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.
Leetsdale Barbers (Denver)
While its decor – faux-wood paneling and red and white tile flooring – is nothing to get excited about, this unpretentious four-seat establishment is sneakily excellent. The reason is that the staff has more than 120 years of combined experience cutting hair. Thirty-eight-year veteran Dave Grady took over the shop in 2007, but the space has been servicing the community as a barbershop since 1962. Grady's motto: "Take the time and do the job right, whether that means a traditional cut, a beard trim, or a tonic-covered scalp massage." Bring cash, though. Leetsdale doesn't accept anything else. [Cuts, from $15; shaves, $15; massages, $5; tonics, $4; 600 S. Holly St., 303-388-0454]
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