Keeping the tonsorial art alive in Malibu

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    The swirling barber pole by the door, traditional red and white chairs, and Babe Ruth paraphernalia fill the Malibu Barber Shop with 1960s nostalgia-and that’s the way Ray Rodriquez likes it.

    A barber who locals jokingly referred to as “Tomahawk Tony” because of his penchant for “scalping” children’s heads founded the quaint Malibu Barber Shop in the ’60s. As the cornerstone of the Malibu community, this barbershop has seen its share of Hollywood celebrity patrons, including legendary stars like Cary Grant and Rod Steiger. However, when the shop re-opened in April, nearly everything was different-from the interior, to the location, even the barber.

    Although the management of the shop has undergone a recent metamorphosis, one important thing remains untouched, and that is the commitment from one owner to another to keep the tradition of tonsorial art alive in Malibu.

    “I promised Emil Klink [the previous owner] that I would try my best to fill those shoes of his,” said 64-year-old Rodriquez, “and those are really big shoes.”

    Although Rodriquez and partner Joan George are aware that barbershops are fast becoming extinct due to the popularity of high-end hair salons, that has not stopped them from venturing into a field they view as a profitable specialty.

    “I get a feeling that barbering will make a comeback sometime soon,” Rodriquez said. “I see an interest in young guys who want to go back to barbershops because of the long-standing tradition and the warm friendly environment. These concepts are simply lost in beauty shops,” he added.

    After mastering the tonsorial art at a San Franciscan barber college back in 1962, Rodriquez said there was just no turning back for him. In Rodriquez’s mind, there are unforgettable memories about working in a barbershop such as the smells from the lilac water used after shaving, the camaraderie, the friendships forged and the life stories exchanged between barber and customer.

    After 40 years of barbering, the art itself has also become such an integral part of this barber’s personal life that it doesn’t occur to him to introduce himself as anything but “Ray, the barber” to strangers who enter his store.

    “I don’t know how that name happened,” Rodriquez said laughing, “but it’s funny because I think it just evolved over the years.”

    And most of his clients will know him by no other name, especially the children who received their first hair cuts and tootsie pops for good behavior in the barber chairs.

    One of his regulars is 6-year-old Ryan Tabb who greeted Rodriquez with an adoring smile before gleefully jumping onto the barber seat for a buzz cut.

    “People used to line up during the weekends for him at the Pacific Palisades Barber Shop where he last worked,” said Kelly Tabb, who traveled from the Palisades with her sons for a visit.

    “No one’s as good as Ray,” she added.

    At the Malibu Barber Shop, a wide range of expensive barber tools can be found such as top-of-the-line Osters and Andis clippers and scissors that range from $50-$200.

    Hairstyles from buzz cuts, flat-tops, and crew cuts to business cuts, Ivy League cuts or a traditional look can be tailored to a customer’s wishes just as long as they give him the word.

    “I want people to feel that the experience is well worth the price that they pay, and I go out of my way to make them happy by giving them the best hair cut with my experience,” he said.

    One other main attraction of the shop is perhaps the talk, be it the banter between barber and customer, raucous shouts of joy from children playing in the shop or just aimless chitchat among customers to while away the time before they are served.

    Tom Meade, a regular of Klink’s and now a client of Rodriquez’s, said there is something comforting about the experience of a barbershop that has drawn him to the Malibu Barber Shop for more than two decades.

    “This is a place where mothers can bring their kids and get their hair styled, and men can get a hair cut while chatting with everyone else,” Meade said. “There is something about it that just makes a lot of sense.”