Barbershops that are a cut above

"Shave and a haircut, two bits!" goes the old seven-beat rhyme, recalling a halcyon era when a visit to the barber was about far more than a simple haircut.

It might cost more than two bits these days, but good, old-fashioned barbering with all the trimmings is back in style, complete with a 21st-century twist.

By night, the building at 425 Collins Street in Melbourne's CBD trades as Ms Collins, a swish bar and nightclub. During daylight hours it transforms into Men + Co, a traditional barber shop. At 5pm, clippers are sheathed in favour of cocktails.

M+, as it's known, is equipped with the traditional hallmarks of a barber's shop including chairs, mirrors and a barber's pole; yet you don't have to look too far for signs of its after-dark alter ego. Clients, for example, enter the shop via a roped passage. Inside there's a counter clad in gold mosaic tiles. At one end of the bar are glasses and a coffee machine, at the other end are shaving products.

No ordinary barber shop

Clearly, this is no ordinary barber shop.

An impressive chandelier is suspended from the six-metre-high ceiling. And across the black glass wall, lined with shelves, are a range of alcoholic beverages from which to select.

M+ also offers a shoe shining service, with a wooden plinth and metal supports for shoes. Lined in timber, with photos from the 1940s, there's a distinct New York feel to the place.

Not surprisingly, barber Sammy Bouayad plied his trade in New York for a number of years. Counterpart Jo Williams also has that New York sensibility, although her accent is British.


Old-fashioned service

"We like to provide that old-fashioned service, as well as some of the styles you'd see in the 1940s and 50s," Bouayad says.

"Men are coming in for the zero fades on the side and either ruffled or flat on the top. These styles tend to suit this interior," he says, adding he also sees more men wanting to be pampered as part of the process.

William, a weekly customer, forks out $45 for a 'deluxe' shave. "I can't be bothered shaving. I come here once a week. Sammy's shaves are so close that they last at least three days. He massages your face like a professional masseur. It's not just a shave," says William, who by the week's end has stubble on his face.

He also appreciates the combo of a barber shop combined with a bar. "In the 1920s, during the prohibition, guys used to get a 'shot' (of liquor) while they were getting a haircut," he says.

Sydneysiders, too, are demanding – and getting – a better barbering experience.

Back to the 1920s

Steve Salecich, the owner of Grand Royal Barbers in Surry Hills, Darlinghurst and the CBD, witnessed the resurgence of traditional barbering about three years ago.

"The trend started with men wanting short back and sides, requesting clippers, rather than scissors," says Salecich, who comes from five generations of barbers and has spent the last 15 years as head of Grand Royal Barbers. The Riley Street shop in Surry Hills features a bench and bar stools in the waiting area.

"Gents can read a magazine or use their laptops before getting a haircut or a shave," he adds. And while the place is filled with memorabilia, the focus in his three stores is the 1920s barber chairs, complete with foot and head rests.

While the shift in men's style to more traditional cuts has heralded a return to fashion for old-style barber shops, Salecich says there's enduring appeal in the banter with customers.

"Guys feel comfortable, not just in the chair, but in chatting to others waiting their turn; everyone from musicians, to hipsters and businessmen."

Abs' barber shop, in a bluestone building at the corner of Bourke and William streets in Melbourne, might appear to be the new kid on the CBD block. But owner and barber Ibrahim El Osman, known as Abs, has sharpened his skills (no pun intended) over the past 30 years.

Barbering nirvana

While his other shop in Carson Place features a 1970s- style graffiti roller door with his name, his latest shop includes 11 traditional barber chairs, modeled on those from the 1920s. Customised in leather, and embossed in snakeskin, they're as close to barbering nirvana as one could imagine. "They just don't make these chairs anymore, so they were made to order," Abs says.

The 11 chairs are evenly spaced within the 500-square-metre shop. Even with several comfortable lounges, Abs' is an overwhelming space. Abs or one of his staff can attend to gents seven days a week, from seven in the morning until seven at night. Clients can enjoy a hot towel shave at only $20, or a haircut at between $20 and $25. "We can do any style. But men tend to prefer short back and sides, and clipper cuts. Shaved heads are also becoming more popular," Abs says.

Around the corner at 546 Collins Street is Rockit. Located within a 1930s Moderne building known as McPherson's, Rockit, unsurprisingly attracts musicians, but also businessmen and local office workers.

Ironically, while Rockit has genuine old-fashioned appeal, on the day of visiting, three gents waiting their turn are checking their mobiles. Maybe the advent of technology has spurred this trend to the past, both in fit-out and in hairstyles.

Clean, sharp and neat

Owned by barber Evan Rolton, Rockit has a museum-like quality with the front glass counter brimming with relics from past barbering days. On one shelf are toy warriors collected from Evan's childhood. "Customers tend to add to the collection," says barber Sean Connolly, who, with his colleauges, offers both a shave ($35) and haircut ($30). And when Friday afternoon arrives, there's a complimentary beer with the service.

"We don't try and be anything we're not. Just, like the hair, traditional, old-fashioned service," adds Connolly. "It's now clean, sharp and neat."

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