoying pedicures.
Since Emma and I went at 6:30 p.m., half an hour before closing, we were the only customers, save for the two men who never paid and were likely the owners.
The receptionist was helpful, patiently dealing with our teenage indecisiveness as we flip-flopped between having one pedi ($25 for non-gel) and two manis ($35 for each non-gel) or two full sets.
She answered our price questions and explained what came in each of the pedi packages.
After we decided upon two full sets, she asked us what scent we’d like for our foot scrubs, included in the $35 basic package.
Of the dozen choices — ranging from jasmine to green tea — I decided on “relaxing lavender,” while Emma chose “refreshing cucumber.”
Now for the drink pairings. Blush carries a horde of complimentary drinks — virgin and alcoholic (if you present an ID). I chose a hot green tea, while Emma got some water.
It was fairly bland bagged tea, but having a warm beverage added to the pampering. The lady doing my pedicure, Cynthia, even helped me drink tea while Carmen was doing my manicure.
In fact, Emma and I were served by two women each, all of whom were eager to talk about us, our hobbies and our backgrounds. They were so talkative that Carmen, my manicurist, gave unsolicited advice about curing dryness. Sorry, ma’am, but I still haven’t bought that vat of coconut oil.
All this talking didn’t mean Emma and I couldn’t talk to each other.
“Wait, is this gel and this non-gel?” Boersma asked, pointing at the rings of multicolored nail polish colors.
“No,” I replied. “These swatches are all not gel.”
There were so many colors that choice blindness was inevitable.
However, I’m fairly certain they forgot the most important color — clear. At the end of my manicure, there was no top coat applied.
A Blush employee rolls senior Chardonnay Needler’s pants down to protect her still-drying fingernails before Needler left the salon. PHOTO BY EMMA BOERSMA
Blush’s strength wasn’t in the final nail job, as my right pinky’s olive-green polish started peeling off that evening. It also may have not been the best polish because my nails weren’t done on a flat surface; the women held our hands while applying the polish. And our hands weren’t still either, as Emma and I squirmed at ticklish moments.
Rather, the salon excelled at presenting clients with an experience. From the warm, moisturizing collagen gloves used instead of water to prep customers’ hands to the soft, clean white rugs customers step on before soaking in the tub, Blush cared about the little things to pamper you.
Blush breaks the trope of what a nail salon is. It’s not a hole-in-the-wall shop. Workers call you by your name and converse as much as hairdressers.
Almost two hours and $144 later (we both added 20 percent tips on our $60 bills), we left; I had a to-go cup of tea in my hand.
While my pedicure is still in flawless condition, my nails chipped within a few days. Their chipping wasn’t due to roughness or carelessness on my part, as they had dried a little unevenly to begin with.
All in all, the experience made me want to return. We both left rejuvenated and relaxed.
The prices, however, still leave me with cold feet.
I hadn’t even sat down at Noble Nails before the lady who did my nails began to chat.
“Miss, you want acrylic gel?” she asked me the moment the receptionist showed me to my table.
“No, thank you,” I said. The salon’s “Gel Express” cost $25, $10 more than the regular. (For the sake of equal reviewing, Emma and I stuck to regular at both salons.)
“Are you sure?” she continued. “It dry quicker and stay longer.”
Emma, meanwhile, was fascinated by the gel examples proudly displayed on each table.
“Whoa, these are so cool!” she said as she reached for the faux-garnet-studded translucent nails on display.
And the woman doing her nails tried hard to convince her to switch to gel. But once we had finally affirmed our decisions — multiple times — she brought over the one rung of non-gel swatches they had.
Although Noble Nails Spa didn’t have as many colors as Blush, it was easier to choose — dark blue for me and orchid for Emma.
Along with the swatches came the hostess’s iPhone, as she pointed the bright white Square Reader in our direction.
“Pay, pay — you pay now,” she said.
So it was time to pay. Each manicure was $15, and we had to pay before they did anything else.
There wasn’t anything elaborate about the pre-polish care: a quick soak in lukewarm water, nail shaping and a quick trim. The trim was much better than Blush’s, without any snagged nails or flaky or irritated cuticles.
“Oh, yeah, these are way better,” Emma said. “The shape is so much rounder.”
After the nails were primed and shaped, we had to walk over to the sink and — after experimenting with the strange, circular faucet handle that went from fire-hot to freezing-cold with only a 3-degree turn — wash our hands.
Then we returned and had our coats done. The ladies worked fast and accurately, but I didn’t know what they were talking about — or what was so funny.
(I’d been watching the Ken Burns “Vietnam War” documentary, and the only Vietnamese I understood was “nỗi s chết” — “I am/was afraid of dying” — a phrase I didn’t hear the ladies say.)
It dawned on me during the manicure that Blush hadn’t applied a top coat at the end, possibly why the polish chipped so quickly.
Within 45 minutes from the start, our nails were ready to be dried. By that time, the patronage in the once-packed salon had dwindled to only a few customers, and the store was still open after 7.
As for pedicures, the chairs had various massage settings for the back and behind, but there was no pumice or bath salts like at Blush.
Junior Emma Boersma holds up her just-painted orchid fingernails from the dryer at Noble Nails. While Boersma was given an electric fan to dry her nails, senior Chardonnay Needler was not. PHOTO BY NEEDLER
Yes, we left Noble Nails with better nails. My hands were a tad dry after going to Blush; I had white skin near the nail beds. But we didn’t have the same experience.
It was more relaxing to chat with ladies than to be told to stop laughing so we wouldn’t shake the table.
—By Chardonnay Needler
Originally published in the March 19 edition of the Octagon.