I don’t think it’s hard to believe that Mod Betty has never been in a barber shop- beings that I’m a lady and all. However after visiting my first barber shop – John’s Old school / New Skool Barber Shop in Schwenksville PA I think I’m spoiled forever, since I’ll be thinking that all barber shops are as hip, cool and happening as John’s!
From the vintage decor to the 50’s tunes on the hi-fi, to the tattooed barbers giving old school cuts and shaves like you don’t get anymore, this place is a destination for sure.
First of all I must give props to WendyVee over at Roadside Wonders who hooked me up with a link to an article in the Washington Post about John’s Barber shop extolling the virtues of John’s ability to give a proper old school pompadour as well as his cool shop filled witn memorabilia, vintage toys, and cool ephemera of all sorts. (I also found out that this repository of retro wonder was just 20 minutes from our house!)
Checking out their website I saw that the barber shop was voted Best Barber Shop in the Philadelphia area for 2010 and I also found out:
John’s Old School / New Skool Barber Shop specializes in hot lather face and neck shaves.We are the authority on all mens hairstyles from the 20’s through the 60’s and all the kool updated styles.
We do Greaser Cuts and Rockabilly Styles including but not limited to Pomps, Psychobilly Flat-Tops,Peter Gunn,D.A.’s etc…..We also specialize in flat tops, fades regular mens cuts and Whiskey Company Cuts.With over 19 years experience owner John Scioli will surely please even the most discerning male.
At John’s we make it a point to know our customers and look forward to the friendships we forge with our clients.
So I grabbed RetroRoadhusband and off we went!
As any good barbershop should, there was a barber pole lighting up the entrance to John’s on Friday night, making it easy to spot on Route 29. Within a half a heartbeat of us getting into the shop John greeted us while he was giving a shave, and let us know that there was PBR and blue Birch Beer in the fridge.
I was a bit overwhelmed taking in the scene – 3 tatooed barbers standing behind vintage barber chairs cutting flat tops and giving straight razor shaves, classic tunes on the hi-fi, pop culture and rockabilly memorabilia on every surface. I couldn’t even see where the vintage refrigerator was at first- but John, the host with the most, got his apprentice Alec to bring us some cold beverages.
While a cold can of PBR always hits the spot – even for a lady like myself- I was more intrigued by the blue concoction in a glass bottle – Big Ben Birch Beer from Catawissa Beverages (you may remember my first encounter with Catawissa, at the Old Sledworks in Duncannon, PA) Not sure what it would taste like, but since John was having one himself we took one, and found it to be a tasty treat, much like root beer (der) but not as cloyingly sweet. Despite the Windex blue color we downed it and are now birch beer fans.
Retro kitchen chairs line the walls for folks who are waiting for cuts, or just those stopping by like ourselves, so we sat with the Elvises and chatted with Drew Nugent leader of Drew Nugent & The Midnight Society. He was waiting for his bandmate from Brooklyn to get his hot lather shave and then they were off to play some “Red Hot Jazz of The Roaring 20’s” in Philly. Had my elegant gown not been at the seamstress we were tempted by Drew’s invitation to attend the soiree but I’ve added it to the list of Retro Roadmap things to check out.
As we sipped our beverages we tried to take in the cool atmosphere all at once, but there is so much neat stuff to look at – Bob’s Big Boy figurines, H.R. Pufnstuf posters, vintage soda dispensers, barber chairs made by Triumph motercycles and more – a wonderful overload of vintage cool.
Not wanting to disturb John – especially when he was wielding a straight razor for a shave, we took some time to see the back room, also know affectionately as The Schwenksville Museum of Nostalgia.
This cozy space at the back of the shop contains the best of John’s collection of vintage pop-culture memorabilia and his huge assortment of shaving mugs. He doesn’t collect your standard vintage toys (no Disney here) but instead focuses on the lesser known but even cooler characters from shows such as The Banana Splits, H.R. Pufnstuf, The Bionic Man, Land of The Lost, Lidsville (!!!), The Bugaloos, Sigmund & The Seamonsters and so many more. It was like walking down memory lane where all the cool kids lived!
This 1973 catalog totally brings me back to my childhood- I had a bike like that and that girl in the front is the spitting image of my neighborhood friend Jane Hall!
I could spend a gagillion years here looking at all the cool things (there’s Ernie from the Keebler Elves! Little Green Sprout too!)
I could not look at the magazine at the left without pronouncing it in my head with my native Boston accent ( StaahRinGahhtahhh) but wanted to get back into the barber shop proper where all the action was.
Back out in the barber shop, John had Alec put on a new record- I think he was trying to get in my good graces by putting on Connie Francis, and I chatted a bit to the two other barbers – Rich and John, who each drive a long distance to learn from John and be a part of this scene.
As John finished up his last client I asked him about his barber shop and the random tangents and cool off the beaten track topics that come up in such a place.
The barber shop has been open for 4 years but John has been barbering a lot longer than that, a skill he picked up as “something to fall back on” as his parents suggested when he got out of college. Lucky for John’s clientele he focused on barbering instead of teaching highschool German, and learned the proper way to give a precision hair cut with scissors, trimmer and a good old fashioned straight razor. And while the service goes for a little more than the old “two bits” the prices are crazy affordable- especially for the precision service you get.
Folks come to John’s Barber Shop from everywhere for a cut and a shave like it should be done, as well as the one-of-a-kind atmosphere. The fact that his shop is a place where local law enforcement can peacefully co-exist with rebels, rockabilly cats and punk rockers is a testament to his ability to welcome everyone who walk in the door, and treat everyone with the same frankness and humor. While things got topical, it never offended my ladylike sensibilities (or perhaps I’m not so ladylike after all?!)
The clientele also spans family generations: I overheard the local young basketball player in the chair chatting with John about his great-grandfather who had been in the shop earlier in the week, and both laughing fondly at John’s interactions with “the old geezer” (note that he won’t become an official Old Geezer until he turns 90 in May). Can’t say you’d find that familiarity in your local chain salon or cuttery.
Elvis is everywhere in the building and you may just run into him on Saturday mornings- as the barber shop often has live musical performances for the customers and fans of rockabilly and vintage rock and roll. If you’re local, think of bands that would play The Blue Comet and that’s what you’ll hear at John’s – Dibbs Preston and the Detonators and the like.
But what’s up with all the toys and stuff? No, they’re not some “put a buncha stuff you just found up on the walls and hope it looks good” corporate directive. You know the places I’m talking about! No, this is John’s personal collection of cool.
John says he started collecting toys back when he was a kid, ” I was a nerd with Tourettes and had no friends” This last claim is hard to imagine, with the easy banter he has with everyone who walks into the shop this evening, the offering of drinks (in ice cold glass bottles) and fun free stuff just for the heck of it. Highschool? Whatevs.
Try as I might, I just could not picture myself with a flat top, but I absolutely insist, that if you’re a boy, with hair, you must visit John’s Old School / New Skool Barber shop if you’re within any radius of Schwenksville PA and get yourself a cut or a shave.
As it says on their website they make it a point to know their customers and look forward to the friendships they forge with their clients, and with just one visit you’ll want to be part of this most excellent scene.
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