By Alisha Gomez
10:22 PM PST, January 17, 2013
Matador Alcove is a place where men get to be, well, men.
One step into the place and it's clear: top-shelf liquor prominently displayed on a bar, sports flickering on a television and plenty of dark, richly colored furniture and decor, including the key leather couch.
A cave-like wooden door halts visitors, who, like at an underground speakeasy, must display the secret knock in order to be let in.
Talk about a dream mancave.
The mastermind is Costa Mesa resident David Zimmerman, 52. He opened the private gentleman's club — a cross between a hair salon and social club — at 333 E. 17th St. #4 about five years ago, coming up with the idea with stylist John Alanouf.
The name and the decor stem from a youth soccer club Zimmerman ran years ago, called the Toros. His office back then was filled with matador paintings and bull horns, many of which were gifts from the parents.
"I wanted a name with Latin flavor," he said. Matador means "the killer" in Spanish and alcove, or "little opening," depicts the space accurately.
Fittingly, several pieces of artwork feature matadors and bulls, and a bull's horn adorns one wall. Much of it stems from the Toros.
Now, the entrepreneur has taken his style and gentlemanly sensibilities to design the club's first men's shoe line, appropriately called Bull + Tassel.
"I made them for myself," said Zimmerman, donning a rather stylish outfit of a button-down white shirt, gray plaid vest, multi-colored tie, dark slacks and, of course, his own pair of Bull + Tassels on a recent Friday at Matador Alcove. "I started wearing them, and everyone loved them."
Most designer tuxedo slippers "hurt," he noted, holding a Ralph Lauren tuxedo slipper he used to wear. They offer little comfort, so he revamped his beloved shoe, adding cushion and a rubber bottom.
People noticed the prototypes he was wearing; many wanted to know where they could nab a pair.
"I was stopped by people everywhere I went," he said. "At Neiman Marcus, in Europe — I wore them in a Ralph Lauren store in Paris — walking the streets in Paris...people noticed them and asked me about them."
That led Zimmerman to design the line, which he officially launched in October with three styles: the Skip (a white shoe with light blue repp stripes and an embroidered anchor on the toe), the Biff (navy shoe with white repp stripes and a red Bull + Tassel logo embroidered on the front) and the Glen (a gray, white and red plaid pattern with black trim).
The name "stands for strength and refinement; two traits that should define the modern gentleman, no matter what manner of living he decides to pursue," according to the website.
They clean up nicely and can handle getting a bit wet, Zimmerman said. They're a yachter's shoe, he added.
In the world of designer shoes that often can run in the $500 range for velvet tux slippers, Zimmerman took his shoe line one step further, selling a pair for a mere $195. The line is sold at Matador Alcove and through http://www.bullandtassel.com.
Zimmerman, a former semi-pro soccer player, has so far gotten positive reviews. He has several Bull + Tassel prototype shoes in his personal collection. More styles are in the works for retail in the future.
He and wife, Patty Zimmerman, are rooted in Newport-Mesa. They opened Shanghai Salon about nine years ago and grew up in the area, both graduates of Newport Harbor High School.
Zimmerman and Alanouf, who has been in the hair business for some 15 years, saw the need for a guys' place while at Shanghai.
"My old office [in Shanghai] had all this stuff in it: a bar and projection screen," Zimmerman said. "John said, 'Why don't you put chairs in here?'... that's how the idea and whole concept came about. Guys love coming and hanging out, and it's kind of an old club."
Merv Griffin's former personal stylist, Dean Tompkins, also is a stylist there now. He just walked in and asked if they needed someone, Zimmerman said.
Hair is just one piece of Matador Alcove. The big part is the social club aspect, or societies, as Zimmerman calls them. Just about any society exists: a society of thinkers, artists, auto enthusiasts and even a tasting society (food or wine and such). Zimmerman said there are about five to 10 societies right now.
"If someone expresses an interest, we go out and create a society around it," Zimmerman said.
About 300 members are part of Matador Alcove. Membership prices range.
"It depends on your involvement," he said.
There's the monthly hair membership that affords members "proper" cuts, and then there's the social club membership. A mid-range membership is about $500 a year, he said. Other levels of membership exist, including junior ones for youth.
Zimmerman was mum on details about members, but did say one is an Indy race car driver and another is a master tequila creator. Rock stars are members as well, according to Zimmerman.
"They come from all walks of life," he said, shortly before a man walked in wheeling a baby stroller to get his haircut.
Membership and knowledge of the place grew from "word of mouth, really," starting with about 100 members. "It's about building a community of guys," he said.
Two salons, a men's social club, shoes — what's next? More shoes under the Bull + Tassel line, Zimmerman said.
"There's so much I'd like to do...right now, I need to start talking to people financially and I'm open to that," he said. "I'm more of a designer, not operations necessarily."
What he does isn't all about fashion, although he's been exposed to trends in Europe from traveling and his days of soccer over there. That gave him a more gentlemanly approach to his tastes and likes.
"Men are taking pride in how they look," he said, citing retired Japanese soccer player Hidetoshi Nakata, who often appears at runway shows and sports designer threads.
And yes, sometimes, Zimmerman is the guy they turn to guide them on style.