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.
The Siani family has been cutting hair in the Philadelphia area for almost a century. Ralph I opened the business in the Germantown neighborhood, circa 1922. His son, Ralph II, moved it in 1981 to the nearby older suburb of Glenside. According to Ralph III, who currently runs the show, the secret to the shop's longevity is "giving the community what it wants." One of the main services that locals are demanding: dye jobs. "More men are doing it these days," says Ralph III. Many regulars hide their cuts under Phillies hats. The spot is known as a fan hangout and memorabilia covers every inch of wall space. There are even section seats from the old Veteran's Stadium in the waiting room. [Haircuts, from $17; 100 North Keswick Ave., 215-576-1455]
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