PORTLAND — The mop-haired twentysomething walks into the Hawthorne Boulevard store where the underground indie rock is turned up just loud enough to make you raise your voice. Band posters paper two walls, while a magazine-page collage of singers from Johnny Cash to Cyclops covers the space around the mirrors.
"You need a haircut today?" asks Katie Wenner, the 25-year-old receptionist in low-riders. She signs him up and asks her next question. "Do you want a beer?"
"Sure," the surprised first-timer says, his face breaking into a grin.
Wenner checks his ID, hands him a silver can of Pabst Blue Ribbon and says, smiling, "It's a beer day for everybody."
Walk in the door, get a beer, get your hair cut. It's not the traditional salon routine.
But at Bishop's Barbershop, a Portland mini-chain catering to the scruffy Gen-X, cheap-cut-loving, anti-salon crowd, it's a successful example of a trend hitting Portland's hippest neighborhoods, from Southeast Division Street and Hawthorne Boulevard to Northwest 21st Avenue and the Pearl District.
Rudy's, a Seattle-based chain with five shops in Seattle and two in Los Angeles, joined the fray in December with a shop on Southeast Division Street and plans to open another in the Pearl District.
The barbershops highlight a common dilemma for cash-strapped hipsters: wanting cool hair at cheap prices without going to Supercuts. But these aren't your soda-jerk-era barbershops. At Rudy's, a stylist with electric-pink hair scoots around the two turntables for DJs and four CD listening stations. Both chains stay open well into the evening cutting hair for $8 to $21.
Bishop's owner, Leo Rivera, a former music promoter, first brought the local music/cheap cut/free beer combo to Portland about two years ago when, tired of $45 cuts and two-week waits for an appointment, he opened the first Bishop's. The third opens next month at Northeast 28th and Burnside, the city's newest nexus of trendy wine bars and restaurants.
Rivera is blunt about the Gen-X barbershop approach.
"Barbershops are more of a marketing deal to help attract a younger clientele who's kind of scared to go into a salon," says Rivera, who named his company after his mutt. "We don't spend two hours on your hair. We don't do appointments. We don't serve wine."
The style appeals to the independent style in Portland, where "there's a bigger rock music scene and there's a lot of young hipsters," Wenner says. "That's a big draw for us."
Rudy's co-owner Alex Calderwood says the 10-year-old Seattle chain helped re-energize the barbershop genre, which got a pop-culture boost with last year's film hit "Barbershop."
"It's in the air, one of those cultural things that happen," says Calderwood.
Lest patrons in Portland mistake themselves for patrons in L.A., each Rudy's is slightly different. Portland's version opens onto the street with a loading garage door the owners put in and wall collages of '50s-style ads for Lucky Strikes and Chef Boyardee.
Still, "when you walk into a Rudy's, you know you're in a Rudy's," says co-owner Wade Weigel.
Or, say, in a Bishop's, which carries off a similar look, down to the wall collages, shelves of old trophies and toolboxes for the stylists' supplies.
Bishop's regular Kevin Johnson, who lives down the street in Ladd's Addition, says, "You can always check out what's going on in the neighborhood" on the shop's wall of fliers. He likes the "half-punk, half-trendy" decor and, of course, the beer. Bishop's goes through 130 cases a month, Rivera says.
You won't find free beer at The Terrell Brandon Barber Shop on Northeast Alberta Street, where the 6-year-old shop caters to neighborhood regulars and professional athletes, says manager Daunte Paschal.
The theme here is undeniably sports, with ESPN blaring from all three TVs and snapshots of the neighborhood softball team covering one barber's mirror.
Of shops that do cornrows or offer clients beer, the 33-year-old Paschal just shrugs.
"We want the old barbershop tradition. That's what we want to be known as. Not to take away from anybody else, we don't want to serve alcohol," he says, wearing loose-fitting jeans and a red baseball cap cocked at an angle. "We don't want a pool table. We want the traditional barbershop personality. It's richer. The atmosphere is richer."
Barbershop culture and music originated in African American shops in the 18th and 19th centuries, when the shop became a community gathering spot to share news, wisdom and song, according to New York University ethnomusicologist Gage Averill, the author of "Four Parts, No Waiting: A Social History of American Barbershop Harmony."
In that way, the new shops aren't that different.
"Bottom line, when people come to Rudy's, it very much is a social experience," Calderwood says. "They're getting a good haircut, but part of what attracts them or brings them back is not only the ambience but the social experience, the interaction with the people, the music they're hearing."
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