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Terminal Barbershop Takes You Back In Time

I’m a small-time wiseguy, a two-fisted hood runnin’ numbers for a fat cappuccino sippin’ capo.  A nice shave then I’m on the lam, bouncin’ out of town on a greyhound bound for the border.

I’m a ‘Mad Men-era’ ad man, a quick cut before I cruise to The Gardens to catch the fights. Ringside seats with the mistress.  Fedora tips and scotch sips.

I’m a jazz man, spend my nights rollin’ reefer and blowin’ riffs in the neighbourhood speakeasy.  Just a bit off the sides boss, nice ‘n easy.  

Okay, the reality is I’m a thirty-something web writer, but I could easily imagine myself as any one of the aforementioned characters when I ease into a traditional tonsorial chair and close my eyes for a hot lather shave at the Terminal Barbershop at the corner of Bay and Dundas.

As 28-year-old loyal patron Sonny Christie duly notes, “It brings you back in time.  Where else can you go and get an awesome authentic shave while you listen to Cole Porter?”

It’s not just the smoothness of classical crooners that sets the mood at the long-standing barbershop (Est. 1925).  Current co-owners Karim Saaden and Omar Mahrouk have gone to great lengths to recreate the glorious past, tracking down and purchasing four traditional chairs from Chicago dating from 1895-1907, as well as handmade Romanesque cabinets and a fully functional New York City cash register from 1866.

“Five years ago we decided to buy the business, and what you see today wasn’t here before,” notes Saaden, who also speaks French, Italian and his native North African dialect.   “We changed the look of it by bringing back to life the authentic barbershop that people don’t see anymore…it is such a dying art in terms of profession.”

“(We’re) bringing back what men used to like in the old days.”

Saaden and Mahrouk realize that the world may be a different place today, but men haven’t changed much, at least the type of men who seek out and frequent a traditional barbershop.  If you want your tips frosted while you catch an episode of Oprah, you may want to look elsewhere.   But if you’re seeking a skillful cut and a meticulous old-fashioned shave in a masculine environment, you won’t be disappointed.

One thing that quickly becomes clear after spending some time inside the bustling barbershop, is most of the patrons are loyal regulars who fondly anticipate their return trips.

Daniel Vu, 25, is one such individual.  

“I’ve been coming here for about two years now.   Karim has been taking care of me ever since and I’ve never looked for another barber,” he explains, his voice drowned out by the omnipresent buzz of clippers.   

“The shop is beautiful and very quiet and elegant.  I know I wasn’t born in the 1950s, but if this was the 1950s this is what a barbershop would look like.”

Mel Zimmerman, 83, can attest to that.  The New York City native can recall a time when barbershops like Terminal were a dime a dozen.  Now it’s a rare throwback, but Zimmerman isn’t just here for the sentimental ambience — he appreciates the skills the barbers possess — skills that are on the decline thanks to an influx of quick-hit unisex salons and disposable Mach3’s.

“You don’t have too many barbers around that can handle a razor,” he explains while awaiting his turn in one of the plush antique chairs.  “If I want really nice, comfortable and excellent work, I’ll go for the razor job and pay a little extra.”

“It’s a stressful life,” he adds, his words bolstered by years of experience.  “And you just lie back there and get the hot towels, it’s complete relaxation.”

As much as there is an art to the perfect shave, the art of conversation and camaraderie is just as important to a good barber and it’s what makes a barbershop a special place for the men who covet the ritual.

For many, it’s a relaxing home away from home, where they can socialize, banter and joke, and discuss sports and politics with familiar faces.

In an ever-changing, fast-paced world, that familiarity is comforting, and Saaden notes that many of his regulars continue to travel to the Terminal Barbershop, even if they’ve moved out of the city or the downtown core.

“When people come to us here, we take our time to serve them, and they take their time. It’s all about relaxation and reflecting,” he says with a smile.

“The loyalty comes by building up a friendship. Our clients are not just clients they are our friends, we exchange advice, and also because we pay so much attention to detail, people notice that and they tend to stay with us.”

“Put it this way, we know more men who have left their wives than their barbers. When it comes to barbers it’s personal.”

And let’s not forget the importance of trust. After all, when you close your eyes and someone puts a straight razor to your neck, you better be in good hands, and at The Terminal Barbershop, that’s exactly where you are.