SIX OLD SCHOOL BARBERS OF BEIRUT YOU SHOULDN’T FAIL TO MEET!
Text and Photography: Lucia Czernin
The old tradition of the barber’s craft has never ceased to be of importance in Mediterranean countries while it is regaining popularity in northern European societies. Let’s have a look on some of the most nostalgic barber shops around Beirut. Enjoy the treat!
In Beirut, countless tiny barber shops definitely catch the eye. They have an air of nostalgia and implicitness. Once you give them a closer look, you discover a world of its own with the most curious characters.
For this reason, under ottoman rule, barbers often assumed the role of the “mukhtar” – supervisor or head of a village or neighbourhood. Barbers would do marriage, birth and migration registrations. Apparently, some of the more courageous ones would also undertake surgical operations like pulling teeth, always keeping a bottle full of bloodsuckers at hand, in case a client seemed to suffer from high tension.
Salon Antoun This salon from 1941 reportedly experienced some refurbishment in the 60s – but since then, not even a grain of dust was altered. Antoun’s grandson, Michel, in his yellowed shirt amidst his yellowed wash-bowls and mirrors shows off his antique razor blades of the brand “Solingen”. They are still impeccable. Despite his popularity, Michel would always find time for a chat over coffee. He knows everyone and everything – you name it.
Salon Abdo Hashem The master was born in 1940 and counts the most distinguished gentlemen among his clients. By the way, he is himself the most devoted gentleman in town: he keeps frozen gardenias in his refrigerator and wouldn’t miss an occasion to hand them to passing ladies. “A man is nothing without a woman.”, he insists clinging to a picture of his late beautiful wife. Mwallim Abdo is old-school. He despises cutting machines: “It takes a pair of scissors for a cut – nothing more or less.”
Meet Vatche Zeitounian! Zeitounian looks back on an eventful path having started off as a ladies hairdresser, then switched to treat men in Saudi Arabia and now is back in good old Bourj Hammoud. He is now a man of great wisdom and deep psychological insights: Saudi gentlemen are reported to appreciate purple coloured beards. It makes them look younger and goes well with their pale complexion. He can tell you a thing or two about female clients: “They talk a lot – and tell you things they should better keep to themselves.” Barber Zeitounian complains, the lady clients used to take him for their psychologist. “The gents are much easier to handle. They like to show off. He thinks he is a hero, and that’s it.”
Salon Arz Welcome to The cedar saloon of mwallim Boutros Matar. The surname Matar, meaning rain, as well as his shop’s name, the cedar of Lebanon, should give us an idea of the barber’s mountain of origin, “Tannourine”, where he still returns whenever he can, to shoot birds. “He is a good Christian. A Maronite.”,
« Salon Arz » has been opened in 1951. Mwallim Pierre is 88 years old, would never touch a drink or a cigarette and still possesses an excellent sight. The latter he explains by his mountainous origin. But above all, this barber is a poet. Be prepared, he might suddenly look up from his work and start reciting a poem into your foamed face “Generations come and go as in a tree: leaves fall and new ones replace them. Like flowers. Like my clients.” He would then offer you a cigarette or switch to topics like their health, Russia and the USA, beauty and God. “We can get quite sentimental at times, we Orientals.”, I am explained.
Salon Philippe Safar In the midst of legendary Hamra, behold the barber! Philippe has been here for over 50 years, and never closed his business even during the harshest battle times. We are confronted with a vintage looking gentleman with black dyed hair, round spectacles and a lab coat. He could as well be a dentist, especially given the turquoise coloured frame of his shop. “Young clients might be attracted by his refreshing décor. It might remind them of the beach.”, he comments the design. He never changed it since the 60s anyway.
This barber is an artist: “Just as painters draw their pictures, we draw on peoples’ faces. The client is an art work – but not stable as a painting, he changes all the time. Our luck, in case we make a mistake, it grows out.” Known public figures can be depicted among the photos of his oldest clients: minister Kamal Joumblat, Raymond Edde, Hisam Naaman, Farour Darouir, Michel Aflaq... One of barber Philippe’s strictest principles in his conduct with clients, is to avoid political topics.