My hair seems to have a mind of its own: it does what it wants when it wants, ignoring any attempt at controlling it via comb or hairbrush. So it was particularly awe-inspiring to see a barber actually “tame the beast” last Friday at the Crows Nest Barbershop.
Located in Kensington Market, the Crows Nest is as much a place for social gathering as it is a barbershop. Everyone seems to know one another, and on any given day you’ll find a substantial crowd of people piling themselves into the small house-turned-storefront — the back of the store features a kitchen, living room, and back patio. The customers stay out front, but stray hairdressers with time to kill are often seen lounging around back.
Owner Jon Roth can usually be found in the middle of the hair-trimming action — he opened the shop in 2010 (across the street from it’s current location) underneath the King of Kensington vintage store.
“I already did all my shopping in Kensington,” says Roth, explaining his choice of location. “I think because it’s such a destination in the city, it lends itself to people from all over Toronto who will come down to buy their groceries, shop for vintage clothing, and potentially get a haircut.”
The barbershop’s aesthetic fits perfectly with Kensington’s alternative vibes; the interior is decked out with elaborate decorations, including assorted taxidermy and enough Jesus-related memorabilia to make for a kind of hair-cutting shrine. Roth assures me that it’s mainly there for decoration, and that the only religious experience I’ll be receiving is my divine haircut.
The predominant hairstyle at the Crows Nest seems to oppose Jesus’ flowing ‘do, anyhow. In here, it’s all about a buzz cut on the sides and longer hair on top —essentially, whoever looks most like Jack Kerouac wins.
Roth confirms that the “undercut” — much like the crew cut but with longer hair on top — is indeed a popular style these days.
For Roth, the shop’s conception derived from the simple need to have a space in which he could be his own boss. “I used to work for Blood & Bandages [another Barbershop by Ossington & College], and that’s how I was trained and taught how to cut hair. But when things started moving in a different direction for me than the way they were for [Blood & Bandages], I decided to open my own place,” he says.
While the Crows Nest has become a staple of Kensington — appealing to youthful men with sleeve tattoos and well-kempt beards — Roth points out that this had nothing to do with the thinking behind opening the shop. “It was less about me seeing a hole in the market as much as it was about me not having anywhere else to work,” he says. “It was born out of a necessity for me to have an arena to cut hair rather than me being like, ‘man, what Toronto needs is a cool barbershop’.”
Not only has the Crows Nest attracted the well-to-do folks of downtown Toronto, but it can also claim an assortment of celebrity appearances. Toronto Maple Leafs alumni like Boyd Devereaux and Colton Orr have both stopped by to get a cut, as well as the Toronto Raptors’ Tyler Hansbrough. For those who can feel these names soaring over their heads, the Crows Nest has also been host to Canadian rock ‘n’ roll sweetheart, Dallas Green.
My own haircut comes to an end as a profusion of product is smeared upon my head, arranging what’s left of my hair in ways I simply did not think were possible. The barber, who had me turned away from the mirror for the entirety of the haircut — an experience that was both exciting and extraordinarily stressful — spins me around to reveal a classic “Crows Nest special” on my head. Sticking to their roots, the sides are buzzed, and the hair on top kept longer.
Combining the commendable job with the equally appealing price ($25, or $15 with an apprentice hairdresser), it is clear that the Crows Nest has earned its reputation as one of Toronto’s first choice barbershops.