Pat’s Barbershop: goodbye to a Leaside tradition

Pats Barber Shop. Photo by Robin Dickie.
Pats Barber Shop. Photo by Robin Dickie.

Located on the north side of Millwood just east of Bayview, Pat’s Barbershop (formerly Joe’s) has served our community for more than 30 years. I have been going there for more than 20 years and entered into the picture just as Pat was about to retire. I never met Joe though his name lives on. Pat’s nephews, Tony and Rocco (aka Rocky), have run the shop for the last 20 years or so. Thinking they would like the free publicity, I once approached them with the idea of doing a piece on their local barbershop.  “What’s the point?” they replied. “Everybody knows us.” Touché. 

Pat’s was a traditional Italian barbershop. I have frequented others over the years – Gus the Other Barber, Camillo’s, and the like – but Pat’s was uniquely minimalist: inexpensive chairs and tables, nondescript floor, old equipment, ancient cash register, and a neck massager that looked as if it was purchased decades ago from a huckster at a carnival. But like everything else in the shop, it was clean and functional. 

Tony and Rocky are brothers. Both of them call you “boss,” incessantly.  When I said to Tony that there was no need to call me boss, that Greig would suffice, his response was “Of course, boss.” So “boss” it was. A haircut there takes little more than five minutes. Tony is a clippers guy and, like Rocky, a master of the straight razor.  Those razors disappeared some years ago for health and safety reasons. Nothing, alas, feels as good on your neck and face as a straight razor. Rocky is a scissors guy as well as a clippers guy. He has credentials for hairdressing as well as for barbering and performs his craft with a certain flair and sprezzatura. Tony performs his with competence and precision. In the end, no matter who does it, your haircut looks pretty much the same. I have been forced to go to hair stylists as part of a wedding ritual, and I can say without prejudice that Tony and Rocky are as good as the stylists at a quarter of the price, not to mention a tenth of the time.

When I was a young boy in the mid to late 50s, barbershops were hangouts where men talked, drank coffee, and smoked cigarettes. In the back of the shop where you weren’t allowed to go, there were Playboy magazines. In the 60s and 70s, when long hair was fashionable, guys of my generation avoided the traditional barbershop. In the days of Covid, we were given the freedom to go back to our former selves – “Gimme a head with hair/Long beautiful hair” – and it was with some reluctance that I went to Tony for a cut last fall. I didn’t know it would be the final time I would see him. Fearing the fate of Samson, I asked Tony to leave my hair a little longer than usual. He said “Sure, boss,” and then proceeded to give me the cut he always gave me. And he was right.  Longer hair doesn’t really cover up the bald spots. And radical comb-overs look pathetic. As a rule, real barbers always cut your hair, not as you want it to be, but as they think it should be. And for baby boomers like me, who, consciously or unconsciously, associate hair with virility, they always cut it too short. John Tory notwithstanding, we are not Samson nor were meant to be.

Like many small-business operators, Tony and Rocky are part of Covid’s collateral damage. The government has failed them just as it has sustained corporations who would have survived without subsidies. Many of their customers didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to Tony and Rocky. So let us thank Tony, Rocky, Pat, and Joe for their decades of service to our community. I’m sure Lilac Hair Studio will be a welcome addition to Leaside business, but nothing can replace Pat’s Barbershop.

This article was guest contributed by Greig Henderson.