Let’s get one thing out of the way first: Getting a regular haircut is just good grooming. Whether you keep it short like me, or if you wear your hair longer, regular attention and maintenance from a skilled haircutter is essential. Stopping in for a neck trim between haircuts is never a bad idea, either. Beyond the grooming rituals, there is something about the barbershop setting that is very pleasing to me.

Walking around New York City, I can’t help looking inside a barbershop when I pass by one. As I clock the barber pole down the block and get closer, I get this rumbling hope that the shop has the right aesthetic, with great barber chairs, a nice tile or wood floor, good mirrors and cabinetry, simple seating for people waiting. My favorite contemporary barbershops balance modern features with a timeless, masculine look without feeling like a period movie set, which can get ridiculous with contrived and cartoonish old-timey flourishes. It should feel effortless and obvious, like “of course it looks like this.”

Once I’m inside the barbershop for my appointment, I revel in the smells: Clubman Pinaud talc, menthol from shave cream, pomades and creams, hairspray… I get a little high from it.

Then there are the sounds. The cacophonous symphony of shears snipping, clippers buzzing, hair dryers blowing, water bottles spritzing, aerosols spraying, all underneath a bed of (hopefully good) music and lively chatter. 

And about that chatter, part of the reason I enjoy the barbershop so much is the fleeting but very real sense of community about it. Especially in a time of such isolation and loneliness, going to the friendly neighborhood barbershop for a cut and a shave is more than just a cut and a shave. It’s a gathering space for men where we can enjoy a chat, have a laugh, and get some healthy gossip, just like a salon for women. During my last haircut with my friend Edwin at his shop Good Head in Hell’s Kitchen, NYC, I struck up very interesting and enlightening conversation with the guy getting a shave next to me. Between Edwin, me, the guy next to me, and his barber, we had a nice congenial time during my time in the chair.

While I love how barbershops are distinctly men’s spaces, some barbershops can feel almost aggressive with the heterosexual bro energy. There are, especially for gay men of a certain age, places and “vibes” that trigger an old self-preservation instinct to mask your sexuality so that no one fucks with you. And as much as I love guy space and guy time, I don’t want to feel obliged to maintain a feigned interest in tits, sports, bourbon, or hunting. Along with Good Head, I also want to give a shout out to Best Barber on Tenth Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen. Gay owned, great haircuts, fantastic experience.

My love of barbershops started early. There were, of course, my experiences as a kid when my dad would take me to the barbershop at Westgate Mall in Rocky River, Ohio, to get my hair cut by the same barber who cut my dad’s hair. He wore one of those old-timey short-sleeve barber shirts with the closed neck, almost like a priest’s collar. And, of course, I remember that great ‘barbershop’ smell of the place. But the barbershop of my dreams is featured in the opening scene of the original Ocean’s 11 from 1960, starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and the rest of the Rat Pack. The film begins in a real barbershop location in what was then Drucker’s but is now known as Gornik & Drucker’s in Beverly Hills. It was a masculine, chic, handsome space that also had manicurists. Like Kenneth’s legendary New York salon for women, Drucker’s captivated that same kind of sophisticated glamour for men back in the day. Glorious.

As someone who can easily slip into a bad pattern of isolation, I look forward to getting a haircut, partially because the barbershop is a great place to participate in a nice sense of brotherly community, at least for a half hour or so. Also, because we all need a good haircut.

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1 Comment

  1. David Manganiello

    What a wonderful piece, George. Really enjoyed reading it, totally agree, & can’t wait to check out Good Head & BB. I used to live in HK — never heard of either.

    Anyway, thanks again.