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James Suckling

A Saturday Morning Tradition in Havana

Posted: Jun 16, 2008 10:43am ET
I passed through Havana over the weekend on the way back to Europe, and I thought I was looking pretty rough after a few days in Hollywood with friends and family. What better way to freshen up, I thought to myself, than with a traditional shave in Old Havana on Saturday morning?

I asked a friend if he knew a good barber who still did open razor shaves, and he told me to go to a small barbershop at the corner of Plaza de Armas and Obispo. The barber’s name was Gilberto Turrente.

I finally found the place after a few bad turns and asking locals in my bad Spanish where the barber was. I walked into the barbershop, and Gilberto was more than accommodating. Check out my video.



I have never had an open razor shave, as far as I can remember. However, I recall as a boy that my grandfather was a great fan of a good shave at the barbershop at the Farmer’s Market in Los Angeles. My late grandfather, Albert Matlaf, used to own the fish restaurant at the Farmer’s Market. I worked in the kitchen there during the summer as a teenager to make some pocket money. I still remember shelling 20 pounds of shrimp each morning. I hated that job!

Anyway, Gilberto must have gone through a whole cupboard full of hot towels for my shave. He applied two or three before putting warm soap on my beard. He then quickly shaved it away. In fact, he shaved me twice. “I don’t want you to look like you haven’t been shaved by this evening,” he said with a smile. “You probably have some nice Cuban ladies to meet later and I want you to look your best.”

After the shave, he splashed some cologne on my face, which stung like a mother. And then he applied some talcum powder. I am not sure why the latter was used, but it didn’t hurt.

I rubbed my right hand across my face, and it felt like a baby’s bottom. My grandfather would have approved of Gilberto’s shave. The only way that the experience could have been better was if I was smoking a cigar, but Gilberto doesn’t allow cigar smoking in his shop.

“Don’t you smoke cigars?” I asked him.

“No. I gave up smoking years ago,” he said.

“Are you sure you are Cuban?” I said in a joking tone. “Next thing you are going to tell me is that you don’t like women and rum.”

Gilberto gave a hearty laugh and the four other Cubans in the barbershop laughed as well. I paid Gilberto $2, and he looked like he had won the lottery.

I walked out the door with my fresh new face and proceeded to light up a Romeo y Julieta Exhibición No. 4. The fresh, nutty, creamy smoke was just the right thing for a Saturday morning stroll through Old Havana.

Gilberto’s barbershop was only established a few years back to commemorate Havana’s first barbershop, which was opened in 1552. I have this feeling that a morning shave and a cigar are a long-time Saturday morning tradition in Havana!

Comments   2 comment(s)

Patrick Thayer — Annapolis —  June 16, 2008 12:06pm ET

Sounds wonderful! Next time you're in London try the same at Trumper's, 9 Curzan Street. Will cost a bit more --$100+, but a great experience.


Edward Kobesky June 16, 2008 12:43pm ET

Next time...skip the shave and get a haircut, you hippie!

Great stuff, thanks. I learn more about Havana watching your short videos than I have in all my travel books.



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