A good barbershop is hard to find. There are a few joints that cater to men, but almost comically so, with game shows on the television and Sports Illustrated swimsuit editions on the coffee tables. Salons and chain stores tend to be a bit classier, if less ‘manly’, and make it easy to get a clean haircut if a clean haircut is all one wants. The functional man may just content himself with a decent trim, even if he has to sit through elevator music and smell like perfume. But those who want a true barbershop experience have to search a little harder. My search ended at Barberia.
The towel warmer is decorated with Suavecito Pomade decals and a peeling American flag sticker. Tobacco pipe stands and black-and white pictures of Studebaker trucks hang on the weathered fence planks of the wall. The rickety wooden floor, the faded rug tumbling down the narrow staircase, the rusty iron shoe shine chair, and the bar that serves as the cashier’s counter all give Barberia the feel of an old saloon.
Adrian, who cut my hair, owns the place. Quiet and deliberate, Adrian’s a stocky fellow with a thick tree trunk of a body and sinewed, tattooed arms. He’s been cutting hair for twenty years, and the experience shows. Adrian’s silence reigns over the shop; the only sounds are the buzz of electric clippers, the snipping of scissors, and classic rock playing faintly through an old radio that can still take cassettes. Every once in a while, the phone will ring—it’s a Blackberry that they keep on a tall table made from a section of a bodark tree—and Adrian will tap the hair from his comb and answer. “Barbershop. It’s eighteen dollars for a haircut. Thank you.”
And he’ll put down the Blackberry and pick up the scissors, tilting your head and eyeing your hair with all the precise delicacy of a jeweler examining a diamond. “Roxanne” by the Police started playing on the radio. The barber in the chair beside Adrian’s was an immensely muscular man named Gino, also tattooed, whose short black hair curls in tight Roman ringlets. His customer left and Gino briskly swept the hair into a dustpan and sat down with a heavy creak in the chair.
Barberia used to be called the Olmos Park Barber Shop when it inhabited a smaller building next to Olmos Pharmacy on Hildebrand. Like the new Barberia, Adrian painted and decorated the old Olmos Park Barber Shop himself with vintage photographs and antiques. Although Adrian seems to be the only remaining barber that I recognize since the recent move, the spirit of the place remains unchanged. He brought most of the same decorations to the spacious new shop. The atmosphere seems to effortlessly strike the balance between class and fun. Men seeking a good haircut often have to settle for either the chic or the childish. Sleek salons and chains like Great Clips abound, and one enters the “shop” to the sound of an electric bell and the whiff of perfume and a pile of glossy fashion magazines on a row of plastic chairs. Other barber shops overstretch for some juvenile caricature of male appeal, like Sport Clips or Patriot Cuts on Broadway, with its 15 arcade games and Spiderman posters. Barberia’s eclectic, antique feel and unspoken code of conduct set it apart.
“Barbershop. Eighteen dollars. Thank you.”
Gino sharply got up and lumbered over to Adrian. Gino speaks quickly, in slang. “Man, I stayed out wi’ her lass night and man I slept forever, I was tired.”
“Yeah, she was the lady in red last night,” Adrian said, ponderous and slow.
“And he sent me a text wi’ all this bullshit—man, preaching at me, I don’t want to hear it,” Gino said.
Gino went back to his chair and splashed some kind of product on his hands and looked in the mirror and ruffled his hair sharply before slumping back down in his chair and humming along to the Police. A lady in a plaid shirt and shorts and cowboy boots walked in with a young boy, maybe five years old, who plopped himself on the booth bench in the middle of the room and kicked his legs while he played on his phone. In an accent somewhere eastern, like East Texas or Louisiana or someplace, she told Adrian about a get-together at her house.
“I’ll be late.”
“I’m thinking we’ll have brisket. I’ll save you a plate,” she said, smiling.
She left and we all got to talking about barbecue. Gino boasted that
he ate an entire rack of ribs the other night. Adrian nodded and simply said, “Yeah, that’s the way to do it.” I asked him if he got many other Trinity students in here, and he nodded.
“Yeah, we get a lot of athletes. Baseball players.”
He tilted my head and glared from beneath his black brows, thinking. A third barber was cutting hair across the shop from us. He was a bit portly, arching his eyebrows, looking along his nose at the young customer in his chair as he held his scissors at the ready. Adrian asked me if I worked, and I told him that I wrote a little. “You ought to write an article about the Trinity athletes. About how they’re so dignified and behaved, and well-groomed,” he said with an ironic smile. “You know, I hear them laughing and cussing and everything, and then they come in here and they’re so well-behaved.”
Adrian insists on keeping Barberia’s atmosphere manly but familial. “We don’t curse in here. The big guy, Gino, he curses a little sometimes—and I get it, it’s a barbershop, it’s a place to let it out. But we really don’t do that much in here.”
Even as it caters to them, Barberia seems to gently demand that its customers be better men once they enter. It neither emasculates nor coddles its clientele. And though the shop has moved around and shuffled through different barbers, there is a certain steadfast gravity about it. In the calm, terse craftsmanship, in the humble carelessness of the conversations, and even in its most mundane routines, there is a sense that Barberia has weathered the ebbs and flows of our culture and, in some way, will stand forever.
“Barbershop. Eighteen dollars. Thank you.”
Editors Note: This story first appeared in our Spring 2019 print edition and included images taken by Celine Plamondon. Her photography business is called Marie June Photography, and her information can be found below. All credit for these images go to her and her business.