WE HAD LIVED IN SONOMA for about a third of my lifetime before I visited Allen’s Hair House, about a half-block south of the Plaza. I had become fed up with being charged $20 for a chop job by my previous barber, who shall remain nameless, and I was frankly curious about the unassuming Broadway storefront with the classic spinning barber pole and the hand-stenciled sign: “HAIRCUTS – $12.”
I was greeted by the smell of cooking rice, and by an older Vietnamese man with a thick and soft accent. He offered me one of the two empty chairs and, when I sat down, he tied the traditional paper strip around my neck before enveloping me in a smock decorated with an Egyptian theme. “Trim?” he asked. “Yes please, a medium trim,” I answered. He flourished an electric razor and got to work.
Unlike my usual (and incompetent) barber, he began by lightly brushing the razor across the hair on the side of my head before slowly dipping deeper. I was impressed by his delicate technique and obvious mastery of his craft. When he finished with the razor on one area of my head, he followed up with comb and scissors, snipping what seemed like two to three hairs at a time until he was satisfied with what he’d done. (He even pulled down the back of my collar to shave the hairs below the neckline!) While all this was going on, he asked me where I lived and how long, and what had brought me to Sonoma. In turn, he revealed that he had arrived in the late 1970s, had a daughter in college back East somewhere, and another who was learning his trade. He finished my haircut with a careful snip of the scissors, proffered a mirror, and said, “New man.”
I had to agree. I had never had my hair cut so professionally and so quickly; he can’t have spent more than 10 minutes on me. “Best haircut I’ve ever had,” I said, and handed him $12.
That was about two years ago; I have since become a regular, every-two-month customer. I walk past his shop at least a couple of times a week and while there is often someone in the chair, more often there’s not. I don’t know how he stays in business. But I hope he does. He’s returning from a month-long vacation tomorrow, and I really need a trim.