• Found Downtown: Come in from the cold
     | March 04,2013
    Mark Collier / Staff Photo

    Robin Danforth is a stylist at Incognito Salon on State Street in Montpelier.

    “Pamper yourself. Walk-ins welcome.”

    OK, I thought. You talked me into it. I blocked off the following Saturday in my planner with two words, underlined twice: “Treat myself.” And, since self-indulgence is generally more fun as a shared experience, I invited my friend Jenna along.

    I began the day with a facial at Incognito Salon on State Street in Montpelier. Jenna had opted not to join me for this, claiming to be “freaked out” by facials. When I asked her to explain, she said, “The idea of sitting perfectly still with mud on my skin and veggies on my eyes is not my idea of treating myself.” As it happens, even though I’d never had a facial before, that’s exactly the sort of thing I think is fun. Also, I’d heard good things about them from my sister, Oprah and Kate Middleton. Curiosity conquered fear, and bravely I walked in alone.

    Incognito’s main room is a cheerful, well-lit space lined with chic salon chairs and big mirrors. I’d been anticipating that the scene of my first facial would play out on one of those upright chairs and that anybody on the street would be able to look in and see me with vegetables all over my face. Instead, a stylist named Robin guided me to a back room furnished with a single massage table and dimmed the lights. She instructed me to lie down and covered me with an electric blanket.

    I asked Robin if there was any reason to feel concerned about getting a facial, and she assured me that the process would be perfectly safe and relaxing. The salon uses products with organic and natural ingredients, so my skin wouldn’t be exposed to harsh or dangerous chemicals.

    Then she began to rub a soothing minty salve onto my forehead and cheeks, and I forgot about all of my worries. I closed my eyes and didn’t open them again until about 40 minutes later, when she sat me up to massage my arms and back.

    At $55 each, facials aren’t within my price range beyond the very occasional day of treating myself, and Robin recommended having them done weekly or at least once a month. Fortunately, Incognito sells a slew of skin care products that are all endorsed by the staff and last for years if you use the recommended portions.

    Next, I met up with Jenna for a manicure at Signature Styles. I enjoy having polished nails in the winter, when my skin starts to look like drywall and natural colors seem to fall within a dirty white-gray palette. And at $25 for about two weeks of beautiful nails, a manicure seems like a reasonable way to battle the winter blues.

    The salon, which was voted “Best of the Best” among Montpelier’s nail salons by Times Argus readers in 2012, offers nearly 40 shades of shellac, a type of nail polish that won’t chip or crack for up to two weeks. Jenna and I carefully examined every color, including the parrot green and chunky rainbow glitter, and we eventually settled on shades of pink and red.

    We overheard other customers getting a makeup consultation, and I asked the nail technician, Jennifer, what other services the salon offers. In addition to hair cutting and styling, manicures, skin care and other beauty treatments, Signature Styles has revamped its spa area to include whirlpool jets for pedicures. Jenna and I are both avid runners who struggle with finding sneakers that fit, so we promised ourselves we’d return to make amends to our blistered toes.

    Next, we paused on State Street outside the side-by-side entrances to the gelato shop, Chill, and the chocolate shop, Cocoa Bean. Which one would provide a better opportunity for pampering ourselves? “Why can’t we try both?” asked Jenna, and I shrugged. Why not?

    Chill is the business I wanted in my neighborhood when I was growing up. For one thing, it’s open year-round. No matter how many Vermonters I know who enjoy outdoor adventures in blizzard conditions and drinking ice-cold beer, there’s an unwritten rule that all ice cream shops must shut down for the winter. But Chill, which a couple named Nora and Theo Kennedy opened in September, doesn’t seem to follow the rules. Even on the afternoons when temperatures dropped below zero in January, it wasn’t unusual to see multiple parties of people inside, licking away at cones and looking very happy.

    The second and most important point about Chill is that the gelato is delicious. Its menu changes seasonally, so the cardamom sorbet I’d tried and loved last fall wasn’t available. But they did have pistachio, which they served to me in an elegant plastic cup. When I finished, I moved on to sample Jenna’s scoop of ginger laden with candied ginger pieces. Heavenly.

    Cocoa Bean, also new, offers a large selection of artisanal chocolates with mouthwatering flavors like whipped maple mousse and dark chocolate sea salted caramel. Owners Wally and Jane Delia used to own Vermont Chocolatiers, and their experience in the art of making magic out of cocoa beans is incontestable. I bought a maple cayenne and a honey cognac truffle, which I devoured later that evening to cap off the day.

    Since “Treat myself” day, I’ve resumed my routine of washing my own face, living with bare fingernails and avoiding sugary snacks. But the next time I need to get pampered, I won’t worry. All I’ll have to do is visit downtown Montpelier and obey the sandwich boards.

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