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Michael Martin didn’t set out to become one of Nashville’s most sought-after barbers. In fact, before opening his new East Nashville outpost, Hawkins Barber Shop, before he was killing the men’s hair game at Parlor and Juke (he was the first employee hired), and before the likes of Jason Isbell and Husk owner and chef Sean Brock and Frankie Ballard started to sing his hairstyling praises on Instagram, Martin was a career musician. As bass player, it was his dedication to that craft that brought him to Nashville from his hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 2000. But, in 2008, he decided music wasn’t his meant-to-be, and, after some soul searching, he realized barbering—and the culture around it—was the gig for him.
“When you’re a musician, the guys you tour with are your family, and I got married a year ago, but, other than my wife, I don’t have a whole lot of close friends [here], so the guys that I work with and my clients…as a barber, that’s one of the most special things,” he says. “That friendship with your barber, even though you may only see him once every three or four weeks, you know you can come in and pick up where you left off. That’s one of the things I like best about it. And letting people feel great about themselves and their hair.”
His old-school shop is the perfect place to cultivate those relationships. Inspired by the barbershops of the 1950s, Hawkins Barber Shop is filled with vintage details—and no reproductions. From the 1920s towel warmer to the 1950s cigarette machines, Martin chose each piece with care.
“I’m real keen on look and how it feels, so I tried to make it as authentic as possible,” he says.
Hawkins doesn’t offer beer, and that’s not just because Tennessee law says barbershops with straight razors can’t serve liquor. “I didn’t want to have alcohol, and I know people may think that’s crazy, but I wanted my shop to be as authentic as possible,” he says. “In the ‘50s, you never would have had a beer at the barber.” Instead, customers can serve themselves coffee, Coke and Dr. Pepper in glass bottles, or astronaut-friendly Tang.
That attention-to-detail—and passion for vintage—applies to his work, too. Martin specializes in traditional haircuts similar to those that gained popularity in the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s and are once again gracing the pages of men’s magazines. And, as an educator for Reuzel styling products, he’s not afraid to introduce his clients to a little pomade.
“We always say that good hair doesn’t come from a jar, but a haircut is always accentuated with a good hair product,” he says. “So, we always try to get people to take baby steps to use products.”
Though he intended also to take baby steps into the new business, the Inglewood barbershop is growing. And the one place Hawkins strays from barbering tradition is its inability to accept walk-in clients on a regular basis. While his apprentice is able to take some walk-in clients, appointments are strongly recommended—especially if you want to see Martin, or one of his other three experienced barbers—a team of which he is extremely proud.
“People will put on Facebook, ‘I’m looking for a new barber; who should I go to?’ Thirty people will chime in, and, when they mention me, they tag me, so I can see what they’re saying,” he says. “I love the fact that, when I get to read the responses, the other three barbers I work with come up in the threads. I feel really fortunate to have the other three best barbers in town working for me.”
When it comes down to it, Martin is just looking to make the men of Nashville look and feel their best.
“The haircut’s the most important thing to me. The vibe is important, the look is important—we all have uniforms—but, if the haircuts aren’t there, I don’t care about anything else. Our clients can trust that we’re going to take care of them.”
1101 Riverwood Dr, 615-414-5755; hawkinsbarbershop.com