For the longest time I’ve been going to a run-of-the-mill barber shop chain to get my hair cut. The experience was not stellar with hair cuts rushed, packed with people moving in and out including the occasional wailing toddler. I consider getting a hair cut a ritual much like shaving but the place I frequented made it feel like a chore. I just wanted to get it over as quickly as possible. I’ve been yearning for a better barbershop experience so when I heard that there was a new barbershop in town I just had to check it out.
Back Alley Barbershop joins the growing number of barbershops that are more than just places to get a cut and shave. Tucked away in a side street in Salcedo Village, Makati, the establishment features a vintage-themed interior with old items repurposed for storage and display. Their barber chairs are 40-year old Takara Belmont chairs painstakingly restored by an auto shop. While on the outside it would seem like any other barbershop, it actually has a lounge area where you can sit back, relax, read from their great selection of magazines and enjoy the music played using vinyl records.
I introduced myself via email and scheduled a visit on a Sunday morning. The manager offered me a list of services to sample and chose a hair cut with wash and the “Hungover Treatment”. The latter is described as “not just an antidote for long nights, but a general relief and rescue service for gents who need a refresh”. I wasn’t hungover by any definition but I was curious to find out what went into the face treatment.
JR was the barber who was recommended to me. As he was about to reach for the shaver I told him that I preferred he only use scissors as I like to test the skill of the barber this way. My hair style is straight forward and old school: parted on left and combed to one side. The hair just needs to be shortened enough so that it still looks good when combed to one side. He took his time cutting my hair which I liked as I was in no rush. I liked my hair cut and when I used pomade it looked great.
They use Samurai scissors for cutting and Feather blades for shaving. Samurai scissors are handmade in Japan and specially designed to be whisper quiet when cutting. Feather blades are widely recognised as the best blades for shaving. True enough the scissors weren’t annoyingly squeaky and my shave was smooth with hardly a nick.
Right after the cut my barber began the Hungover Treatment. It started with a cold towel wrapped around the face to calm the skin and prepare it to receive skincare products. Washing foam is applied to cleanse the skin without stripping the skin of moisture. Then a hot towel is applied to remove the washing foam and to open the pores for the next step: a recovery mask. The recovery mask softens the skin, exfoliates dead skin cells and removes dirt that clogs pores.
While the mask worked its wonders the barber gave me a shoulder and head massage. After the mask has set it is removed using a cold towel. Immediately after a hot towel is applied. This gives the skin a shock treatment to wake it up after a long night out. Finally, skin milk with aloe extract and horse chestnut is applied to make sure the skin is properly moisturised. All the products used in the Hungover Treatment and washing of the hair is from Japanese skincare brand Noevir.
The people behind Back Alley Barbershop had a vision for their barbershop and put it all together: the barbers, the artworks, the music, the chairs, the scissors, the blades, and even the skin and hair products. They made sure they got everything right down to the little details. The result is a great barbershop experience that reminds us that getting a hair cut should never feel like a chore.