|Joe Gallagher and Mike McGinty at open house party for Joe’s Barbershop. Photo by Steve Underhill.
The venerable haircutting establishment, Joe’s Barbershop, moved from the heart of the Castro to several blocks away, due to the bane of every renter’s existence, a giant rent increase. In his newer digs, proprietor Joe Gallagher has created a bigger and better barbershop, and therefore held a huge open house party to celebrate. The place was packed with leatherfolk - plus a few sweater queens, just plain queers, and their friends. But mostly it was people of the leather persuasion who turned out, since that has been the biggest demographic served in the old location.
The new place was festooned with black balloons and silver streamers hanging from practically every square inch of ceiling. A large, permanent wood banner proclaimed the slogan: “Just a little off the top,” and the sign purposely cut off the lettering a bit to pun on the slogan. Upon entering, people were immediately aware of an old-fashioned turning barber pole of red, white, and blue swirling stripes. There is an industrial feel with purposely exposed pipes and gears and such. There are also flags of queer pride: rainbow, leather, and bear.
I spoke with Wade Hine, who designed the new shop. “This is an evolution of the first shop, which was over on 19th Street for five years,” he said. “The goal was to create a masculine, playful, friendly environment that reminded people of a retro barbershop where they may have gotten their first haircut when they were a little boy.” He added, “There’s a little bit of whimsy, plus industrial, and uber-masculine, and a bit of flair here and there.” He wanted to create a friendly neighborhood shop where people socialized freely. He said the primary inspiration was the one tool chest of Gallagher’s. “We got all the colors, all the silhouettes, all the textures from that tool chest,” Hine said. “And Joe’s personality.” I paid particular notice to the big art piece with the letters “HO” when viewed straight forward and “HOT” when seen at an angle. “Just as everything in life, it’s all about perspective,” Hine elaborated. Check out his website at wadehine.com.
I interviewed Gallagher in the back – away from the madding crowd. He grew up in Philadelphia; was an undergrad in Maryland; moved to New York in 1987; got his Masters at NYU in print technology; worked at Simplicity Patterns; then came to SF to work at Adobe, and was laid off during the dot com bubble bust. “Then I decided I just wanted to be a barber,” he said. “I went to barber school in Oakland, where I was the only white guy – it was just like the movie, Barbershop.” He said, “I love being a barber, and got to open my little barbershop in the Castro. And now I got to open a BIG barbershop in the Castro.” When asked how he knew this was his destiny, he replied, “My ex claimed it was just an excuse to have something to do with my hands while I talked to people all day – and if you know me, that’s probably quite true.” He hastily added, “But I truly became a barber because it’s really nice to have a half hour and make someone look better, feel better, and give them some attention.” He said, “Everyone wants to like their barber.”
When did he first realize he was gay? “Probably in first grade, when I was changing in the same room with all the other little boys to go swimming, and I thought that these little boys were not liking this as much as I was. I knew I liked being naked with those little boys.” His approach to life? “I want to be the best I can be, and give the most that I can give. I want to have an impact on other people’s lives in the way a lot of people have touched me.” He said, “I like a big social experience like this room is filled tonight – full of people who are really warm and involved and engaged with each other. I like to make that happen.” He noted he throws similar open house parties every year the night before Up Your Alley Leather Fair.
I spoke with Gallagher’s newest barber, Mike McGinty, twenty years in hair cutting and styling, who had been there for one week and had 31 clients. “I am absolutely ecstatic working for Joe, because I have heard a lot about him,” said McGinty. “And I know he has put so much effort into his business, so as an employee, I don’t have to worry, knowing that my employer has put the effort into it to make it a success.” He said, “He has paved the way, so that all I need to do is my best work, and it will pay off for myself and for the salon as a whole.” He added, “The environment is really friendly.” He said, “Just about everyone working there is dealing with HIV, so we have our various challenges; and it’s nice to know we can still be a part of this community while facing those challenges.”
McGinty said, “To me, it fits like a hand in glove.” He concluded, “I feel a real connection.” As do apparently most all the customers in Joe’s barbershop, if all my interviews of some proved true.