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.
Tel's (Santa Monica, California)
Tel Trujillo has been serving the Santa Monica community for more than 50 years. He purchased his shop in 1975 from the original owner, who opened it back in 1955. According to regulars, the shop isn't much to look at, but Tel and his sons provide "good old-fashioned service" and take pride in their work. "It's not about cutting the most heads," says Trujillo. "It's about doing everything to make the customer look good and feel good about their hair." Though Tel stopped doing straight-edge face shaves a long time ago, he still uses a hot lather technique to clean up the neck and sides of every head that comes into the shop. [Haircuts, from $18. No charge for quick backrub with handheld electric massager; 2210 Pico Blvd., 310-450-7514]
Credit: Courtesy Tel's Old School Barbershop