If you’re in Boystown this weekend, you might see some unusual outfits that have nothing to do with Halloween. That’s because people from around the world will be sporting their rubber fetish outfits for the Mr. International Rubber convention. But if you look a little higher, you might see a fresh haircut.
And where do they go? Word of mouth has made a decades-old mom-and-pop barbershop in Edgewater one of the go-to destinations for men who will soon to be wearing rubber masks and leather outfits. The barbershop, called Father and Son, isn’t just for so-called kinksters; it’s cultivated a diverse clientele. It’s the kind of place where older men with heavy Italian accents talk about soccer next to young gay men covered in tattoos.
“I’d say it’s about 60 percent gay, 20 percent hipster-straight, 15 percent middle-aged straight men, and 5 percent transgender or gender fluid,” said Mitch Koonce, who has worked at the barbershop for three years and is known for his beard, which goes down to his chest.
That range of customers is reflected in the magazines and books strewn on the coffee tables in the waiting area. Titles include the usual Rolling Stone, National Geographic, and Esquire, but also gay magazines like Out and Advocate alongside a collection of children’s books featuring Pokemon and Curious George.
Rauley Beasley, 35, sat in the waiting area recently until a barber called his name. Beasley sported a thick beard, which rested above a dog collar he wore around his neck.
He said he has gotten his haircut at Father and Son for the past three years. Beasley said his boyfriend, who won the Mr. Chicago Leather contest in 2014 and whom he referred to as “sir,” told him to stop cutting his own hair, which he had done since he was 13.
Beasley said he chose Father and Son because of its reputation among kinksters as a welcoming place with experienced barbers.
“It was recommended to me by like 15 people,” he said. “The main reason I come here is for my beard.”
Getting the attention of kinksters
Jerry Cernak holds a particular position of reverence in the Chicago kink community. He was named Mr. Chicago Leather in 2017. A 41-year-old resident of Rogers Park, he said he has been coming to the shop for more than 19 years.
He and his boyfriend, who also gets his haircut there, plan on attending events for this week’s Mr. International Rubber convention.
“There’s usually a three-hour wait for a week or two leading up to a big event,” Cernak said.
Cernak credits the friendly atmosphere for being a draw into the shop, especially for those in the leather and kink community.
“It’s traditional Italian, it’s like family. Everyone literally knows your name,” he said. “What gay man can go to any other barbershop and talk about sports? I almost want to say it kinda takes you out of the norm — out of the gay lifestyle. … All of a sudden you’re macho and talking about sports.”
Arben Dauti, a 37-year-old Uptown resident, has been coming in the shop for eight months. At night, he slings drinks as a bartender at the Jackhammer Complex, a leather bar in the Rogers Park neighborhood.
“I’ve been told by coworkers and from customers of mine to get my haircut and beard trimmed here,” he said. “The staff has been very welcoming and friendly. I also love the fact that I see so many many familiar faces from the leather community and customers from Jackhammer.”
While many barbershops and salons utilize Instagram and other social media platforms to draw in customers, Father and Son appears to benefit from a word-of-mouth campaign by a closely knit community attending leather bars and kink events.
And while the reputation has been a huge draw, the atmosphere keeps them coming, Dauti said.
He added: “My hair, fade, and beard is always on point.”
Before the dog collars and leather daddies
On a recent weekday, Father and Son co-owner Pete Faraci sat in the back breakroom, which featured a large map of Italy on the wall. He said his father, Joe, immigrated to the U.S. from Sicily and began working at a barbershop in the Edgewater neighborhood in 1969.
He said his father purchased the shop in 1975 and eventually passed the ownership to him and his brother, Anthony.
Pete said he has been cutting hair in the shop since 1992, when his dad had shoulder surgery and was worried he’d lose his customers if he closed the shop during his recovery.
“After surgery, and [my dad] would sit in the chair next to me as I was cutting people’s hair, and he would tell me in Italian how to cut their hair,” he said. “I was terrible. I didn’t really know how to cut hair anyways because I was just out of school.”
His father still cuts hair once a week on Saturday.
On nearby shelves, there are beard products that are labeled BEARd balm, a nod to gay men who often sport a beard. It’s not a product the shop has always carried.
Faraci said the neighborhood has changed a lot since his father first bought the barbershop. Edgewater was largely Jewish back then, he said. But now the neighborhood is home to more gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people than any other area in Chicago, including the well-known LGBTQ enclave of Boystown, according to a recent report by real-estate website Trulia.
When asked about what the neighborhood is like now, Faraci said, “You know what, come in on a Saturday, you’ll see every possible type of person that lives in Edgewater. … We have World War II veterans. … I have kids that I’ve been doing since they were 2 years old that have now graduated college.”
Kyle Wood, 36, has been a frequent customer of Father and Son for the past 12 years.
“It’s a nice friendly environment with a great reputation,” he said while waiting for his haircut in the seating area. Mounted on the wall above him was a stuffed bison head donning a festive bonnet with miniature disco balls and pink lace.
“It was a gay friendly barbershop even before they had gay employees,” Wood said.
Wood manages the gay and lesbian bar Big Chicks in the nearby Uptown neighborhood, and he said he often runs into bar patrons getting haircuts at Father and Son. He said he has such a close relationship with the owners that he introduced them to Koonce, who is one of the shop’s gay barbers.
The other gay barber at Father and Son is Mick Santiago, 53, who has been working in the shop since February and has been a client of the shop for the last 23 years.
“I think the bottom line is that — in my opinion as a client, not a barber — Pete, Joe, and Anthony as a family have always been very open and inclusive and never turned their backs on our community,” he said.
Santiago said he and his partner at the time had what he called a “commitment ceremony” in 2001, years before same-sex marriage became legal in Illinois in 2014. He said the day before the ceremony, he went to Father and Son for a haircut.
“Joe, the father, who is old school, gave me my haircut for free and he told me it was my wedding haircut, and he used that terminology, I didn’t,” Santiago said. “He called it a wedding and I think that was cool.”
Elliott Ramos is a digital data editor for WBEZ. Follow him @ChicagoEl.