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When you picture heaven what do you see? If it's a 24-hour haven of fresh juices and smoothies, three escalator-accessible floors of convenience goods and surprising extra services, well, your heaven-on-earth is a real thing: the Walgreens flagship in Chinatown.
One of those surprising extra services is a nail bar, on the store's third floor, which is otherwise dedicated to cosmetics and general body care. While you may be tempted to merely peruse the stock—lots of unexpected brands like No. 7 and Klorane, and a section devoted to sampling the most wonderfully out-there scents from Demeter—you should give the nail bar a chance.
Making an appointment is encouraged—though repeated calls to the store's main phone line went wonky, so good luck with that—but on an unseasonably warm Thursday afternoon in December, the top floor and its nail salon were completely empty. The nail bar is kind of a shock at first sight: its two work stations are nearly enveloped with futuristic frosted plastic and warm fluorescent lighting. But once you get over the idea of having your nails done in a drugstore, the experience makes total sense.
Your color selection is small but features high-quality shades: hues from OPI and Essie are the only official choices, as this is technically a nail bar by those brands. Despite this, you wouldn't be turned away if you brought your own color, or if you bought something from the store's well-stocked make-up aisles, which includes great colors from Pop, among the usual drugstore nail polish suspects.
This isn't just a quick-and-dirty spot for standard manicures, either. While those are a great idea—they're $12 a pop—the nail bar also offers gel manicures for the absurdly cheap price of $30, or nail art—there's a full-time nail-art-ready tech—for $3 per nail. The process was the usual—dip your hands in gunk, get your cuticles pushed back, get your color added. The tech was just chatty enough, fielding any sort of weird questions we had about nail health while also telling anecdotes about watching drivers on 7th Street NW getting parking tickets.
There were a few air bubbles on a couple nails and we noticed a light edge crumble on one nail tip (which was likely more due to our damaged nails than anything else) but it was overall a really good manicure. More than three days later, they still looked pristine.
Later, we went back to take advantage of the nail art option. Hey, that's not easy to find in D.C. We got a shimmery reverse french manicure that was exactly what we wanted for just $16. As our nail tech filled in the half-moon on our nails, she told us she's done everything from simple designs to lettering a nickname down the side of a nail. One thing you'll need for nail art at Walgreens: patience. Not just because it took about an hour, but because the soundtrack plays "Just The Way You Are" by Bruno Mars on a loop. Walgreens corporate, please change that for everyone's sanity.
OPI Liquid Sand in Honey Ryder and matte black nail art color
The fact that you can grab a smoothie or fresh juice in the store's first level before your manicure and allow your nails to fully dry while taking in the Smithsonian American Art Museum is, well, pretty rad. The only thing that would make the nail bar better was if it were open 24 hours like its anchor store — the nail bar's hours are 10 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily. — Alison Baitz
· Walgreens [Official Site]