Straight Razor Shave: The Barber Shop at the El Cortez


Michael James battles a straight razor at The Barber Shop at El Cortez.

I love “The Vegas Experience” and I also love experiencing Vegas. There was one particular experience that I had secretly wanted to try, but I always seemed that it would sound goofy if I had told anyone, and I also wasn’t sure that I wanted to spend my precious bankroll on this experience. That experience being my first straight razor shave.

“They’re so old fashioned.”

“Make sure your Packard isn’t double-parked”

“Grandpa.”

“Mafia guys get hit while getting shaved.”

I could only imagine the other humiliating things that my wife and friends would say. I figured that this experience would forever be a private yearn.

During my April trip, after dropping my wife off for some separate fun while I changed hotels, I found myself without a hotel room (as one wasn’t yet ready) and with extra time on my hands. I decided to stroll up the Fremont Street Experience when it occurred to me.

Ernesto!

Ernesto is the owner and operator of the Barber Shop at the El Cortez.

My history of Vegas Internetting (where I first discovered my interest in a straight razor shave) had first pointed me to Art of Shaving (three locations between Mandalay Bay and the Venetian), but then also to other options, including the Barber Shop at the El Cortez. Knowing that to be a more affordable option, I decided that that day would be the day.

I entered the El Cortez through the porte-cochere and started looking for the signs. I remember reading that it was upstairs and saw a sign that said “Beauty Salon”, so I logically assumed… (Yeah, I know the saying). I was directed up a different staircase (near the craps table) to the hotel hallway. Still not sure I was in the right spot, I did find the Barber Shop at the end of the hall.

If you’re not looking up, you’ll miss the sign for the Barber Shop.

When I arrived around 11:30 AM, there was nobody else there and I was seated right away. Then the following happened in this exact order…

  • I was told to lay back and relax
  • Ernesto turned the water on
  • He got some lather and patted it on my face
  • He got his razor and started shaving… while the water was still running.

If you noticed something, that would be that the hot towel that is customarily offered prior to the lather was omitted. I figured that Ernesto knew what he was doing, so I didn’t say a word as he Ernesto started the shave.

And I felt every single hair tugged as the razor passed over.

It may have been about two minutes, but it felt like he was hacking my face with a rusty sickle for about an hour. And when he got to my neck… (shuddering at the memory).

Once he was finished, only then did he get a towel wet and place it over my face; and the damn thing was lukewarm at best.  Oh, but that wasn’t all!

After the warm towel, he repeated the entire process. My poor, raw face was not impressed. And when he got to my neck… (I’m tellin’ ya; night terrors).

When he finally finished, he went to a drawer to get the stingy stuff that Grandma used to put on your skinned knees and started dabbing all over my neck. I could almost feel the pain shooting through my body and out through my toes. At the point that Ernesto finally told me that he was done, I leapt out of that chair before he could change his mind.

The cost of the shave was $15 and I gave him a $2 tip. I am not sure why I offered a tip to the owner and only employee when he sets the price in the first place, but maybe it was because I was thrilled to make it out alive.

(I do feel the need for a disclaimer; I will occasionally take some artistic license in my articles. But I promise, Dear Reader, that I take none with this experience. It was truly a miserable 15 minutes.)

I made my walk down the hotel hallway back into the casino, and as I did I rubbed my face and neck for a first assessment of the damage. There was no blood on my hands, which was actually quite a surprise. But I did feel one thing… whiskers. My word, as I was in the chair, I kept focusing on my face being as smooth as a baby’s bottom. Ernesto had taken a three-day growth and hacked it down to a one-day growth!

As I often think to myself when reading a bad review, I wonder if it was just a bad day and not really as bad as it sounds. I also wonder if a second visit on a different day might render a different verdict. However, I just can’t put myself through it again.

But I certainly did have a Vegas Experience, didn’t I?

Author’s Note – A seven day Las Vegas vacation offers many opportunities for reviews of restaurants, shows, touristy stuff and other experiences. I will be covering many – but not all – of these in the coming weeks and months. To read about the whole magilla, please read my full trip report on the Vegas Message Board.

[Photos – Dane “D-Dub” Wojciehowski]

About the Author

Michael James
Michael James is a true Vegas Nerd. First falling in love after hearing details of an aunt's visit in the '70s, and nurtured when the gambling bug hit as casinos started opening on every street corner across the country in the '90s. When not reading Vegas blogs and message boards, he's a metals buyer by day and a competitive bowler by night in Milwaukee.

15 Comments on "Straight Razor Shave: The Barber Shop at the El Cortez"

  1. Try The Art of Shaving. Best shave of my life and worth every cent.

    • I have heard many good things about them, but I wasn’t crazy paying $15 for a shave, paying a lot more than that for a really good one would be a hard sell to me.

      • I am usually one of the world’s cheapest people. I only splurge on vacation.

        You owe it to yourself to try it once. You will love it. I am 100% sure of it.

        I paid $120 for a head and face shave, with the tip. Yes it is spendy, but I felt the best I have ever had for the next 24 hours.

        May I ask, do you just do a face shave or a face and head?

        Anyways, if you do go to The Art of Shaving I am sure there are a lot of people that would love a review. I know I would like to know what you think.

  2. ChrisinNashville | July 26, 2017 at 12:16 pm |

    This is the only negative straight razor shave experience I have ever heard about. I have never had one myself, but I’ve only heard good things. Maybe I’ll try Mandalay Bay instead of El Cortez when I am in town. Sorry you didn’t have a good experience but thank you for sharing it honestly.

  3. sorry to hear that, but thanks for sharing. I don’t mind the straight razor on the back of my neck, but not on my face.

  4. So much for selling the straight razor shave experience. ;)

    • Good thing I am not in sales!

      Actually, I am in purchasing, which explains why I was looking for the best value… forgetting the axiom “Sometimes you get what you pay for”.

  5. EnuffBull | July 28, 2017 at 7:47 am |

    After all the positive experiences I’ve read about El Cortez straight razor shaving, recent reports sounds like they have started slipping. Guess I will check it off the mid-life bachelor party list… 8 days and counting, Vegas!

    • The Barber Shop – even if given a quality shave – is not mid-life bachelor party worthy. For that, spend the extra money for a more “fun” experience.

      • EnuffBull | July 31, 2017 at 1:41 pm |

        Will do, Michael! Sticking to the steak dinner and cocktail crawl instead. Cheers!

  6. If you want a truly great shave see Johnny at the spa in Bellagio! It is a one chair room and he is a great barber, I make it a must do of every trip to get a royal shave from him and have been doing do for several years. Yes the cost it more, but you go get what you pay for in this case.

  7. Oh wow just read your article and that breaks my heart to hear they are slipping. I’d hope it was just an off day but a bad shave is not worth the risk of trying again there. I will have to update my Vegas must list now.

    • I’m thinking his water is a problem. He turned it on as soon as I mentioned wanting a shave, but he went through the entire first shave before offering me the wet towel, and it was just above lukewarm.

      Maybe with good, hot water, he would have offered it to me before lathering me up, and then it might have been a much different experience.

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