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.
Montclair (Oakland, California)
If you're an Oakland Raiders fan, this is the place to get your hair trimmed. Though current owner Anthony Delcorio has only been running the landmark shop since 2003, Montclair has been a fixture in The Town since 1950. Walking through its door is like traveling back to a time when Silver and Black ruled the NFL and Oakland was a hotbed of political activism. Raiderette posters adorn faux wood–paneled walls, and Raiders-themed Christmas cards are taped to the mirrors.
Head barber Rocky Becker, a man with more than 50 years experience cutting hair in the Bay Area, became a football obsessive thanks to legendary Raiders owner Al Davis, who came here to have his famous slick locks cut for almost 40 years. These days, Becker cuts the hair of several players and plenty of front-office personnel. While hot lather, straight-edge shaves are no longer on the menu, the shop still has a reputation for giving impeccable haircuts at fair prices to men and boys looking for autographs. [Haircuts, from $20; 2050 Mountain Blvd., 510-339-8962]
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