To walk into Lefty’s Barbershop in Pacific Beach—San Diego's 120-proof, thumping waterfront neighborhood with access to both the Pacific Ocean and Mission Bay—is to enter a world of startling signifiers. First, the four truly ancient iron barber chairs hovering over a black-and-white checkered vinyl floor. Then the photo of someone’s clenched fists with “CASH ONLY” tattooed across the knuckles. It’s a menacing design choice. It is also shop policy. A quiver of much-used lunch-break surfboards stands in the corner.
Finally, of course, there are the barbers themselves: to a man, young adherents of the SoCal tats-and-threads fashion movement—what might emerge from the Large Hadron Collider if Limp Bizkit and a ‘50s greaser gang accidentally got caught in it together.
On hot, humid afternoons—rare in these parts—you may even be offered a Bud Light as your barber works, which seems initially like the best idea, until the raft of hair filaments that find their way into your can makes it seem like the worst idea, and then you’re one Bud deep and it definitely seems like the best idea again.
But we come here to get haircuts, not drink beer (or so we tell ourselves), and there are few masters of the genre finer than the gentlemen of Lefty’s. Customers are treated to a consistently strong performance of get-outta-here-Johnny chop-busting among the barbers, the kind of masculine joshing born of both real affection and real annoyance at having spent so much time in a stuffy small room together. Worthy customer contributions to the back and forth are rewarded with snorts. Duds are met with brief but not cruel silence. These men have old souls.
My barber Felipe was refreshingly unafraid to log some time up top with shears. The gentlemen of Lefty's specialize in the sharp, clean, product-dependent part-n-comb that they all sport. Even so, non-product users like me make out pretty well too. I opted for what I’ll call the “Samuel Beckett”: close-cropped sides, swept chaotic neutral up top, front like the swooning hood ornament of a car that hasn't been invented yet. And then you pay your $16, shake hands, walk out, and realize you yourself are a signifier: You just got a haircut at Lefty’s of all places, for Pete’s sake.