if you’ve ever been to beirut, you’re sure to have visited bliss street. whether to study at the american University of beirut or to enjoy a mannouche at one of it’s famous bakeries. the thing about bliss street is that it seems to reinvent itself every few years, shops and restaurants always seem to close, paving the way for new trends. but there is one place that has survived this change: Salon Safar. Meet Philippe, the barber of bliss street.
It all started in 1930 when Elias Safar, Philippe’s father, decided to open a tiny barbershop to make a living. Elias Safar was from Ras Beirut, an area that is deeply rooted in Phillipe’s heritage. The life in Ras Beirut, he says, makes him feel like being part of a big community. Everybody knows each other and acts as one big family. There’s a lot of love and loyalty between the people and it is this positive energy that his father wanted to implement in his salon. Philippe‘s purpose has always been to keep this “tradition” alive.
He was only 17 when he started helping his father around the shop. He used to come during summer vacations to learn the tricks of the trade. His deeply rooted love for the barbershop, sent him to Paris, where he earned a degree from the famous Cercle des Arts et Techniques de la Coiffure de Paris.
You can see the passion in his eyes, “being a barber is not a job, it’s an art. It’s like drawing and painting” he says.
Open for more than 50 years, he has met many people along the way. When we asked what keeps him going, he responds “I love seeing my clients satisfied, and the more they’re happy, the more I am encouraged to keep going. My client’s are not just people coming to get a haircut, they are my friends, my family and my memories!” His patrons not only come to the shop for a cut, but also to seek refuge for their deepest secrets. Phillipe prides himself on being a good listener and that is why his clients feel comfortable telling him their personal problems, whether financial or marital. We asked him to reveal a few, he replied with a smile “never.” And that is why Phillipe’s shop is still going strong 50 years later.
Due to the proximity to the American University, most of his clients were students, doctors and professors, but that’s not to say that he doesn’t have dignitaties on the list. His patrons include the likes of Michel Aflaq, founder of the Baath Party, Hashem Jawad, the late representative of the UN in Lebanon and many more.
Even those who left the country would still come back to visit him when they’re in Beirut, “They love coming back here. It’s their roots and they like to reminisce on the past.”
We were very intrigued by the well-preserved authenticity of the salon, so we asked him what he did to keep it this way. “The décor has always been the same”, he said. “Only the paint changed to blue. I chose this color because it’s the color of the universe. When you look at the sky, you feel big on the inside even if you’re small on the outside – just like the sea, it’s blue, and it’s so vast it makes you feel free”. And we couldn’t agree more, we truly felt comfortable and relaxed!
But like any business in Lebanon, Phillipe has faced challenges. “It was in the late 70’s, the civil war had started and it was a very unstable situation. Even though I still opened the salon, some days I had to shut down really quickly for safety reasons. But look at us, we’re still standing.” He certainly is!
Both his sons studied at the American University of Beirut but sadly, none of them will be taking over the business. With today’s trends and technology, Philippe has encouraged them to choose their own path. What will happen to this legendary barbershop on Bliss street? We may never know, but until then, we hope it remains a beacon of the old Beirut that we reminisce so much about. Now excuse us as we get a haircut.