BY BRIAN BERUSCH | PHOTOGRAPHY BY LEAH FRIEL

A Downtown Barber Shop Strives to Up Your Style

SOMETIME IN THE BLUSTERY AUTUMN OF MY YOUTH, I managed to convince my parents to let me hop a southbound train to the urban climes of New York City. Leaving the sleepy hamlet in which I was raised was more an undertaking than one (from elsewhere) would imagine. We were sheltered, indeed; surrounded by oak and pine forests, as well as a watchful community that knew all our comings and goings.

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Which, you might have guessed, is why-at the ripe old age of 14-an escape to Manhattan, with its cultural blending, cement and glass towers, throngs of people with style far different than our own (to learn there was anything outside of JCrew was astonishing) was a thrill unto itself.

Where does one go, you might have asked, to experience such things in 1987?

The answer-and I’m pretty sure this was universal to all suburban kids who were glued to the upstart MTV-was Astor Place in the East Village. At the crux of this strip of boutiques, army-surplus-as-fashion-wear stores and so on, was Astor Hair.

It was rumored that all the rock ‘n’ rollers got their hair cut here. The windows were lined with snapshots of ‘dos that range from blue Mohawks to high-and-tight fades, as well as the “new wave” of shaved sides and long, floppy tops (of which this writer was prone).

We’d sit and watch the people come and go for hours, admiring their bravery (it was also rumored that you didn’t “tell” the barbers inside what you wanted; they just “did” what they thought worked for you).

At that same time, a young man named Taliq, who hailed from Brooklyn, was studying with the masters who ran Astor Hair. He would soon go on to “Master Barber” status, something akin to a master sommelier in the wine world. He had to prove to a board of barbers his adeptness in a number of hairstyles, as well as the classic straight-razor shave.

I probably saw Taliq walk in and out of Astor Hair then, almost 25 years ago. Little did I know that our paths would cross again here, in downtown Honolulu-Chinatown, to be exact.

Taliq is a partner in the new Mojo Barber Shop on Bethel Street that is reinvigorating the storied barbershop experience in this, our year, the Renaissance of all things retro and cool. OK, maybe the renaissance has been going on longer than a year. But here in Hawai’i, it’s hitting hard.

The goal, according to Taliq-and the tattooed, pinup-style manager who greeted me on my designated appointment day-is to offer refuge to manly men who truly care about their tresses, as well as the manner in which the transformation occurs.

This is not, I should add, to knock my grooming story in the last issue, which detailed a man’s experience getting a manicure/pedicure that unfolded in a rather feminine-geared setting. (In fact, Mojo has a semi-private “room” with a single lounger, flat screen T.V. and a mini-fridge stocked with beers where “detailing”-aka, manicure and pedicure-goes down while ESPN rolls SportsCenter.)

But I was here today not for nail details, nor a haircut; I came for that iconic, Rockwellian experience that is a straight razor shave.

Seated beneath a poster that touted some of Taliq’s more complex hair accomplishments (a nod to his Astor Place training), the conversation turned to a myriad of things, including the refinement of gentleman in Honolulu, the high school and university ball players who come, en masse, for touch ups before big games, and how Mojo is truly offering a unique experience on isle. In fact, talking with Taliq is probably what bartenders and hairstylists of yore endured, before we all were glued to smartphones and the networks that link them. You know, when people used to talk to each other.

Taliq trimmed my weeklong stubble with a seemingly industrial-strength electric razor, before applying a serum to my face. I was then expertly wrapped in mint-scented hot towels, where I would remain for a full two minutes, in order for my pores to open, the hair follicles relax and the skin to soften. I was now ripe for the razor.

Taliq maneuvered his way around my facial hairline like a craftsman honing his medium. Strokes were long and graceful-exactly what you’ll want when someone is holding a surgically sharp object against your skin. Yet conversation never broke. Taliq waxed poetic about the need (“especially in Hawai’i,” he adds) for men to “up their game,” both for the good of the city’s image as well as their own libido. We conversed freely on the subjects of good grooming, how it has evolved, and the doors Mojo could open for savvy men around the island.

In the end, I was left supple-skinned and crisp (thanks to some camphor in the finishing balm Taliq slathered on my face), eager to greet the afternoon. I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it here: There are some things that we, as men, don’t necessarily need others to do for us in order to feel any more like a man. But on occasion, the opportunity to sit back and contemplate life while an expert tends to your person is an essential experience for the civilized, confident gentleman looking to exude an aura of the same.

Mojo Upkeep

A shave and a haircut will get you halfway to handsome, but maintenance starts at home. Fortunately, Mojo Barbershop carries a handful of exclusive-to-Hawai’i products formulated just for guys.

Mojo owner Marian Lee prescribes starting with an easy-to-follow regimen that includes cleansing and following a shave with their after-shave balm, then moisturizing. She also suggests starting off each morning with an SPF formula to stave off sun damage.

While it may be tempting to add clay masks, scrubs, and an array of skin calamity solvents to your countertop, Lee recommends starting with these few basics…

Baxter of California

Men’s skin is thicker and oilier than women’s, which has its pluses. While this can protect skin and serve as a natural wrinkle reducer, pores can become clogged, which leads to breakouts.

Since the 1960s, Baxter of California has offered grooming products including vitamin-enriched soaps, toners, exfoliators and shaving creams to nourish and hydrate men’s skin-all while keeping excess oil at bay.

Malin + Goetz

Face it: Men don’t have the reputation for multi-tasking the way women do. This Chelsea-based apothecary and lab came up with a streamlined “Skincare Made Easy” system of daily cleanser plus a moisturizer for specific skin types.

Founders Matthew Malin and Andrew Goetz started with their own skin needs- ranging from oily skin to rosacea, eczema and fragrance allergies-to come up with formulas designed to be effective and non-irritating, no matter the climate.

Grant’s Golden Brand Pomade

For generations of men, styling hair often meant slathering on products that left your mane stiff and spiky (much to the chagrin of your significant other).

With the belief that “style is everything,” former local boy Grant Fukuda developed his pomade with a water-based formula that washes out easily in the shower, leaving no waxy buildup.

Throw in a light almond scent, and you’re locks are something anyone would be thrilled to get close to.