Barber Thorin Decatur will not insist that you receive a standard-issue Marine Corps haircut. But should you stumble through the crowds of New York's Chelsea Market into the rosy confines of Decatur & Sons looking for a patriotic coif, Decatur will have plenty of good ideas.
During his four years in the Corps, Decatur served in a position more military than barber-ous. Marines aren't permitted to serve as barbers, under the assumption that all the scissoring might distract from their principal occupation. Decatur did, however, see a fair few cuts performed in the sterile white-tile shops found off base, where civilians manned industrial-strength flowbees and dealt uniformity without bias for personal taste or prevailing style.
Decatur's own shop functions under quite a different ethos. With years of experience refining both his and others' chops, Decatur's repertoire extends beyond the storied "high and tight," into the stylish, the avant-garde, and even—on request—the hipster asymmetrical. Decatur prides himself on marrying craft with efficiency and an old-world sensibility that extends from the details of his shaves to the heft of his equipment.
Despite the name, don't expect to shake the hand of old man Decatur, or even Decatur Jr. for that matter—at least not yet. The business name has been passed down through generations of the family, irrespective of profession or filial cooperation. It has alternately hung on the shingle of a scrap metal hauling business, a lumber concern, and yes, more than one barbershop.
Decatur and Sons' most recent incarnation boasts a simple and refined decor that makes a bottle of whiskey and a Schwarzenegger postcard feel equally at home with high-end products like Ursa Major, Mr. Natty, and Musgo Real. Presiding over Decatur and Sons' klatch of vintage barber chairs is the majestic Beringhaus Hercules, a behemoth that looks fit to serve the femurs of a Prohibition-era kingpin. Decatur retrieved the Hercules from the tiny town of Alexis, Illinois, population 863 souls. Alexis is not hard to find, Decatur says. One must simply proceed due west from Chicago "until the curvature of the earth is rendered in corn."
Decatur may understate the difficulty of his navigational feat, but the devotion required to make the trip is impossible to mistake. With that same devotion on display his cuts and clips, the ill-kempt hordes of New York City are lucky to have Decatur and Hercules on their side of the Great Lakes.
Visit Decatur & Sons at 75 Ninth Avenue in New York, and follow Thorin and the shop on Twitter at @DecaturandSons.