El Corte - Craftsmen with Care

Michael Shannon O’KeefeSep 2, 2017

I used to think that the old-school mentality of a traditional haircut had been lost by the wayside in our fast-paced, hyper-connected, internet-centric lifestyle. Gone were the days of the traditional, film noir haircut experience. Lost were the classic spaces with fedoras on the rack, talented straight edge shaves, and mustache trims. The world had moved on, leaving behind the affordable artisans of yesteryear willing to cater to the needs of the discerning Everyman. While perusing the shops of calle Loíza in the Santurce district of San Juan, I stumbled into Julio’s chair at El Corte in San Juan Puerto Rico -- quickly rectifying my nostalgia for a time lost in the ether.

Upon entrance, the aromas from the shop’s house-made hair and grooming products soften your mind and ease you gently from the bustle of Calle Loíza. The matte, dark sage walls and antique brass fixtures are reminiscent of the pool halls from bygone eras - whereas the strange dog prints, throwbacks to the drink of the season, and random yet thoughtful displays of eclectic hipster miscellany keep your haircut design firmly connected to the modern realm.

You recognize quickly that the ‘hair technicians’ of El Corte are committed to the perfection of the heads in their care. There’s the jovial and tattooed Billy, the quiet yet easy-to-smile Ramón, and the quick to laugh owner Julio - not a single weak link or unhappy player in the game. Each barber works from their own personally refurbished antique chairs, perfectly representing their aforementioned personalities.

One caveat: be sure to make a reservation, otherwise you might be waiting upwards of two hours. With their online booking service you get your choice of cold brew coffee, craft beer, or aged rum to add to the experience. Yup, it’s that kind of place! Your fellow customers lightly shoot the breeze in typical barbershop banter, as the entire room waits excitedly for their expert pampering in the hands of these stylists. You slide into their seat - maybe a little sleepy from the constant drone of buzzers and the enjoyed cocktail - and decide upon your course of treatment.

Go for a modern fashionista look or a Pete Rose bowl cut, choose between a bushy handlebar mustache or pencil-thin Errol Flynn, a Castro power-beard or some modern movie star grooming. These guys can do it all, and the prices are ridiculously reasonable for the experience and value received. They only charge twenty-five dollars for a trim, fifteen for beards and mustaches, and thirty for the combo - and that's with your libation. 

Your barber reads you with finesse and matches you in witticisms. Do you want the experience to be spa-like and zen or rowdily rambunctious? Political or satirical? English or Spanish? You’re suddenly swept away in natural flowing conversation, riffing with the crew and exposing intimate truths about yourself. There was a nostalgic time when barbers and a bartenders were the genuine therapists for the common man. That time has returned.

After being lulled gently into dreamland under a hot towel, pleasantly shaven by caring and knowledgeable hands, scented with organic oils, and finally, massaged beneath an ancient metallic spider – initially funky but truly fantastic – you groggily arise from your emotional cocoon. Like a phoenix you feel reborn! Well, maybe not that intense. You do, however, have a bounce to your step and a boost in your confidence. You hit the street looking, smelling, and feeling better. Isn’t that what we’re all looking for in a haircut?