Montreal’s barber scene is blowing up

A fresh crop of young barbers are injecting new life into what some considered a dying art.

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Emporium. Photo by Monsiieur

Around midnight on Friday nights, when a second wave of life replaces the caffeinated 9-to-5 beat with beer and bass, you might see curious passersby staring into Blue Dog Motel (3958 St-Laurent), trying to get a better look at what’s going on inside.

If you do, you’ll witness barber Dan Marin focused on giving a fade or sculpting a classic 1950s pompadour with a fine comb and some pomade. The man sitting in the chair might be sipping his first or tenth ale (Blue Dog is a bar, after all), reading vintage Penthouse magazines or eating free Party Mix. This is the new face of barbering in the city.

Blue Dog is not alone. Over the past year or so, a handful of barbershops, all of them fronted by young men who ply an old trade, have opened in the city. Some are entirely new, though others, like the one found in Blue Dog, are additions to existing establishments. All harken back to the barbershops of yore, albeit with updated sensibilities, signalling a sort of barbering revival in Montreal.

Built within four hours and with $400, Blue Dog Barbershop opened in August. The shop was created not only out of passion but also out of Marin’s urge to rebel, for his sake and that of his clients, against the upscale salon environments he worked in for 10 years and no longer believes in.

“When I started working at la Coupe, I believed in high-end,” says Marin. “But having seen where all the money goes, someone is losing in the end, and that was the stylist and the clients. I would often bump into guys, and many of them would tell me that they were disappointed because they felt overcharged for a haircut at my salon [where cuts cost about $50]. Little did they know I was only making $12 on it.”

Dan Marin at Blue Dog Barbershop. Photo by Monsieur
Dan Marin at Blue Dog Barbershop. Photo by Monsieur

To cater to these clients, Marin often found himself giving after-hours cuts from his home. It practically became a second business, as men of all ages welcomed the opportunity to pass by his Plateau apartment and, for half the price of a salon cut, kick up their feet, crack open a cold beer and get sheared. Marin brings that same ethos to Blue Dog. “Come in. Don’t knock — we’re always open. Go look in my fridge, talk on your phone, play with the DJ booth and just chill out,” he says. As for your girlfriend, he won’t cut her hair unless she wants a fade. But he’d rather she not tag along at all. This is a men’s club.

Corey Shapiro, owner of the Vintage Frames Company and now co-owner of St-Henri’s Notorious Barbershop (4677 Notre-Dame W.), has a different vision of what men want.

“Who says today, ‘I’m going to go to a shitty-looking shop and have a beer instead of going, for the same price, to a shop where I’m greeted by a talented staff, get to have the finest alcohols and be able to buy the finest products in the world?’” says Shapiro. “The reality is that everybody wants that type of glitz and glam.”

And glitz and glam is what Shapiro and Notorious co-founder Patrick Gemayel, aka P-Thugg of Chromeo fame, deliver. Notorious’s Versace doorknobs cost more than Marin’s entire shop. And clients can enjoy perks like a $1,000 shave with a gold blade that’s then turned into a necklace. The only thing missing is half-naked models twerking to Big Sean’s “Dance (A$$).” Notorious, which opened on July 1, following a year of prep, was born out of the belief that every man has an inner yearning for luxury — or what Shapiro calls a “tastefully ostentatious” experience.

“We wanted a place where my father, a dude from the hood, a kid, a businessman would come and feel comfortable, and there was not one place in the city that could do that,” says Shapiro. “There was a need for someone to step up, and fortunately me and P-Thugg are in a position where we could do that.”

Blue Dog Barbershop. Photo by Monsiieur
Blue Dog Barbershop. Photo by Monsiieur

Shapiro is confident in the concept. He thinks it’s very likely his barbershop will annihilate all competition locally and perhaps one day internationally (he plans to franchise Notorious). He’s careful to add, though, that the annihilation will be done “in a tasteful way and not in a confrontational way. It’s meant to bring communities together.”

Alex Sirois, a co-owner of Emporium barbershop (283 St-Zotique W.), a cozy Mile Ex spot that opened in June, doesn’t think there will be much competition between the three shops or even between those that have been open longer, like Rob Squire’s chair in Brakeless (5390 Parc), a fixed-gear bicycle shop in Mile End. Instead, he thinks the barbering industry’s revival will leave room for everyone.

“A year ago, if you were a man in Montreal, the only thing you had access to was a big salon with all these girls that don’t know much about hairstyling for men. Then you have the old Italian barbers who basically do the same three cuts for everybody. Guys in cities like Montreal want something more upcoming in terms of products, cuts, grooming and fashion,” says Sirois.

“I think we are now at the start of a another cycle, and I think barbershops like us are going to pop up everywhere,” he continues. “Montreal needs it, and I definitely think Montreal can handle and has room for many different barbershops.”

Gino Chiarella, owner of Gino & Dino Barber Shop at Hotel Ruby Foo’s, has been in the industry for over 50 years. He witnessed firsthand the decline of barbershops as classical men’s hairstyles gave way to the Beatles- and hippie-inspired hairstyles of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

He thinks the revival of what was once a thriving industry is unlikely, but not entirely impossible. “If this trade is going to continue, it takes new, well-trained barbers who want the trade to continue and have a high enough mass of clientele who come back to them,” he says.

Marin is confident it can. “We live in one of the most middle-class societies — this isn’t Miami, this isn’t St-Tropez and this isn’t Hollywood, even though people like to think it is,” he says. The resurgence of inexpensive, authentic barbershops, he continues, is “only starting.” ■

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