If George Clooney were to take a trip to Manila and needed a hair cut – I can imagine him stopping by here. There’s no other word for it – this is one really cool barbershop! Although it can be a pain in the ass to find for first timers, one can understand why this place has developed such a loyal following with the gentlemen who discover it. Walking in, you immediately know that you have entered sacred ground, a sanctuary for the reformation of machismo. With the smell of percolating coffee and sweet ash candles in the air, this is where the modern gentleman goes for a bespoke haircut, a close shave, and a massage that’ll leave him renewed, refreshed, and ready to take on the world again.
Back Alley Barbershop presents a return to quality grooming and service for the modern gentleman, bringing back old school rituals, complimented with excellent, up-to-date tools and imported products your Grandpa would love.
Back Alley takes pride in their barbers – talented men equipped with the best tools of the trade. Meet Rolan. He’s got you covered with the basics: a smart haircut, a clean and smooth shave, and a massage to help you unwind, with a shot of black coffee or a bottle of beer waiting for you before you leave. I also appreciate how the barbers at this establishment keep it classy, donning a rolled up long-sleeved shirt, a tie, slacks, shiny leather shoes, and a denim apron.
Each barber’s workstation contains his arsenal of brushes, creams, gels, and moisturizers, most of which are directly imported from England or America, whose scents are fresh, citrusy, and devoid of the heavy musk commonly associated with men’s hair products. I put my photograher, Jericho, in front of the camera this time, while I took pictures from behind the scenes and he enjoyed a few hours of undisturbed personal time.
Getting a Haircut & Wash (Php 400) seems pretty straightforward, but even with the simplest things like a wash, Back Alley treats their clientèle to luxurious cleansing using the Hanz de Fuko brand of products. The Japanese brand only uses the most effective certified organic ingredients and natural plant extracts. Case in point, their shampoo incorporates sea minerals from the Tokara islands, that leaves hair soft, healthy and shiny.
The refurbished barber chairs at Back Alley screams old school and look like a mini Chevrolet sans the wheels. I was told that they were amazingly soft and comfortable – no wonder everyone keeps falling asleep in them. Also, check out those Samurai scissors. Each pair is handcrafted in Japan and specially designed to be silent when cutting. This was whisper quiet, turning the chore of getting a haircut into a soothing, almost therapeutic experience.
Elevate your hair game and take a few products home with you to maintain your ‘do. Back Alley has a stash of products for sale for gentlemen – with imported brands such as Hairbond, Imperial Barber Products, and Baxter of California. Most of the products on the shelves are water-based, which not only means you don’t have to worry about dandruff, but it rinses out easily as well. For the ladies who want to upgrade their men’s hair care routine, ask abut Back Alley’s gift vouchers – sweet gold coins you can pop out and use to redeem a service.
Rolan quietly gets on with drying, clipping, and shaving. Like an artist working on his sculpture, he makes sure that every hair is where it should be and at just the right length, clearing the arch (that space behind the ears) and blocking the nape, whilst trimming and improving on Jericho’s current hairstyle. What was left was a nice, clean ‘hipster’ cut with just the right thickness that blends nicely on the sides and is super easy for him to maintain.
While the barbers work on quietly, one could enjoy the smooth croons of The Black Keys playing in the background. If that turntable set up in the middle of a barbershop doesn’t scream bad ass, then I don’t know what does.
While waiting for Jericho to finish, I perused the books and magazines on the coffee table. Honestly, I wish he had stayed a little longer, as I had just finished flipping through the pages of Grid Magazine‘s Good Life issue and was thoroughly enjoying my own quiet time, going through the pages of Monocle.
If you’ve come into the barbershop from a bad bender or are simply stressed out from work, consider getting a Hungover Treatment (Php 750) after your usual cut and shave.The process starts with your body being covered by a warm bath towel, while a thinner, cold face towel is expertly wrapped around the face in order to prepare the skin for the next step while you get a light massage.
Baxter Facial Scrub – a gentle exfoliating scrub for men – is then applied to the face, and your barber massages it in a circular motion, concentrating on the areas around the forehead, the nose, and the chin, where oil build up is most common. After wiping off the scrub, a hot towel is then applied to open the pores for a mask – they like to use Ginza Tokyos’s light RC Quick Recovery Mask – to soften the skin, ease that throbbing headache, whilst making your face baby butt soft.
While the mask did its magic, Rolan proceeded to give Jericho a shoulder, head, and arm massage. After a few minutes, when the mask looked chalky, Rolan proceeded to wipe it off and applied another hot towel to his face to re-open the pores for Baxter’s Oil Free Moisturizer, a hydrating lotion that plumps up the skin giving gents a youthful glow.
Raf Tan, one of Back Alley’s owners and store manager, prepares a complimentary drink after your cut, shave, and/or massage, to help you relax even further, melting into the buttery soft sofa while you peruse the pages of the carefully curated books and magazines on the coffee table. Bring out your laptop and catch up on a bit of work or just forget about the rest of the world for a minute and savor each sip of hot coffee or cold beer.
Raf can make a mean shot of Hand Brewed Black Coffee. Collaborating with the fun folks at Yardstick Coffee, they supply Back Alley with seasonally available beans that Raf carefully prepares in an aeropress – giving you the maximum amount of flavor (and caffeine!) every single time. If you want milk with that, there should be a Starbucks a few blocks down somewhere.
Another drink option is a bottle of Katipunan Craft Indio Pale Ale, the independent brand that’s slowly been converting hardcore San Miguel drinkers to appreciate the subtle differences of smaller-brewed batches of beer that use malt and hops sourced from the US and Canada, instead of its cheaper alternative – corn.
When it comes to getting that old school cool barbershop experience, Back Alley doesn’t do shortcuts. I had come to admire the simplicity, quality, skills, and hard work each barber puts in with each customer that comes through the door. And I think Jericho had just found his new favorite barber.
Back Alley Barbershop is located at Unit 1D, Alpha Salcedo Condominium, Bautista St. corner Sanchez St., Salcedo Village, Makati and open from 11am to 9pm on weekdays and 10am – 9am on weekends. For inquiries or to book an appointment, please call +63 947 518 5736.