At Barberhood, you can get smoked out before you get your hair faded
Working late into the night, Jay Zavala fist-bumps and slaps hands with his cousin, 29-year-old Tony Castellano, who has just walked into Zavala’s haircutting booth. He’s the last customer on a recent Friday night at the small Excelsior shop, saliently called The Barberhood, off Mission and Niagara Avenue.
It may seem far-flung, but if a man wants a haircut after 7 p.m., it is one of the few shops in the city to accept clients until 9 p.m. These hours attract clients from the entire Bay.
Zavala, 27, says he cuts hair from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week. Vacations are rare and he has given up his bartending job.
“It wasn’t helping the business grow,” Zavala said. So in 2019, he stopped bartending and became a full-time barber.
Zavala and his co-barber Dejon Boyd noticed that the block where Barberhood is located, at 5242 Mission St., had steady foot traffic until 10 p.m. It owed that activity to two dispensaries, Mission Organic Inc. and Connected, which stay open until then. It wasn’t long before Savala shifted his shop’s hours to capitalize on that foot traffic.
It’s what Zavala said distinguishes his place from the others— it’s open late, and offer full service, but they also benefit from other perks: free beer and regular drags from a joint. On a recent Friday night, three barbers were still at work and four customers were getting everything from taper fades to Gentlemen cuts.
Four barbers — including Zavala — work at The Barberhood: Eric Rodriguez, a Fresno native, Dejon Boyd, one of the first barbers at the shop and a part-time college student at San Francisco State, and Cola, a barber who did not want his surname published (nor did he give it out).
Some of the barbers, like Rodriguez, like to go the extra mile, wrapping warm towels around his clients’ heads and massaging their shoulders and scalp with a hand device that looks like a set of gloves from the cyberpunk movie Johnny Mnemonic.
On Friday evening, the shop is a hair-cutting free-for-all with little chatter and a variety of rap, hip-hop and R&B playing in the background. Zavala walks in from a smoke break, pulls out a six-pack of beer and offers them to anyone.
“Anyone want to hit this pen?” he then asks the room, holding up a shiny, gold-tipped vape pen with cannabis flowing in its glass canister. No one takes him up on the offer.
Asking people if they want to get high is part of the customer experience at Barberhood — one Zavala champions every hour and with every new client.
Unlike some other shops, there was little banter during the grind-time hours of Friday evening. Every once in awhile a joke would pop out, but the barbers were mostly zeroed in on cutting hair.
The only place to sit and wait is a small bench next to a deep windowsill that houses the shop’s revolving pole. More people show up for a haircut, but without space inside, they wait on the sidewalk.
One man who had been getting his hair cut by Cola paid his bill and rushed out in a hurried frenzy. Before heading out, Orlando said he was a city native who had randomly found the barbershop on a walk.
“This is the best in the city, to me,” Orlando said. “I brought my friends here and now they all come here all the time.”
Outside, Hans Salazar waited his turn. Salazar works near the Safeway in Mission Bernal, and needed a haircut. Though he lives in Berkeley, he prefers to get a haircut in the city — most places would be closed by the time he got home.
Joe Futuu said ditto for San Bruno, where all the barbershops close at 6 p.m. Plus, he said, the quality was also not up to par compared to shops in the Outer Mission.
“They don’t give you massages in San Bruno. They don’t even line you up unless you ask them!” Futuu said, referring to how barbers will sharpen and line up your hairline.
Salazar agreed. “This is full service right here!”
Cola took an hour on Futuu’s haircut. Hans Salazar, meanwhile, was enjoying a complimentary beer while Boyd cut his hair.
When supplies were depleted, Zavala returned from the corner liquor store with Toña, a Nicaraguan pilsner that he offered to the remaining clients and staff.
A half-hour after the shop closed, only Zavala was still cutting hair. One customer and two of the barbers, however, had stayed to chat and drink. Rodriguez, who had stepped out earlier, reemerged with a newly purchased joint of medical-grade cannabis. He popped it out of its tube container, smelled it like a cigar and looked at the crew.
“It’s called Gorilla Glue,” he said.
The shop’s music system was instantly changed to RBL Posse’s “Bammer Weed” in celebration, a classic smoking anthem recorded here in the city. The joint was passed around to everyone in the shop. And, as tradition dictates, everyone took two successive hits, before passing it along. By 9:45 p.m., only Zavala and his last client remained.
The next afternoon, a security guard who often hangs out on the corner of Niagara and Mission, next to El Pollo Supremo, asked if I had gotten my hair cut at the shop. His name was Gio, he said.
“You know what the tradition is after getting your haircut at Jay’s? You smoke and you go to this chicken place,” said Gio said as he pointed to the restaurant and underscored his fried chicken credentials — a childhood in the Deep South.
“Guarantee it to be the best chicken you’ve ever had,” Gio said. Eating there, it appeared, was another Barberhood tradition.