February 08, 2010

The Buzz On Barbers

As a boy, I had my barnet barbered by Mr. Frank Shakespeare. He was among the last of a dying breed of local men’s hairdressers, with a large clientele of men who had never patronised any other cutter. He was desperately old fashioned, and as a child I hated going there. He knew two cuts: short back and sides, slicked back with a side part, and the crew cut. The place reeked of oils and treatments, old men and old leather. He knew all the talk, but then, he knew everyone inside out. No appointment necessary – everyone waited his turn – Mr. Shakespeare did a good trade. On a Saturday, you might have waited for two hours. I reminisce with a faint nostalgia. I don’t think he was a good barber, but he was certainly better than the all those who followed, with the buzzed bonces they created. Shakespeare lacked drama, but he had character.

Most men couldn’t care less about their hair. Many of those who do so spend hours making themselves look like a sticky greasy mess, except for at the back, which gets no attention at all. Well-groomed men top their image with an incongruous ‘messy look’, and elegance everywhere is confused with ruggedness. The occasional individual pulls off a look, but for each of these there are ten who labour under the misapprehension that mullets, pony tails, and clipper-art still look good, if in fact they ever did. My hair is the least likeable thing about me (I think). It is limp, straight, unruly, and seems deliberately to confound all attempts to make it neat. It does these things despite the treatment I furnish upon it, and despite its bespoke tailoring by the best barber I’ve ever had.

It’s not his fault, it’s mine. My itinerant nature means that I am in his neighbourhood far less often than my hair requires, but I am fiercely loyal. For the last four years I have had my hair cut only by Anthony, who now has his own salon – Metropolar – in the Montreal plateau. This despite the fact that for three of those four years I have lived in Berlin and in Boston. Yes, that’s a long way to go for a trim, but when you find your man, it’s hard to go back to the run of the mill.

What makes this the place and him the man? It’s like Shakespeare had a re-vamp. Vintage cutting chairs and an environment that screams character are mixed with cutting-edge style, techno-savvy presentation, and sharp skill with the scissors. It’s also genuine. There’s no faddish, up-to-the-minute, but wafer-thin, veneer. What you see is substantial, and it breeds confidence. It’s backed up by profoundly engaging conversation. Anthony is the barber philosopher extraordinaire. Best of all, it’s never rushed. I could cut my own meagre mop in fifteen minutes, but Anthony takes his time. An hour or more is not uncommon, and the time should not be underrated. A barber has a social responsibility – he doesn’t just cut your hair, he takes you out of yourself. A haircut is a holiday from your daily grind; a moment of luxury for, and indulgence in, yourself. Only a great barber can facilitate that. I only wish I could get there more often.


  1. You could have a Lionel Blair cut. Like mine.

  2. I empathize with the entire situation. My hair was once the
    product of a similar cuttery to your boyhood barber, who would nearly shave my head. I have curly hair which complicates the process of selecting an adequate stylist. Finally, I have found someone with taste discerning enough to entrust my own head. Where though can a man get a cut, shave, shoe shine and manicure in one stop? Men need a place for traditional indulgences and fine grooming.


  3. Alas, I am given to doubt the existence of such a place as you describe.

  4. After 42 years of looking for someone who can cut my hair (it is this weird combination of wavy and fine but also coarse?), I've finally found someone who I trust implicitly and who always (95% of the time) does a good job: me. Sometimes, if you want to do a job right, you have to do it yourself. The upside is I've saved thousands on haircuts and I always get compliments.
    Great blog. Sorely needed. Thanks.
    Frank @

  5. I too have given myself the odd tidy up. No shame in it. Self-reliance is certainly to be lauded.
    Thanks for the compliment.

  6. thats an interesting post. i have been training to become a barber myself. but only to learn as a trade though

  7. Thanks Malarkeys. Good luck with it. Can you smoke a pipe while cutting hair? I'd be okay with that.


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