“They say that the Beatles destroyed the barber shop,” says Adam Castleforte, proprietor of Alder Street Barber, “but then the ’80s killed it again with the unisex salons.”
Castleforte, dressed in dark jeans, a ball cap and a black Thrival fest sweatshirt, has been operating a one-man barbershop near the border of Shadyside and East Liberty for a little over a year. A converted garage, the shop features a waiting area with an overstuffed leather couch next to a sizable bookshelf where art and travel texts share space with Bukowski and Dickens.
If guys once went to the same salons as girls to get “more scissor cuts and less clipper cutting,” now they’re returning to the barbershops, he says. “Guys just want to have a place to go and relax.”
Alder Street Barber is one of a number of barber shops that have sprung up in Pittsburgh in the past year or two that cater predominantly to men and offer contemporary haircuts alongside traditional barber services, all within a hip setting.
Call it the New Traditional.
The high maintenance ‘stache
Adam Causgrove was easy for me to spot at Bigham Tavern on a busy Friday evening: he was the guy with the mustache. In fact, he is the guy with the mustache–named the 2012 Robert Goulet Mustached American of the Year, he is also the President and Chairman of the American Mustache Institute.
“Mustache hairs are very precious,” he explains. “Because there aren’t a lot of them, and if you mess them up, you’re screwed.”
Never in my life had I witnessed a more magnificent mustache. The way it curled up at the ends reminded me of something a ragtime piano player might sport.
“The one big rule of growing a mustache, especially a styled one like this, is you never use an electric razor on it. It should always be cut with scissors.” It was a lesson Causgrove learned the hard way.
He went to an old Italian barber shop. “I’m Italian. I figure these guys know what’s up,” he says. “The barber took the electric razor, and zip, zip! And it was never the same after that. Once you mess it up, it doesn’t lay the same . . . I was just sick about it.”
What Causgrove needed was a special kind of barber shop.
Mister Grooming and Goods
In Lawrenceville, owners Michael and Heather Shurina just celebrated the one-year anniversary of their barbershop, Mister Grooming and Goods (pictured at top). The idea, said Michael, was to open “an old school barbershop with new school flare.”
I had traveled to Mister on Causgrove’s recommendation to indulge in my first straight razor shave. I was welcomed by Heather, who asked if I would like beer, coffee or water. The waiting area was full of young men, mostly in their mid-20s. Some chatted politely, others watched football on a large TV while enjoying their complimentary Iron City. Beneath the flat-screen tv were shelves lined with mustache waxes and safety razors for sale, the kind of stuff that Adam Causgrove and his colleagues at the Mustache Institute might use.
Before long, Michael called me back for my shave. Michael’s hair is shaved on the sides and coiffed straight up, higher than Travolta’s in Grease. He has tattooed arms and knuckles, and he sports a jeweled stud on his cheek, right below his eye. There’s nothing old school about him or his shop.
“We just want to have a cool space for guys to come to and get away for a little bit,” he tells me while securing an apron around my neck. “My philosophy and Heather’s philosophy is, ‘why can’t men get pampered?’”
As it turns out, there are nearly 15 steps to a straight razor shave at Mister, lasting 40 minutes altogether. There’s a pre-shave oil, three hot towels, a warm dollop of shaving cream, and then the shave. Next comes a menthol vanishing cream, more hot towels, more shaving cream, and another shave, this time against the grain. That’s followed by an astringent, an aftershave and a realization that not only did you just have the best shave of your life, but that such a thing is even possible.
Across from me, seated underneath a Shepard Fairey print, two men were enjoying a hot towel and a hand massage: “The Hangover Cure,” Mister calls it. These spa-like treatments, including manicures, pedicures and even eyebrow waxings, are all available at Mister. But Michael insists that Mister is a barbershop first and foremost, and notes that haircuts are by far their most popular service.