Barbershop adds cool vibe to old-school traditions

By Vladimir Bunoan,

Posted at May 22 2014 06:14 PM | Updated as of May 23 2014 04:05 AM

Refurbished 40-year-old barber chairs give Back Alley a retro look. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for

MANILA – A new barbershop is looking to upgrade men’s grooming services in the metro by doing a major throwback.

Back Alley, which opened in late February in Salcedo Village, Makati, is notable not only for its meticulous haircuts and shaves but more so for its ambience, which is undeniably a tribute to old-school neighborhood barbershops but with a definite cool and upscale touch.

For instance, the barber chairs are actually antiques but refurbished with chrome trims and leather upholstery. A lounge area is set up like a hip bachelor’s pad with antique sports locker repurposed as a table, while an old-fashioned turntable and a choice collection of vinyl records provide the piped-in music, which at the time of our visit was playing some jazz by Thelonius Monk and Sting.

The waiting area is decked like a bachelor's pad. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for

Even the barbers have to look the part. Their “uniform” includes tailored shirt and pants, a necktie and a barber’s apron made of denim.

Raf Tan, one of Back Alley’s owners along with Owens Sun, said they were inspired by the barbershops in New York, London and California.

“What we wanted was to adhere to the traditional definition of a barbershop. And with that we also wanted to connect it with an old school vibe. That’s why, as you can see in our aesthetic, it’s all wood-based. Even our process for the cut and the shave and the facial, it’s traditional,” he told

Back Alley is among a new breed of barbershops that have recently opened in the metro that is decidedly upscale compared to the popular mall-based chains like Bruno’s and Headway and unmistakeably masculine in contrast to “female-centric” salons.

For instance, Titan 22 is a basketball specialty concept store that also happens to be a barbershop with the same penchant for that old-school charm. Felipe & Sons, which is also in Salcedo Village, bills itself as a “barberdashery,” since it also offers tailoring services apart from grooming.

Tan revealed that Back Alley is also toying around a retail component but in the meantime, it is sticking closely to tradition such that its services are limited to the basics – cut, shave, facial and the barber massage. Even manicures, which are offered by most barbershops, are frowned upon as it is not a “traditional” service, although Tan said they might consider adding hair dying to the menu. “But that’s the most we can offer,” he stressed.

“We’re borderline pedantic in our approach to how we run things,” he conceded. “As with everything in this shop, it’s all calculated.”

But Back Alley isn’t all about old-school vibes and design touches. This attention to details extends to the equipment and products used. For instance, the barbers use Samurai scissors hand-made from Japanese steel, while the shaving brush is made from badger hair and made by Murdock from London.

Imported equipment. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for

Imperial pre-shave oil from California is said to protect the skin from irritation during shaving, while Baxter Super Close Shave Formula, also from California, contains antiseptic and botanical extracts. The after-shave ice gel comes from Pankhurst of London.

For the shampoo, Back Alley uses the Noevir brand, which is made from sea minerals from Japan’s Tokara Islands, which is considered one of the purest waters in the world. “The hair would be cleaner and smell better than with other shampoos,” Tan said.

Noevir products (washing foam, quick recovery mask, aftershave lotion and skin milk) are also used for its signature “hungover” treatment.

The final touch comes courtesy of Hairbond Sculptor, a water-based hair putty from the U.K.

“We wanted to make sure that we found the best. It’s a continuous thing for us to find the best products in the world,” Tan explained. “Even with the products that we chose, we made sure that these are mostly organic …because for us it’s more effective.”

Then customers are offered a complimentary cup of hand-pressed Yardstick Coffee or craft ale whipped up at a hidden pantry.

Coffee or ale? Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for

All these elements create a memorable atmosphere for its customers, who are willing to shell more bucks for the holistic experience.

“We believe it’s about time that grooming on men be the focus. As we have seen in the previous decades, grooming has been focused on women. The whole men’s grooming segment started recently actually,” Tan said.

Even the music is curated. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for

"We're striving to promote the barbering culture amidst the prevailing mindset that men's hair are better entrusted to stylists than barbers," Back Alley said in its release.

“We believe a good barber service, coupled with a cool vibe, will be well received. We wanted a platform where we can be surrounded by craftsmanship and creativity while gents relax and experience the quality of service,” it added.

Back Alley Barber Shop
Alpha Salcedo Condominium
Bautista St. corner Sanchez St.
Salcedo Village, Makati
Contact: +63 947-5185736 or via Facebook