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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Cut and a Shave at Your Father’s Mustache

Old-school barbershop filled with history

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I always considered the old-time barbershop the center of the universe. A haircut and straight razor shave came packaged with world news and commentary. Tales were embellished, jokes looped, advice ready. Pinaud’s Clubman and Lilac Vegetal aftershaves stamped manliness.

And a master barber with sure hands and a warm heart captained.

Today only a few strays from that old world remain, like tiny islands of nostalgia. Your Father’s Mustache (9855 W. Forest Home Ave.) is one of them. You can still ask for a straight razor shave and a splash of Pinaud. Talk is wide open, jokes still looped.

And master barber and owner Wally Jablonski captains with a big heart, a well of jokes and a billowing laugh.

“So this man goes to the gates of Heaven,” Wally stops cutting and says. “One line has 200 men and another line nobody. He asks St. Peter and St. Peter says, ‘One line’s for people who were bossed by the wife and one line for those the wife didn’t control.’ So the guy goes in the line with nobody. The Lord says, ‘What’re you doing in this line?’ And the guy says, ‘My wife told me to stay in this line.’”

Wally’s laugh fills the shop. Sitting in an antique waiting chair across the room, Bernie Bykoski, a 30-year customer, announces, “Mostly I come to hear all the jokes for the week. Wally’s a good one for that. Bill, too.”

That’s master barber Bill Jablonski, Wally’s cousin, who captains the second barber chair at Your Father’s Mustache. Bill is a Vietnam veteran with the 101st Airborne. Wally is a former Marine and also a Vietnam veteran.

Allen Krueger, a customer for 25 years, explains, “I come a lot of times and I’m here for an hour or so. It’s my day.”

A while later, another longtime customer plops in Wally’s chair and says, “Don’t cut my hair so I look like Dagwood Bumstead.” Wally blasts another laugh and drapes him with the barber cloth. He knows the cut.

History on Display

Wally’s father, himself a barber, suggested the barbershop’s name from the tune “Your Father’s Moustache,” recorded in 1945 by Woody Herman’s First Herd. In moments of levity throughout the tune, the musicians repeat, “Ah, yer faddah’s moustache.”

Ah, but then Your Father’s Mustache is not just an old-time barbershop. Occupying a Cream City brick house built in 1869 by farmer Jacob Wagner, the place is also a miniature museum of wet shaving memorabilia Wally has accumulated over the years. Collectibles dress the walls and pack the display cabinets. “About 25% of everything in this shop has been donated by customers,” Wally explains.

He is not exactly sure why his customers have made the donations. “They come and say, ‘I have something for your shop,’” he notes. “I’ve offered free haircuts or money. They say, ‘No, I just wanted it in your shop, because I know you won’t sell it.’”

Nothing is for sale except a great haircut and a straight razor shave.

The vast collection includes 35 out of about 100 shaving mugs in his possession displayed in a big open cabinet donated by a customer. Vintage straight razors, double-edge safety razors, hanging strops, shaving brushes, hair clippers, barber bottles and scores of other knickknacks are displayed.

A shoeshine stand once used for a shine by former Vice President Hubert Humphrey sits in one corner. The wall crank phone is the open line. Below it, on the marble counter, an old cash register cranks up Wally’s story machine. “The store clerk was a hippie-type with long hair,” he says, laughing. “He looked at me and said, ‘What business you in?’ and I said, ‘Barbershop,’ and the guy said, ‘Aw, what a bummer.’”

The 10-piece oak back bar with its five mirrors, marble counter and two sinks, built in 1889, and the two barber chairs, built in 1898, are from a hotel barbershop in Mineral Point, Wis. Wally bought them in 1970 from a retiring barber named Robert Ingles. One chair has a story: During the Depression, a man, his Cadillac parked with the engine running, swept into Ingles’ barbershop and demanded, “I want a shave and a haircut and I want you to keep your mouth shut.”

Afterward, he paid Ingles $5, a week’s wage for a barber, dashed out and the Caddy sped away. Only after reading newspaper accounts did Ingles discover his customer was the gangster John Dillinger. “I never told a soul in Mineral Point until I found out Dillinger was killed,” Ingles said to Wally.

Wally says, “So John Dillinger sat in one of these two chairs.” He pauses. “I’ve met so many fascinating people collecting this stuff.”

Perhaps that is one reason why Wally Jablonski is a third-generation barber. That and, like his father, doing work that makes him really happy. Your Father’s Mustache is proof.

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