by Piero J Filpi
Before the Civil War, the area located near 8th Street NE and P was referred to as “Hell’s Bottom.” Similar to Daredevil’s rendition of Hell’s Kitchen in New York, the D.C. area was riddled with crime throughout the 1850’s and 1860’s. Walking into the Barber of Hell’s Bottom, a local NE Barber shop on the corner of 8th and Rhode Island, anyone in need of a beard trim or haircut will feel nostalgic for their 5th grade Social Studies class. Patrons in need of haircuts feel the brash memories of 1850’s America. The barbers’ chairs look like you just missed George Washington by 15 minutes, and the mirrors resemble those of old saloons. The wood bar that holds your barber’s arsenal spans the entire room, right under the saloon mirrors. When you look down, blue and white tiles run across the small shop, a sharp contrast to the wood first encountered when opening the door.
They’re not your average barbers. They’re the type of barbers you would find in a gritty comedy and say to your buddy “I’d chill there.” Everyone you meet inside has their own character. Some are inked up, some have different colored hair, and others have an attitude you can sense through their clothing. Meanwhile, other barbers dress in polos and sport classic haircuts. It’s a diverse environment, yet it doesn’t grab you by the ears and scream “WE’RE DIVERSE.” The ambiance is relaxed, as though no one cares.
My one qualm with the place is that it’s a bit rough on the wallet. For a college student looking to get his haircut three times a month, the Barber of Hell’s Bottom isn’t the ideal shop. You go there for a cut when you’re trying to look fresh for a night out, prepare for an interview or a month anniversary with your loved one, or when you’re trying to get the attention of someone special. The point is, you’re gonna look good walking out of there. “The Barber of Hell’s Bottom” knows exactly who to hire to maintain the culture and consistency of great haircuts.
Although the haircuts may be expensive, you receive a free clean up whenever you like after your initial haircut. The “clean up” is free and serves to keep you away for another few weeks.
The customer service is incomparable. I called for a clean up before an important interview, explained my situation, and Helen was already texting Elsi, my barber to the rescue. With an important interview the next day, Elsi fit me into her schedule and finished in fifteen minutes looking like a new man.
From the decorum of the barber shop, to the quality of the haircuts, “The Barber” is an escape from the suits and ties you see walking on K Street. The people are chill, the complimentary coffee is hot, so I recommend checking this local place out.