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.
Gunter Hotel Barbershop (San Antonio, Texas)
The original Gunter Hotel basement barbershop was built in 1909. Back then, it was a club for well-heeled men and was replete with porters, 18 leather-upholstered porcelain barber chairs, and hand-carved wooden cabinetry. While the shop has lost a bit of its swagger over the years – it downsized and moved across the hall – it is still a singularly masculine hideaway. Lee Bosman took over the place in 1975 after retiring from the Navy and outfitted the place with antique furniture. The coat rack is 90 years old, and the sinks are original. [Haircut, neck shave, and shoulder massage, $20; 205 E. Houston St., 210-227-3241]
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