The best barbershops in Dubai
Recent years has seen the men's grooming / barbershop market explode with a new barbers seemingly opening every other week. But are any of them any good? Sure they look flash and have some trendy sofas, but what is their story and can they really get away with charging AED180 for a haircut?
Being experts in the field, the well-groomed and hirsuted Esquire Middle East team has taken it upon themselves to definately investigate the best barbers in Dubai and report back. Below are our findings:
[Note: this list is not-exhuastive and will be regularily updated as more barbershops open.]
There are two things that I expect my barber to have: a beard, and an opinion. Let me explain. As a hirsute man, I am naturally inclined to trust a barber who has impressive facial hair. At the very least it shows that he understands first-hand the needs and issues faced with growing and maintaining it, and therefore he can relate. The second point, and perhaps more important, is for them to be someone who will openly discuss with you what you can do —and be confident enough to advise you on ways to improve your look.
I’m not saying you have to engage in hour-long conversations about Game of Thrones conspiracy theories, but an open and respectful dialogue with the man holding a blade to your throat is never a bad thing. Imad is the man with the blade in-hand this month, as he patiently sculpts out an impressive fade, telling me to leave the top long, “trust me,” he says. He is one of the barbers at the recentlyopened Unison Barber in Dubai’s Palm Strip Mall. And, yes, he has a beard. A good one, too.
“Owning a barber shop was never part of my plan when I moved to Dubai,” says Unison Barber founder Zach Kendall. “I just constantly struggled to get a consistent haircut and memorable experience, it was either one or the other. That brought me to the question, what would I do different if I was to own a barber shop?” The answer was to open Unison.
While the boom of trendy men’s barbershops is well documented in Esquire , Unison feels like it offers something new. With its edgy, distressed concrete interiors juxtaposed against a trio of clean wood shelves, mix-matched pot plants and white bathroom tiles, it feels very urban-cool. Its roster of barbers don’t wear braces or have mandatory sleeve tats.
There is no pretension of offering the ‘authentic’ kind of treatment you’d receive in another country, the focus seems to be very much on the barber, his tools and the treatment. As a long-time Dubaidweller, there is also something nostalgic about visiting Palm Strip Mall. Once the luxury heart of the swanky-end of Jumeriah, the opening of mega malls and Meraas properties led it to somewhat lose its shine, but not its charm. “The mall has a certain charm and resonance that I hadn’t found anywhere else in Dubai,” say Kendall. “It instantly felt and still feels like a hidden gem.”
Although, what Kendall might not be aware of is that in terms of ‘hidden gems’ he may have just created one himself.
Unison Barber, Palm Strip Mall, Beach Road, Dubai. Tel: +971 055 640 1211
“Your hair looks nice. Did you just have it done?” compliments my wife. I am taken a little aback. I sit in silence for a beat too long before responding with a somewhat suspicious “Yes… thank you”. You see, it’s not that a new haircut is a bad thing or a highly guarded secret, but more that I could not remember the last time my wife complemented a haircut I’ve had. I was flummoxed. What did she want?
As it turns out, nothing. She was genuinely in favour of the new trim. As was I. And although I do like to revel in a complement, I can take little credit for it, it was the work ‘Mo’ a rather talented barber at the recently opened Barbaria Italiana Gent’s Salon in Dubai Marina.
Barbaria Italiana is another addition to the booming men’s barbershop scene in the UAE where a new ultra-stylish and leather-sofa clad salon seemingly pops-up every month in an attempt to woo a growing audience of trend-savvy, Athleisure-wearing men on the hunt for a new fade.
The second of two properties (the original in Dubai’s Mercato Mall, and a third being planned for DIFC later this year), is the brainchild of Vincenzo Spina, a young and ambitious Tuscan who moved to Dubai having opened branches of the salon in Milan, Bergamo, Brescia and his hometown of Cremona. Noticing an upturn in men wanting to spend more on their upkeep, he wanted to create a comfortable space where men can relax and enjoy a more upmarket “Italian style and service” to the grooming experience.
While, we’re not entirely sure as to what makes it a particularly Italian experience – the ambiance is chilled, the barbers (most of who are from the region) are fun (and stylish) and the espresso is on point. Oh, and according to my wife (and her new shoes), the haircuts are pretty good too.
Barberia Italiana Gents Salon, Dorra Bay Tower, Dubai Marina. Tel: +971 4 3360024
Akin At The Beach
Cool. It is a simple word, and one that people tend to overlook due to the need to constantly overhype things. The truth is no word describes the Akin barbershop better than that, and no part of that is left to chance.
Akin At The Beach is the second outlet of the slick, Dubai-grown men’s chop shop. In contrast to its original location on Sheikh Zayed Road near the World Trade Center, this one is located in the tourist-heavy, pedestrianised shopping area The Beach but retains many of the hallmarks that has earned Akin its loyal following.
For starters, the venue is hard to find. Seemingly based on a ‘if you know, you know’ principle, the four-chair barbers is not signposted and tucked away within the entranceway of The Warehouse Gym. Inside the clean, precise aesthetics of Akin gives the impression of walking into an interactive art project.
Designed by boutique architect firm, Anarchitect, the high-quality materials used in the space give it a rather delicious up-market, hipster feel with exposed concrete walls, black paneling and a wooded ‘frame’ structure allowing the space a personality of its own. The unclutteredness of its shelves and working surfaces combined with the use of classic barbershop hexagonal tiling makes it feel clinical, but in a good way.
According to its tagline, Akin offers haircuts, beard tune-ups and straight razor shaves, but it is the addition of a curated concept store and lattes and cold drip brews thanks to its working relationship with the caffeine kings Common Grounds next door that elevates it to the more luxury-end of the barbershop shop experience.
The cuts don’t come cheap (AED175 for a haircut), nor do they come quick (approx. 45-mins), but it is not a place that looks to attract the masses. Since it originally launched in 2015, it has grown through predominately word-of-mouth attracting a mix of stylish, upwardly-mobile men who know the impact of a good fade, and those who want to hideaway in a calming bolt hole where they can slow down and get lost for a bit. Both types of customer, and the Akin experience as a whole, are in search of the same thing that most people tend to overlook – cool.
Akin At The Beach, The Warehouse Gym JBR, Dubai. Tel: +971 52 3647092
Before they broke ground on the Dubai Marina; before the first sketches of Burj Khalifa were drawn; before ‘Friday Brunch’ was a thing; Julian Colclough was cutting hair in Dubai. Twenty-three years in the UAE is certainly long enough to warrant being considered for icon status, but the softly-spoken Englishman doesn’t seem to put too much emphasis on his longevity.
“It’s gone by so quickly,” he says snipping away from the adjacent barber’s chair. “We’ve just always tried to offer a great service while keeping the atmosphere relaxed.” That relaxed atmosphere (and humility) has been key to Colclough’s continuance since he decided to branch out in 2003 and open his own self-titled barbershop in Jumeira. Like anything that exists for more than five years in Dubai, Julian’s has had to adapt to the aggressively changing pace of life in the emirate—in 2016 the shop moved from Village Mall in Jumeira, to the Arenco Tower in the newer Dubai Media City.
While recent years has seen the local barbershop market flood with slick, heavy-stylised offerings, Julian’s tries to negotiate the line between staying current, while remaining true to its core value of offering ‘British barbering’ to an expat community.
Dressed in the shop’s ‘uniform’ of jeans, untucked shortsleeved white shirts, and loose skinny black ties, all four barbers glide around the Belmont barber chairs occupied by a predominately British clientele chatting away. All of this happens under the somewhat gaze of kooky framed pictures of Ernest Hemmingway, Pablo Escobar, the Monty Python crew and Bill Murray in Caddyshack. The large windowed shopfront gives the space a bright and welcoming feel, with a mixture of pastel coloured walls, clean white titles and herringbone parquet wooden flooring offering a very British touchpoint.
“Julian is a classic British barber,” says Hussein Ghazal of his boss. The Syrian barber is one of the shop’s newest recruits, his background masked by a thick northern English accent. “He has long had a loyal customer base here, but is becoming more open to newer ideas.” Some of those new ideas include later opening hours, opening on Fridays and offering services such as threading and waxing. According to Hussein the changes are starting to bear fruit, enticing in a new generation of expats to Julian’s perhaps proving that even in Dubai, longevity still counts for something.
Julian's, Shop No.3, Arenco Tower, Media City, Dubai. Tel: +971 4 4473188
Dunhill - The Dubai Mall
When it comes to grooming, we're very much of the opinion that simplicity is always best. For example, when asked, “how would you like your hair cut” the general response is: “short”. “Would you like an espresso? How about some polite conversation, sir?” The answer to both is a simple sideways shake of the head. We're not here to have fun. We're here to manage the results of what is a biological necessity; humans are hairy, hair grows quickly (and looks untidy if not cared for), hence it must be lopped off.
And as with all monotonous chores we must now contend with (taking out the trash, washing the dishes, arguing with Lorraine from the accounts department) to call myself an adult, they work best when they are over quickly.
However, this point of view is very much at odds with the folks at Dunhill's Dubai barbershop (which is secreted away inside the Dunhill boutique in Dubai Mall). They believe that grooming should be an experience; hot towels, moisturizing face creams and all the rest.
It’s a bit weird walking into a posh boutique to have your hair cut. You’re at your most shaggy and unkempt before you visit a barber, which makes walking past the polished clothes and manikins of the recently renovated boutique a bit of an experience itself.
Nonetheless, the boutique staff are pretty good at spotting those who have walked through the doors looking to purchase expensive clothing versus the dishevelled-haired masses. As such, barbershop visitors are quickly whisked away to the centre of the store and into one of two rooms.
Inside, you’ll find all the modern barbershop staples: a big old-school leather chair, a collection of bottles and creams, as well as that weird blue goo that sits next to the mirror in every barbershop in the world (do they know what it is? Does anyone?)
Skipping over the bit where the barber asks how you how you want the mop on the top of your head cut (this is typical of any barbershop visit, you know how conversations work) the cutting of the hair begins. And while I am no expert in the hairy arts, I can say one thing for certain; there was an awful lot of concentration involved.
The barber looked like he was planning the moon landings (as opposed to just studying the back of my furry head) and once his calculations were made, he was off. But not in the typical ‘get the clippers out and start buzzing’ fashion. He took his time.
He primped and preened my noggin’ for a good forty-five minutes - not a single follicle escaped his considered gaze - before turning his attention to my beard. Two hot towels, a cream, a cut-throat razor, and another cream later and what stared back at me from the mirror was barely recognizable. And not in a bad way.
The barbershop inside the Dunhill boutique represents an evolution over most men’s typical haircut. It’s not quick and it’s not cheap, but it is very good. It’s a proper experience and one that even I – with my proclivity to getting shorn and shaven as quickly as possible – enjoyed.
For me, getting a haircut has always been a necessary evil. This place takes that evil, wraps it up in a soft warm towel then gives it an unexpected head massage (followed by a spritz of Dunhill fragrance).
Dunhill Barber, Fashion Avenue, The Dubai Mall. Tel: +971 04 434 0403
The Art of Shaving
The posh barber trend shows no signs of abating. We recently walked through our old neighbourhood and saw that the local shawarma shop had been turned into a temple of the hirsute man. The barbers wore suspenders, trendy beards and quiffs, and it was packed with punters looking for a brand new look.
But the king of trendy barbers has to be The Art of Shaving. This New York export specializes in hair and beard care, and since opening its first store in Manhattan in 1996, has gone on to produce a huge range of shaving products (with a little help from its partner company, Gillette).
The brand's Dubai Mall store follows the same stylings as its previous barbershops. Think wood floors, wall-to-ceiling products on display, suspender-wearing barbers, and, of course, the cutting room – complete with a proper barber chair.
What makes this store interesting – or a total nightmare for those with agoraphobia – is that the barber room features two walls made of glass. That means those walking by the store can easily glance in and see whatever state your haircut is in at the time. It also affords the general mall-goer a glorious view of the crotch while your hair is being washed (although fortunately, the glass is partly-frosted – much to the chagrin of the crotch-watching shopper, we’re sure).
The Art of Shaving prides itself on its signature shave, which is named rather presumptuously: The Perfect Shave. It’s a four-step process that ranges from preparing your face with oils, lathering up, the shaving bit, and finally a quick moisturize.
That last step is done differently here than you might expect. Instead of them slapping on some moisturizer, they pop two cucumbers over your eyes and paint it on. Then they leave you alone with your thoughts for five minutes, while your skin laps up the moisture. It sounds a bit much, but we rather enjoyed it. Having a bit of time to yourself is never a bad thing, and the cucumbers on your eyes stop you being able to see shoppers ambling by gawping at your bright, whitely-moisturized face.
The posh barbershop isn’t going anywhere soon. So if you’re in the market for some primping and preening at the hands of a mustachioed-suspender wearing master barber – along with all the pomposity that goes along with that – then you may as well go to the best one around.
The Art of Shaving, First Floor, The Dubai Mall, Tel: +971 4 396 2383