Barbershops once rivaled saloons in popularity. They were places where men went not only for a haircut and shave, but also to shoot the shit with friends and neighbors. They had marble counters lined with colorful glass-blown tonic bottles and barber chairs carved from oak and walnut. The upholstery was leather and the lessons dispensed were hard won.
The advent of the disposable razor after World War I changed all that. Shaving at home was suddenly cheap and convenient. Visiting the barber became a special occasion and the community aspect largely disappeared.
Today, the popularity of barbershops is back on the rise, thanks to a new breed of so-called traditional-style establishments popping up all over the country. Though these joints have the red and white poles outside and smell like hair tonics, talc, and Clubman, they are only thematically old school. Unlike their predecessors, they cater to an elite clientele ready and eager to pay the big bucks for special care.
There's nothing wrong with a fancier shop, but authentically traditional barbers have a specific charm because they prioritize hanging out over splashing out. Fortunately, most American cities still have one or two institutions. Whether they're hard to find or lauded, all of these establishments have one thing in common: They offer a classic service in a come-as-you-are atmosphere. Here are 11 of our favorites.
Blood is thicker than pomade at this Windy City mainstay where Wayne Kauffman has employed a dozen of his family members since taking over the shop in 1991. The decor is classic – pistachio green walls and classic green leather barber chairs – and the atmosphere is laid-back. People line up around the block for the haircuts, which include straight-razor cleanups around the beard edges. Cash is the only acceptable currency here. No credit cards, no checks. Also, there are no appointments; it's first come, first served. Customers walk in and write their names on Kauffman's perpetually full chalkboard. [Cuts, from $14. Beard trims, $5; 2860 N. Clark St., 773-549-8832]
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