Clean cut: six classic Montreal barbershops

Male grooming is all the rage these days. But look past the trendy newcomers and you’ll find a network of institutions that have been there all along.

Male grooming is all the rage these days. Blame the beards, Movember, and the surge of designer barbershops, which have hipsters lining up around the block.

But look past the trendy newcomers and you’ll find a network of institutions that have been there all along: classic barbershops. Like jewels embedded in the fabric of our city, these bastions of men’s hair care have a timeless appeal.

They’re equal parts heritage sites and time capsules, many of them dating back decades — venerable businesses offering an old-world experience that’s like balm for the soul.

Here are six classic Montreal barbershops well worth the detour.

Dominique Perazzino’s Chez Menick is a hockey shrine as well as an old-school barbershop. “Not one customer walks in that I don’t talk to,” he says. “I take care of my customers.” Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette

Chez Ménick

Est. 1959
1960 Masson St., 514-598-0467

Among francophone Habs fans, Dominique Perazzino — known simply as Ménick — is a legend. He dubs himself “Le barbier des sportifs,” but most anglos have never been to his hockey/hair emporium, tucked away on a quiet strip of Masson St. in the east end.

The place is a hockey shrine. The floor is painted like an ice rink, the walls are covered with photos of Ménick with sports celebrities — from Habs legends to Muhammad Ali — and there are even some original Forum seats.

Ménick lets his five female barbers deal with most of the cutting these days, emerging from his office at the back to chat with customers and show off his mementos.

How it started: “I arrived here in 1959. It will be 60 years in May. I started this place to earn a living. I was lucky — it went well. I’ve had a good life. Today I have fun, pleasure and success. Sure, there’s competition, but chez nous c’est chez nous.”

The cut: $21. “We’re no better than anywhere else. We’re like all the others. It’s a matter of taste, and personality. The haircut is up to the client. If he wants a cut, we do what he asks. They don’t come here for that. They come for the experience.”

The clientele: “Guy Lafleur is always here, Réjean Houle, Yvon Lambert, Gilles Lupien, Pierre Bouchard — that’s my old gang. I didn’t wait for customers to come to me. I went to get them. I’m invited everywhere, so I go and make contacts. I’ve always been an organizer.”

On screen, stage and the page: “I had a TV show, Ménick reçoit, from 1989-91. We did 104 episodes in three years. I had sports stars and journalists on. I would cut their hair and ask them questions, like talking with a customer.

“I was in (the hockey movie series) Les Boys twice, (the TV show) Lance et compte twice, I’ve written for newspapers and acted in a play.”

His secret: “You can’t have success without work. They go together. You can get away with it for a time, but not all the time. You can’t rely on luck. And I always talk to people. Not one customer walks in that I don’t talk to. I take care of my customers.”

Founded by Willy Proll, left, and taken over by Mario Chihane in 2006, Le Cartier has endured for more than a half-century. “Being hidden away, we attract a better clientele,” says Proll. Pierre Obendrauf / Montreal Gazette

Le Cartier

Est. 1966
1115 Sherbrooke St. W., 514-844-8514

All but hidden at the back of a mini-mall in the basement of Le Cartier building, on the northwest corner of Peel and Sherbrooke Sts., is a perfectly prim little barbershop that has endured for over a half-century.

Opened in 1966 by Willy Proll, who still works three days a week, the business was taken over by Mario Chihane in 2006.

How it started: “I’m originally from Austria,” Proll says. “I came to Canada in 1951. I spent a year in Toronto, then came to Montreal. I worked at the CP Railway station (now Gare Windsor) for 10 years as a barber, then I opened my own business.”

The cut: $28; hot shave $25; manicure 20; pedicure $44.

Chihane: “We keep it simple. This is a real barbershop. We serve everything for men. We do real, old-fashioned hot shaves and real, simple haircuts, as well as the fades and all the difficult haircuts for gentlemen. We don’t do women here. As you see, it’s a classic, classical barbershop. We also do beard grooming, as a lot of people now are looking for that, and pampering themselves a bit.”

The clientele: “(The Montreal Gazette’s) Billy Brownstein used to be a customer,” Proll says. “Send him my regards. His brother still comes to me. Another guy who used to come in was (Gazette) political writer (Don) Macpherson. Pierre Trudeau used to come in, in the beginning, when he was justice minister. Mr. (Robert) Bourassa. We have many businesspeople.”

Their secret: “What you have to do in this business is create a clientele,” Proll says. “Being hidden away, we attract a better clientele. The key to the game is, if you have a client come in, you have to make sure that you satisfy him and he comes back. That’s the way you build a business, brick by brick.”

Ian Daley is celebrating the 30th anniversary of Krazy Kuts, one of Montreal’s oldest black-owned barbershops. Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette

Krazy Kuts

Est. 1989
5775 Victoria Ave., Suite 101, 514-342-5841

On the second floor, up a nondescript staircase, above a modest and culturally diverse row of storefronts in the heart of Côte-des-Neiges is one of the city’s oldest black-owned barbershops.

Krazy Kuts owner Ian Daley celebrates his business’s 30th anniversary this year. His shop consists of four classic barber chairs, sitting in a row, and features a playful red-and-yellow colour scheme.

How it started: “In the history of Montreal barbershops, there was a guy on St-Antoine St. and Lucien-L’Allier, Vito, and his brother. All the black guys in Montreal had to go there. We had no choice; there were no black barbershops in town.

“I’ve been on this corner since 1989. We used to be right across the street, but they made that building into condos (a few years ago). I just opened up one day and said I was a barber.”

The cut: $18; beards and designs can be “a bit more.”

“We cut anybody and everybody, any kind of hair, anybody’s hair, no matter what colour or what kind of hair. If you can cut hair, you can cut hair. If you see something different, you can do it. I can do any design. Any picture you show me, I could do. I know how to cut hair.”

The clientele: “If you know the area, it’s extremely multicultural. We (serve) everybody. Everyone knows us, every culture.”

The competition: “In the past couple of years, there has been a (ton) of barbershops opening. They take away a lot of business, but if you’ve been in the business 30 years, you understand the business more than the new guys. You can see all their mistakes a mile away.”

His secret: “Just come to work. Be on time, be respectful, run a clean, respectable operation, respect your clients, respect everybody. Be friendly, do a good job, be consistent.”

Brothers Mohammed and Mehdi Benaboud give a warm welcome at Salon de Barbier Albanese. “You have to love the work,” says Mehdi Benaboud, “and you have to transmit that love to the client.” Pierre Obendrauf / Montreal Gazette

Salon de Barbier Albanese

Est. 1962
1864 Ste-Catherine St. W., 514-932-1378

Sitting snugly amid Asian restaurants, pizza joints and a dépanneur on a tired strip of Ste-Catherine St. W., Salon de barbier Albanese feels a lot different once you step through the front door.

Brothers Mehdi and Mohammed Benaboud give you a warm welcome and invite you to grab a seat in one of the shop’s original barber chairs. The Gazette spoke with Mehdi Benaboud.

How it started: “The salon has existed since 1962. It was opened by Mr. (Dominico) Albanese. We’re third-generation. We came here from Morocco in 2003 and bought it in 2009, 10 years ago. We knew the second owner, Alfonso. We worked with him starting in 2006, and when it was time for him to retire, we took over.”

The cut: $20; hot shave $18. “We do shaves with a traditional blade, hot cream and a hot towel — the old-fashioned way. Haircuts, we do every style, short or long.”

The clientele: “We get all types — that’s the barbershop. We have all categories of people, many students and people who work near here. We have many famous people, like Josh Bourke from the Alouettes, and John Valentin, the ex-Red Sox player.”

Their secret: “There’s no secret. You have to love the work, and you have to transmit that love to the client. You have to know how to talk to them. Automatically, a relationship takes shape. Over the long term, the client comes back, brings their friends and family. It’s about those relationships.”

Raffaele La Ferrara’s Salon Raphael is a holdout from the old days of Mile End. John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette

Salon Raphael

Est. 1975
24 Bernard St. W., 514-272-5631

Before Mile End was hipster central, it was a multicultural melting pot. Salon Raphael is a holdout from those old days. Located on a quiet block of Bernard, across from a couple of clothing boutiques and next to an old sub spot, the intimate shop has just two chairs, only one of which is used by owner Raffaele La Ferrara (“like Ferrari”).

How it started: “In June it will be 44 years, but this place has been a salon for more than 60 years. It started in the ’50s. I bought it (in 1975) from someone who was retiring.

“I came here from a village about 90 kilometres south of Napoli, in the province of Avellino. I arrived in September 1967, the year of Expo. Before, a lot of the Italian community lived in this area. After, in the ’70s and ’80s, they started to move to St-Léonard and Montreal North, Laval.”

The cut: $20; hot shave $17. “I charge the least in the whole neighbourhood. Another salon will charge $25 to $30, $35 to $40. Today I had a client, for many years I’ve been cutting his hair. Once when I was on vacation, he went to St-Laurent Blvd. to these young guys who charged him $40; in the beginning it’s nice, but when you wash your hair it’s just a regular cut.

“I do classic cuts for men, and shaves with a straight razor. Not many people do the beard the way I do it. I use the hot towel, and Proraso (Italian shaving cream) before and after the shave, to soften the skin.”

The clientele: “I have four or five policemen. I have lawyers, engineers. I get Italian, Greek, Portuguese and Latino customers, all mixed. Chinese too.”

His secret: “Working honestly, and not rushing people through like at the shopping centre — ‘Quick, quick, next!’ Easy does it. Clients like it — it’s why they come back. There are some who might not like it the first time, and I don’t oblige them to come back. If they’re not happy, you can’t force them.”

“The customers I have come here because they appreciate me, my service,” says Hassan Mourtada, whose Salon Barbier Azzuro has one of the most unique locations of any barbershop in Montreal. Pierre Obendrauf / Montreal Gazette

Salon Barbier Azzuro

Est. 2002-03
Peel métro corridor, Stanley St. exit, 514-845-1116

Azzuro can’t compete with the above barbershops for longevity, but it holds its own in terms of heart. And the location may be one of the most unique — and smallest — in the city.

You could easily walk right past (which I did when I first went looking for it) as you head down the corridor of odd shops on your way out of Peel métro’s Stanley St. exit. There’s no sign outside the 80-square-foot space. Inside, Hassan Mourtada cuts hair with friend/employee Ahmad El Husseiny, and sells an impressive array of hair products and accessories.

How it started: “I came here from Lebanon 20 years ago. I did all kinds of jobs. Originally this place was a washroom, but it was nothing — it was empty when I passed by and asked about it. I had worked in many places — on Ste-Catherine and Mont-Royal — when I came here. It was supposed to be temporary. I want to find something bigger, but I’ve been stuck here for 15 years, for many reasons.”

The cut: $20. “I don’t do a wash; it’s a fast haircut. I do all types of hair … just name it. I’ve been doing this almost 20 years. The customers I have come here because they appreciate me, my service. If you consider my business by size or decoration, it’s probably worth nothing. But if you want to see the content, the treatment, it may be worth something.”

The clientele: “I get all types of people, from the top to the bottom. I’ve had a few customers from the Gazette: Terry Mosher (a.k.a. Aislin) used to come, and Walter (Buchignani, copy editor and F1 columnist). The others, I can’t say (their names), I don’t like that.

“Good customers make me really like my job. They educate you, offer advice sometimes. I’m surrounded by free advisers. When the chemistry is good, you talk about important things, not just blah-blah-blah.”

His secret: “Treat the customer as a human, and they come back to you because they feel the connection, that you’re not just like, ‘Give me your money, all right bye.’ I’m not saying I’m special, but be yourself. Be human.”

His dream: “To have a bigger place — for me, first, and to offer a better service. For me and my customers to be in a better place.”

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