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.
House Cuts (Washington, D.C.)
Want to get your hair cut with the Beltway's power players? Head to this Capital Hill mainstay in the basement of the Rayburn House Office Building. Head barber Joe Quattrone – on duty since 1965 – has held a straight razor to the necks of former presidents, including George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford, vice presidents such as Al Gore and Dick Cheney, and more congressmen than he can count. The walls of the shop are filled with signed portraits of Washington's most powerful characters. You can talk politics if you want, but Quattrone is focused on keeping parts in place. [Haircuts, from $15; shaves, from $10; beard trim, $7; shoe shines, $7; 1015 U St. NW, 202-225-2327]
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