A Close Shave: Strange Days and The Doors of Perception Opened at Bali’s Only Traditional Barber Shop

A  close shave at the barber of Bali
A close shave at the barber of Bali

Ah, male pattern baldness. It runs in the family, both sides, so I really didn’t stand a chance. In my late teens, I had long hair, half-way down my back, centre-parted, very David Cassidy. And a widow’s peak.

In my 20s, what I remember most is the eternal search for a good hairdresser which, as any woman will tell you, can be extremely frustrating. The late 1970s was the early days of “product”, otherwise known as gel, and a large chunk of the mornings spent blow-waving my raven locks to generate just the right degree of tousled insouciance. That was the Bryan Ferry period, mixed with a healthy dose of how Ian Fleming would characterise the dark comma of hair falling across James Bond’s right eye.

That continued into the mid-80s, and luckily I avoided the worst instances of that decade’s hair crimes; I can only imagine what could have transpired had my tastes in music veered more towards A Flock Of Seagulls than Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet.

By the 90s, when it was apparent I was being denuded by the follicular equivalent of continental drift, acceptance came fairly peaceably (although there was one ill-advised flirtation with a perm; luckily, photographic evidence no longer exists following the sad events surrounding the mineshaft explosion).

Portrait of an artist as a prat: hair in 1978
Portrait of an artist as a prat: hair in 1978

My father had a comb-over, so I wasn’t going there, while an uncle was overly attached (if you’ll pardon my pun) to a budget hairpiece that, increasingly, began to resemble a small, malnourished woodland creature that had crawled onto his head to die (he still wears it, God bless him).

No, in a sterling example of clear thinking, I decided I’d face baldness head-on (oops, sorry, another pun). Like Bruce Willis, whose own capillose complications paralleled my own, I went for the buzz cut and, eventually, shaving my head.

In Sydney, I’d have my head shaved once a week; I lived in an area that would once have been described as “edgy” back before an average tumbledown cottage fetched upwards of a million dollars and there was no shortage of traditional barbers, born clutching straight razors in their pudgy fingers.

In Bali, however, it’s another matter. I’ll rarely shave my own head. The front and sides aren’t the problem, it’s the back and neck, impossible to do with any degree of accuracy. For the time I’ve been here, I’ve used a pair of clippers for a permanent buzz cut.

Still searching for the 70s hairdressing nirvana
Still searching for the 70s hairdressing nirvana

However, necessity calls and I’m pleased to say I’ve found the solution.

The Barber of Bali bills itself as the “only gentleman’s barber” on the island. It’s located just off the extreme northern end of Jalan Seminyak. It’s the brainchild of Shierley Koval, who filled me in on the concept at a recent InterNations function. I’d like to say I made an immediate beeline for the place but it ain’t so; I stumbled across it by chance a few weeks later.

The Barber is on the first floor, Jl Basangkasa 8X, up a spiral staircase from the Rumba Bar. Koval’s Shampoo Lounge, billed as Bali’s premier salon, is on the ground floor.

The Barber offers haircuts, shaves, manicures, facials and massages in air-conditioned comfort. It’s also a bar; a cold Bintang, Russian vodka or espresso coffee goes down awfully well while the stylists are doing their work.

In 1978 with the "dark comma"
In 1978 with the “dark comma”

Walk-ins are welcome and, on the day I was there, the place was consistently busy. The music couldn’t be faulted; Beach Boys and Doors and some of the more notable corners of my music collection were in high rotation. Staff were friendly and plentiful and seemed so effortlessly familiar with cutting implements that I had no hesitation in leaving my skull in their hands.

Once seated with a strong black coffee within reach, the barber solemnly presented a new razor blade and inserted it into the straight razor. Now I should mention how nervous I am with sharp implements in close proximity to my head and there have been times (notably some years back in Durban, South Africa, where a rusty pair of electric clippers occasioned considerable blood-letting and a subsequent period of extended angst) when necessity overrode my natural hesitation.

This time, I had no such fears. The shave was expert and relaxing. I’ll be back. Not every week, mind you, but when I need a clean-up, I know exactly where to come.

The Barber of Bali
Jl Basangkasa 8X, Seminyak
Tel: 0361 843 9867 (walk-ins welcome)

© words and photos David Latta 2014