Receive a warm welcome and the offer of a drink. Be ushered into a reassuringly comfortable chair, upholstered in creaky leather with a sturdy, gleaming metal kickplate. Drink arrives, as does a bound periodical. Inhale. Exhale. Aaaand relax.
The perfect barbershop is an oasis of gentlemanly calm amid the white noise of contemporary life. Beeping iPhones, endless meetings, droning colleagues, other demands on your time, space and sanity… Sometimes a man needs an escape. A restorative sanctuary. Behold the barbershop: half-gentleman’s club, half-psychiatrist’s couch, all self-indulgence. A place to sit, think and just be. Even better, you emerge afterwards as a slightly improved you, with a dapper haircut or cut-throat shave, smelling good, feeling tingly, ready to face that beeping iPhone again. Pampered by hot towels and aglow from a reviving massage, the world seems a more tolerable place.
My own formative barbershop experience came aged eight, when my dad dragged me along to a local institution run by Wilfred Stiff (imagine keeping a straight face as a schoolboy). Mr Stiff (stop it) was all bow tie, awkward chit-chat and ancient astringent unguents. Regardless of your age or what you asked for, he issued an identikit short-back-and-sides that left you with chilly ears and an itchy neck.
The moment I could, I graduated to my mum’s hairdressing salon, who took twice as long and charged twice as much but gave a better cut and less awkward, more flirtatious chit-chat. I could also watch actual real-life women in the mirror and practise, you know, talking to them. One day, this would come in handy.
In recent years, though, I’ve found myself inexorably drawn back to the barbers. Blame the Mad Men effect, nostalgia or the rise of the urban dandy, but there’s something powerfully evocative about the smells, sounds and sheer theatre of a barbers. Something refined, retro-cool and plain manly.
Dear old Wilfred Stiff has long since gone to the great barbershop in the sky, but his place has been taken by a new wave of luxury grooming havens. Below, you’ll find our guide to the very finest. Something for the weekend, sir?
The Barber at Dunhill
2 Davies St, W1; dunhill.com
With its mosaic floor, motoring curios and artfully-arranged bowler hats, the emphasis is on sharpening up the well-heeled with a well-executed, reassuringly-sober hot shave or foot massage. Then selling them a cool lighter on the way out.
While you wait: Explore the humidor and sample a bloody mary in The Cellar Bar.
The star treatment: Bespoke haircut, classic wet shave and friction scalp massage, £110
Ted's Grooming Room & Ottoman Lounge
31 Theobalds Rd, WC1; tedsgroomingroom.com
Turkish barber Mus manages this relaxed grooming emporium with a team that takes its craft seriously without being intimidating (the blades are even sourced from Turkey). Expect a fluff-removing flaming torch and hand massage.
While you wait: Champagne, craft beer or a bracing Turkish coffee that, ironically, will put hairs on your chest.
The star treatment: Ted’s One & Only Shave, £18.50
23 Queensferry St, EH2; ruffians.co.uk
Don’t be fooled by the vintage interior: Ruffians is kitted out with the latest barbering gadgets. Hidden mirrors pop up like car bonnets to reveal leather-lined bureaus containing barbering accoutrements. Plus the bench has its own built-in vacuum system that sucks away fallen hair.
While you wait: iPads, coffee (ground and expressed in-house using a £1,000 De’Longhi), plus a seasonal drinks menu.
The star treatment: Haircut & Hot Shave, £55
Kiehl’s Spa 1851
841 Lexington Ave, 1st Floor, 10065; kiehls.com
This former homeopathic apothecary has built its reputation on a healthy respect for tradition. That and free samples. Anyhow, this subway-tiled men’s spa features its own private ‘rock star’ entrance, an epic view of 64th Street and skull-bedecked barbers chairs made by custom motorcycle builder Paul Cox.
While you wait: iPads, flavoured water and a David LaChapelle mural.
The star treatment: Ultimate Close-Shavers Squadron Service, which includes a bespoke apothecary masque, £61
Unit 1, Devonshire St, S3; savillsbarbers.com
Savills owner Joth Davies is rightly proud of his Thirties hot lather machine – the only one of its type in the country. The chrome Campbell’s Lather King squirts a thick flow of hot, aerated, super-wet foam at the touch of a button, thus speeding up walk-ins. The shop tips its porkpie to Americana with a National cash register and a 100-year-old Theo A Kochs porcelainbarbers chair.
While you wait: Catch live acoustic music on the first Saturday of every month, usually between 11am-4pm.
The star treatment: Walk-in hot towel wet shave and haircut, £36
Nieuwe Binnenweg 113, 3014 GH; schorembarbier.nl
Co-owner Bertus knows why men queue for his services: “Before, a man had to go to a unisex hairdresser, sit next to an old lady with foil in her hair and listen to
a 16-year-old girl advising him to get a Justin Bieber bowl cut.”
While you wait: Bertus urges you to “read Playboy, drink beers, smoke cigars and make all the dirty jokes you want”. Your move, Supercuts.
The star treatment: No fancy names here: a cut and shave is £48
Shoreditch, Soho, Covent Garden, Spitalfields; murdocklondon.com
Murdock’s ‘perfect shave’ begins with gentle exfoliation, followed by its signature pre-shave oil (sweet almond, bergamot and orange) and hot towels. Star of the show? The shaving cream, which plumfs up (it’s a technical term) into the silkiest lather imaginable thanks to a secret ingredient: marshmallow oil.
While you wait: Seventies Playboy magazines (though, sadly, they’re 80 per cent bourbon and tobacco ads). Beverages include whisky or Saint craft lager.
The star treatment: Wet shave, haircut and shoe polish or manicure, £100
37 Savile Row, W1; pankhurstlondon.com
This grooming parlour is located inside Savile Row tailor Nick Tentis’s boutique but has become a destination in itself (pictured) – hence a new flagship is opening at 10 Newburgh Street in March.
While you wait: The new shop’s oxblood leather reception area will be like a first-class lounge; hit up the espresso bar or order a fine malt whisky.
The star treatment: Long package haircut, shave and scalp massage, £125