I used to hate the Barbershop. My dad would take me to the Greenhills barbershop near Green Lanes and I remember the mint green walls and the brightly lit barber pole that looked like a peppermint candy cane. I guess I didn’t like having to be constrained onto a mechanical seat which was augmented by a wooden block since I was a kid, and have to trust a stranger with scissors for 30 minutes. I always thought he was going to cut my ear off.
I grew up and became more conscious of how I looked and cut my hair. Being in the entertainment industry, I got my hair cut by a lot of amazing stylists, but no one came close to the reliability I had with a barber named Jojo.
Jojo knew me. He knew my work, and fondly called me “direk.” I would schedule my day around my appointment with Jojo, and he would make me feel like I’m a VIP client. He’s conservative in suggesting new styles, but liberal with his compliments after he finishes with my hair. No matter how stupid I feel after asking him to give me an undercut or worse, a shaved head, he always ends our session with a genuine “Gwapo na ulit, direk!” He probably says that to all his clients, but he makes me believe it.
You can just imagine how difficult it was to find a new barber when I moved from Quezon City to Makati. I now understand why my Dad discouraged me from having my hair cut by anyone other than a barber. Good thing I stumbled upon Back Alley Barbershop.
Somewhere in Salcedo Village, a little shop is starting a revolution. I got to pick the brains of the men behind Back Alley Barbershop who are attempting to redefine “old school.”
JPV: First of all, who are the “Dudes” behind Back Alley, how did you come together and why?
BA: Owens, being a frequent traveler to Manila, and the other founder, being a frequent traveler to New York and London for work, laid out their thesis in what can work with their interests in mind: Why don’t we open a barbershop? The reply–Why not?
JPV: Back Alley, apart from the tonsorial service, is known for the overall vibe. Tell us about this distinct atmosphere.
BA: As with our services, the overall vibe is simple and straightforward. We define our “old school” aesthetic in that manner. Our guiding mindset is the #BetterDude concept. From carefully selected reading materials and music, and complementary visuals and drinks, we believe the vibe can help accomplish that mindset for our clientele. Also, the vibe is not just for our customers, but for our barbers as well. We also believe that if barbers are better equipped with great tools and products, they can work even better. We also familiarized our barbers with processes that better utilize these.
JPV: What do you think Men should look for in a Barber?
BA: A barber should be the conduit for men to accomplish a specific aesthetic that he wants to achieve. As the customer instructs the chosen style he wishes to be done, the barber should simply explain the process back to him. A barber is also honest in deciding if a chosen style is suited for the dude being serviced. By giving this sense of familiarity, a barber gains trust between him and the customer.
JPV: Any community shop takes pride in a “special.” Tell us about yours. What sets BA apart?
BA: Our approach is providing a service and vibe that are simple and straightforward but delivered well. This can be reflected in the processes of our services (a cut, shave, and massage) especially with our Hungover Treatment — which is a combination of alternating hot and cold towels and products that essentially wake up the skin, then finished with a comprehensive massage that leaves a dude refreshed and rejuvenated. The vibe that we put in place complements the simplicity of the services we provide. We have carefully chosen visuals, music (played through streaming our playlists on Spotify or by playing selected vinyls) and beverages (Our coffee is brewed by using an Aeropress to simply produce a fresh cup) to help maintain that straightforward atmosphere.
JPV: It’s pretty gutsy to put up such a conceptual shop that’s relatively hidden from the main streets of Makati. What are you guys redefining?
BA: We believe a neighborhood is a foundation for every community. We believe our shop is a place for camaraderie, an aspect that every community strives to develop. Apart from that, our location helps us set the tone of our vibe — if delivered well, can be different if it was set within the confines and convenience of a mall.
JPV: One step into your shop, and immediately we know you want us to either stay long, or come back… are we looking at more Back Alleys in the future? What’s the dream?
BA: We’ll definitely be expanding operations in the near future. We’re looking forward to partnerships that will enable us to better promote the #BetterDude mindset.
JPV: What is a Better Dude?
BA: For us, a #BetterDude is one that is selective in everything that he does — from the music that he listens to, the beverages he drinks, the haircut he wants and the overall look he expresses. He is discerning in everything because he believes constant improvement is the way he can properly present himself to others. The vibe of Back Alley revolves around this mindset by providing an environment where everything is carefully reviewed and studied (from the tools and process, to the visuals and music.)
Rolan, my regular barber, likes to finish our session by wrapping a warm damp towel on my face. He removes it and props my seat up and shows me his work, lightly massaging me on the back saying “Gwapo na lit, sir!” I leave the shop genuinely feeling better than when I had come in.
The relationship between a man and his barber is profound and complex. It’s not just tonsorial, but also therapeutic. Making you feel like a million bucks, boosting your ego and patting your back is a carefully studied craft for these barbers. They have it down to a science–a skill they probably inherited from their own fathers or uncles. They make their time with you so sacred that you feel like royalty. A barbershop becomes a sanctuary, a rehabilitative cave, a cocoon for a man that needs his esteem restored. In the barbershop, at least for the hour or two you spend there, you are king.
To find out more about Back Alley Barbershop visit their Facebook Page: