"So what do you want to do?" asks the man with the shears as I take a seat in the antique swiveling chair.
"What you did last time. Something short for summer," I reply.
If you're lucky enough to have a go-to guy, you've got the kind of trust one enjoys with a primary care physician. Getting a haircut from a new barber? That's more like buying a suit—you're better off coming in with some strong convictions about exactly what you want. Since I come to Belmont Barbershop in Chicago's Roscoe Village frequently, I'm confident that a couple vague descriptors like "last time" and "summer" will do the trick. I'll get a cut that satisfies my own style as well as the hot Chicago summer and there's enough wiggle room to satisfy my barber's more experimental inclinations.
"I enjoy a little freedom," says Belmont owner Josh Cooley, "but I try to get a sense of a guy's lifestyle so I can give him something that fits." The Cleveland transplant and former sculpture student used to offer $3 cuts out of his art-school dorm's bathroom ($5 with tip). It didn't take long for him to switch career paths. A few years later, Cooley met his now-partner Billy Stump. The two barbers were feeling equally frustrated at their current gigs—more like sheep-shearers than barbers—so they decided to open a shop of their own.
The result looks just like the kind of spot your old man might have taken you when mom declared that the men of the house were getting a little shaggy around the ears. The walls are filled with memorabilia and barber tools: old safety razors, shaving brushes, and a vintage poster for "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." A Hemingway-sized swordfish presides over the barber chairs.
Pausing in the middle of my cut, Cooley introduces the cast of talent at Belmont. There's Jesse, who's all about the 1950s. Drew, who loves punk rock. Billy: Comic books. Travis is the resident sports guru. And then there's Isaac, the newest barber, whose bright-eyed curiosity about Chicago is shared by scores of customers. It's a good fit, because Belmont has been getting a lot of out-of-towners lately.
Customers have been flocking from across the country, due in large part to the shop's popularity in the #menswear community. "That's a completely new thing," says Josh about the guys who make special trips from outside of Chicago. Belmont displays many of the fresh cuts from the shop on their Instagram feed.
"Guys come in with food, drink, music on their minds," says Josh. And sure enough, he's got suggestions. Best bar for beer? That's Map Room. Best hair product? Layrite pomade, because the water base helps it wash out easier than Murray's. Catch last night's game? By the afternoon Josh is firing off intel from the early birds against the analysis of the late-comers.
Once we wrap up, a young boy takes my spot in the chair.
"So what do you want to do?" Josh asks.
I can't help but feel a little jealous that the kid gets to skip the sheep shearers and go straight to a real barbershop. —Seth J. Putnam
Seth J. Putnam is the Editor of The Midwestyle, a website dedicated to the style and menswear of the Midwest.