THIRSTY BARBER: OLD-SCHOOL COOL
Hidden behind trick bookcases inside a barbershop is a speakeasy—quite an unlikely but lovely combination
In the famous stretch of Wilson Street in San Juan, the idea of getting a haircut and getting a drink afterward didn’t exist until a group of friends came together and thought of collaborating on a “project.”
One was already a co-owner of Felipe and Sons Barberdashery, another a foodie, and another partner was into operations. One idea led to another, and the three decided on a unique food and beverage concept: Thirsty Barber was born.
What inspired it was the Blind Barber in New York, a modern pub hidden behind a barbershop. At that time, Felipe and Sons was on a quest to conquer the San Juan area, so the timing was right. “The concept of a speakeasy bar is something new to the Philippine market, the good old clients of Felipe and Sons, and to San Juan residents, especially,” says Jonas Tamayo, who handles marketing for Thirsty Barber.
So you walk into Felipe and Sons and see the usual: barber chairs, mirrors, and bookshelves all around. There is a vintage feel to the space, as if you are entering your grandfather’s study—one that has a couple of trick bookcases that actually lead into Thirsty Barber.
A lighted sign behind one door says “Thirsty,” leading you to a small lounge by the restrooms. Take the other door, and you will be greeted by an industrial-themed pub that mirrors the vintage feel of the barbershop.
The checkerboard floor tiles set the stage for the tufted couches lined up against one side of the bare concrete walls, the exposed pipes in the ceiling, and the oil paintings.
“We maximize the exposed pipes. Some of them are decorative, and others are real, so at some point during the day, they make a sound when someone uses water upstairs. It’s part of the whole experience,” describes Jonas.
Every piece of artwork is on sale, too, turning the bar into a gallery of sorts. These are all by Filipino artists: Martin Matuan, Clai Litiaco, Fernando Antimano, and Sydney Valdez. Some of the pieces are commissioned paintings for one of the owners.
As for the other accessories, Jonas says the owners wanted it to be “more organic,” in such a way that they donated some of their personal items for display. “There’s a part of them that’s in here—an old globe, books, toys, trophies. Vintage talaga. Pretty old school,” adds Jonas.
Store hours for the barbershop and the bar overlap, as the idea is to “get groomed and get thirsty.” New Orleans jazz music plays in the background as customers down their drinks and enjoy the bar chow (which they find good enough to have for dinner, too).
“We try to sell the experience. You would have people who grew up in San Juan, but when they discover Thirsty Barber, they’re surprised to find something like this here. May exclusivity because it’s a speakeasy bar,” Jonas says.
(OPPOSITE PAGE) Regulars at Thirsty Barber would purchase a bottle of liquor and consume it over a period of time (specifically within a maximum of one month). They are given the “bottle keep” service for free, so they can reserve the bottles in individual cabinets until their next visit. When lit at night, this area of the bar becomes a main attraction. (CLOCKWISE, FROM TOP) Bright red bar stools amp up the party vibe at the main bar; the work of Filipino artists line the concrete walls of this speakeasy.