August 2020

The Boys are Back: Grab a beer and get comfy, fellas. The classic men’s barber shop has returned.

Author: Barry Kaufman | Photographer: M.KAT Photography

Joe Gancio, proprietor of Joe’s Classic Cuts in Bluffton.

It was 1966 when James Brown sang, “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” and at the time, that was very true. The patriarchy was at the height of its powers, with men firmly in the driver’s seat both literally and figuratively. To be clear, we are in no way saying it was a better time.

The Mad Men era was defined by its misogyny, from the cinematic chauvinism of James Bond to the laughably sexist advertising of the era, depicting domesticated hausfraus, dutifully ironing their men’s slacks. The backlash to this, in the form of the feminist movement, was almost inevitable. That’s not to say there isn’t still progress to be made, but the playing field between men and women has been significantly leveled since James Brown celebrated male domination in song.

But as the rise of feminism led to greater equality between the sexes, those arenas that had been strictly masculine in nature were opened up to the fairer sex. Women in the workplace meant that water cooler talk and locker room talk became two distinctly different languages. The sports bar was no longer a men-only sanctuary as professional leagues realized they weren’t marketing to half the population. Even bowling alleys became a co-ed affair. Bowling alleys! In short, guys began running out of places to be guys.

But there is one last refuge for the male population, one where women aren’t necessarily unwelcome, it’s just that they don’t have much reason to go there. In this shelter, we are free to have heated discussions about sporting events, sip on a cold beer or a neat scotch, tell the odd risqué joke and generally let our Y chromosome run around for a little bit. It’s the classic men’s barbershop, and it is back in a big way.

At Joe’s Classic Cuts, owner Joe Gancio has taken great pains to create an environment that welcomes guys of all ages. Here, you’ll find a pair of TVs that run sports and classic movies because, said Gancio “We’re guys. We like sports.”

For the drinking man, Gancio’s offers a spot to show off the latest bottle of high-end hooch you’ve added to your collection by giving customers their own booze locker off to one side. “Guys bring their own bottles of bourbon, scotch, whiskey … I have guys that come in just to grab a drink and hang out,” he said. “No one’s being rude, no one’s getting (drunk), they just come in and have a laugh.”

And if you didn’t bring your own, Joe has you covered with a few select bottles adding to a range of beers, sodas and coffee. “The only thing I tell people is don’t ever ask. Just take it,” he said.

Brent and Non Nelson at Barbers of the Lowcountry’s Bluffton location.

Those hallmarks of the men’s barbershop – a sense of community and a welcome environment, are key components of the experience at Barbers of the Lowcountry. Owner Brent Nelson has been working with his dad Lou for nearly 20 years, perfecting the art of the male haircut and honing the vintage vibe of the waiting area.

“We’ve always really wanted to make sure we were getting the experience right,” Brent said. That experience means most regulars plan on showing up well before their appointment time so they can dig into some of that day’s made-from-scratch desserts, shoot the breeze with the staff, or pour a glass from the rotating selection of craft beers on tap.

“We started out featuring just local beers, but then we started reaching out and trying other small breweries, which was great because, on top of everything, we get to help out another small business,” Brent said. That philosophy extends far beyond beer. Making connections with the broader business community has been a staple of Barbers of the Lowcountry, where partnerships with local connections is key.

“Those connections run deep,” Brent said. The shop partners with area businesses for a regular sponsorship, giving them props on the beer selection, advertising segments throughout the day on the in-shop radio station, and quarterly meet-ups where businesses can let clients enjoy the famed hospitality at Barbers of the Lowcountry.

Jeff Land and Dave Butler at Barber Shop Bluffton.

In many ways, the modern men’s barbershop serves as almost a rec room, where they happen to be selling haircuts. At the Barber shop Bluffton, you’re as likely to find a conversation swirling around the shuffleboard table as you will around the barber’s chair.
“We try to cater to young and old,” owner Jeff Land said. “We’ve got fridges of water and Wi-Fi, music going on inside and outside, sports on TV…. We make it comfortable for everyone.”

The hunting trophies across the walls might make you think that you’d wandered into a lodge at the height of deer season, which is funny because Land, like his father-in-law Rick Tramuta who collected the trophies, doesn’t hunt. Prior to the move to Bluffton, Tramuta and Land cut hair on the island for many decades, building up a clientele and a collection.

“Being in business as long as we have, we have a lot of customers that felt like we were family, who would shoot it and bring it in,” Land said. The skins add to antique memorabilia and weaponry that customers have either donated or bartered over the years, adding their own personal touch to the environment. “One guy’s wife told him, ‘It either goes in the garage or it goes to the barber shop.’”

These are just a few of the places around the Lowcountry where guys can go connect with other guys, be part of a community, talk about sports (or, more accurately, argue about sports), discuss the issues of the day, enjoy a drink, and just bask in the simple joys of masculinity. Oh, and if there’s time, they can get a haircut.

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