The New California Barbershop in Echo Park, CA, is as charmingly eclectic as its owner, Brian Girgus, a longtime musician, barber, and thrifter.
Glossy red and black barbershop chairs pop against the expansive mural of the wind turbines you pass when heading to Coachella (Girgus, coincidentally, hails from Coachella Valley). Then there are the worn green church pews, a favored resting place of Girgus’ mini poodle, Shelley Long, the official customer greeter.
Love of the craft – both music and barbering – is evident throughout the New California experience. Stop by the barbershop and you won’t just receive a haircut or a shave – depending on your luck, you’ll be treated to a comedy show or live music. And should you be inspired to go the ways of the hip, you can peruse the general store at back, filled with well-curated finds from Girgus and local vintage pop-up Please and Thank You Store.
It’s clear Girgus has carefully tuned the New California Barbershop to be a space for creative expression.
We spoke with Girgus to discuss how he got started barbering, his most memorable touring experiences, and how he came up with the distinctive look of the New California Barbershop.
Where is The New California Barbershop located? How long have you been around?
The shop is in Los Angeles. It’s on Sunset Blvd in Echo Park, not too far from Dodger Stadium. I’ve been around for 39 years but the shop, only 2. I got the place open on February 14th, 2013.
How does one go about getting a cut, trim, or shave from The New California Barbershop? Do you accept walk-ins or is this appointment-only?
Just show up in need! We don’t make appointments. It’s all walk-in. You can call and put your name on the list if you’re coming down within the hour.
What is unique about The New California Barbershop?
Maybe the fact that there were more things that I wanted not to do then to do, as far as creating the experience that one would have once they entered the place. I wanted just to keep everything very simple, but very high quality.
There are so many tedious clichés in the barber world these days. There’s this idea that barbershops are antiquated and kinda hoaky. I wanted to avoid that like the plague. I want the experience you’ll have here to be much more “in the moment”. I don’t wanna be thought of as “artisan” or “retro,” nothing like that. I want the shop to be timeless and contemporary. If this shop were still standing here in 20 or 30 years I think it would look as good then as it does now.
Tell us how you got started as a barber.
So many ways to answer this question! I have always loved cutting hair. It’s a great way to be productive, hang out with people, and make money, not to mention it’s incredibly low impact on the environment. It’s important to remember to take care of the earth ;).
In the beginning, being a “barber” was never on the radar. It was just about being a licensed haircutter so that I could make real money cutting hair. When I first started gathering info for getting a license, I was looking at beauty schools, not even realizing barber school was a thing.
I recalled seeing the San Francisco Barber College awning on my walks back to the BART station from our (band’s) practice space in San Francisco, so I figured I’d stop in and check it out. I rode my bike down there one day to investigate, and from that point on I was hooked on being a barber. I began to closely examine every barbershop and haircut I would see, totally nerding out to every detail. I pretty much knew right away that it was the job for me.
You were originally offered the opportunity to run The Blind Barber in Culver City but said no and opened your own barbershop. Why?
Ha! How’d you know that? I worked for them for a while. Though I was incredibly appreciative of the opportunity to work for them while I was in New York, I wasn’t so keen on moving back to California to run their L.A. shop, especially when I knew I was on the verge of going my own way.
Though I did move back to L.A. and work at The Blind Barber for a few months, I certainly didn’t run the place. I knew I wasn’t gonna stay long before I started.
We think it’s so cool that you have a general store within the barbershop. What made you decide to sell curated goods in addition to barbering?
Thanks a lot! I don’t really push the general store on people too much. Some probably think it’s just my closet back there. It’s just fun to give a second life to the good, weird things you find along the way and at thrift stores and what not. It’s like a museum of broken pieces. Who doesn’t love looking at things that are 30 to 50 years old and priced dirt cheap? There is some really interesting stuff back there. A lot of really great secondhand and vintage clothes and shoes. The stuff is priced right, too.
I’ve been a thrifter my whole life and it’s still one of my favorite hobbies, so it’s always been fun to try and keep the store stocked with cool stuff. Lately, The Please and Thank You Store (Instagram: @pleaseandthankyoustore) has been helping me with it because it’s been too busy for me to shop as much as I’d like. I don’t mind shopping less though. She (the lady who runs Please and Thank You Store) has a better eye for that stuff, anyway.
The store’s not only about old stuff though - we carry Layrite and MALIN + GOETZ pomades as well as a lot of other hair and body products. We have Cheap Trick Coffee too!
You have also hosted comedy shows at your barbershop – why?
Because I like to be around people who are laughing! We also have a great outside patio that’s perfect for events like that, so it’d be sacrilege to not use it. Though we did the last show inside during business hours. That was kind of my dream come true. I thought it’d be funny to have the shop busy with haircuts and have the barbers and the customers awkwardly become part of their routines. It worked out great. It was truly a bizarre scene…….We’ve also had live music. Buzz Osborne from the Melvins played an acoustic set back there recently. That was incredible.
Basically, I just want the space and the business to be a vehicle for creativity as well as a place where people can work and make money. Lately, I've been working on some weird haircut videos and I want to continue with that. The last video we did was "Neil Hamburger Gets a Haircut" (below).
You’re a longtime musician. What’s your most memorable experience?
Well, there are so many amazing and torturous experiences. Ha! As far as barbering and being a musician though, once I was on tour with the Melvins in the late ‘90s. We were on tour with Tool for a few weeks and I shaved the bass player’s head a couple times. Talk about foreshadowing.…..
Another memory: I met my lowercase bandmate and very close friend, Imaad Wasif, when I gave a mutual friend a haircut when I was in 9th or 10th grade. I just chopped his ponytail clean off. A couple days later, Imaad came up to me at school and asked me to do the same for him.
Is your dog, Shelley, the official New California Barbershop mascot?
She is. No doubt about that. To be clear though, the animal’s name is Shelley Long ;).
She’s named after the “Cheers” character, then?
Yeah, Shelley Long was named after Diane Chamber's character.
We love the aesthetics of your shop. The wind turbine mural, the vintage chairs, the wood. How did you come up with the look of The New California Barbershop?
Well, being from Coachella Valley I just did what came naturally. Many times I made the drive from Palm Desert to Las Vegas when I was a kid. The idea of the Calico Ghost Town always stood out to me for one reason or another, so I tried to subtly - or not so subtly - bring that vibe in. I wanted it to feel worn and lived in, but also to be clean and comfortable. I tried to channel the vast expanse and openness of the desert. Since we’re working all day in there, I wanted to bring some of that desert sun and expansive sky inside.
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