LA PORTE, Ind. — As I was walking along Lincolnway in the center of this town of 22,000 people about 30 miles west of South Bend, the skies turned dark and suddenly opened up late Tuesday afternoon.
I mistakenly forgot to bring an umbrella along for this trip, but fortunately for me, Wilson’s Barbershop and Shave Parlor, located in a charming 150-year-old downtown commercial building opposite the La Porte County Courthouse, was right there. In French, la porte means door and Wilson’s door was open.
Owner-barber Adam Wilson didn’t have any customers at the moment and my buzzcut needed to be tidied up in any regard, so the timing was perfect. We got to talking about La Porte and the ongoing renaissance of barbershop culture across the country.
Vintage barbershops and shaving parlors have been opening up in select cities across the United States in recent years. In these places, often designed with a retro-cool vibe, the art of barbering has been transformed into a fine art. But it’s often expensive.
In the Adams Morgan neighborhood in Washington, D.C., the Wise Owl Club charges $20 for a simple buzzcut and double that for a standard haircut. In Brooklyn, N.Y., Persons of Interest also charges $40 for a standard haircut and $25 for a buzzcut, something that many guys will simply do at home with a cheap set of clippers.
At these places, you’re paying for the atmosphere, attitude, the occasional complimentary adult beverage and naturally, the shopowner’s high rent. But you’re also paying the privilege of not going to a salon or a cookie-cutter national chain like Great Clips or The Hair Cuttery — or in communities like La Porte, Walmart‘s in-house barbershop — which sometimes can be impersonal and deliver bad cuts.
Traditional barbershops like Wilson’s are supposed to be personal and deliver good haircuts.
Wilson charges a modest $13 for a haircut — less expensive than Walmart, he noted — and $24 for a cut and shave. At those prices, you get a great atmosphere complete with antique shop chairs and a display case with a collection of antique shaving and barbering items and products.
Plus, you get to chat with Wilson, a native Californian who used to surf and fix cars on the West Coast before moving to La Porte in 2006.
He described his barbershop as a trying to bridge the gap between traditional and vintage barbershops. He wants a place where 70-year-old men and younger guys can congregate in a relaxed setting.
As the La Porte Herald Argus wrote in a feature on Wilson’s new shop after it opened in 2011:
“I wanted to do something early century cool vintage,” he said. “I wanted to offer everything that was offered 60 to 70 years ago, everything that has gone by the wayside.”
This includes straight razor face and neck shaves “which the older guys will remember and younger guys will think it’s cool, but not to many shops do anymore.”
Wilson offers a service that’s lacking in many of the local barbershops where I live. In most Washington, D.C., barbershops, straight-razor face shaves are generally not available. It’s a relatively inexpensive luxury that I enjoyed at neighborhood barbershops in Brooklyn when I lived there a few years ago or in Malaysia when I visited in April.
A straight-razor face shave is incredibly relaxing and makes you feel like a million bucks afterwards.
La Porte is lucky to have Wilson’s Barbershop. And I was lucky to find it on my Lincoln Highway trip.