Long-maned Hamzah and his old barbering friends service the handsome and hefty Takara chairs in this Toa Payoh shop, thick with the musty smell of mothballs. The shop was originally named after Abu Nawas, a comedian from Arabian folklore, but Bugs Bunny it was christened after a few years to make remembering the ’90s-inspired interiors and its tavern-like bricky façade – complete with a faded Bugs Bunny painted on the door – easier.
‘Uncle Hamzah, who cut my hair, was really, really funny. He joked with me that modern haircuts like mine, in his words, “Cut salah also cannot tell!” But he gave me the haircut I wanted. Nothing salah as far as I can tell!’
Barber Ali and his four brothers have carefully put together a room filled every square-foot with joke and movie posters, vintage gear collected and donated by loyal customers, and male-modelled haircuts since they moved to the mall in 1982. A metal park bench flanks one wall for waiting wives and mums.
'A cut here makes me wonder why it's only $8 when my regular haircut costs $50. True, I get a damn good head massage at my regular, and the wash after really helps to get rid of stray hair, but older uncles running barber shops like Ali are really fun to talk to, and the haircut’s pretty good, too.'
The lashes of stray hair in shades of black and silver roll around like mini-tumbleweed around this Telok Ayer alley. Not many people walk by without at least saying hello in Malay, Hokkien or Mandarin to Lee Yoon Tong, who’s worked on men’s hair six days a week, every week for 50 years. The uncle’s an expert with both local and Western hair, using scissors and battery-powered shavers for half-an-hour cut, priced at $6. Straight razor shaves can also be added on for just $4.
‘I was quite surprised to find a barber in this alleyway and I felt like I went back in time a few decades getting my hair cut here. It was easy to communicate with Uncle Lee, and he gave me advice about not applying too much hairspray. I like my haircut, and he even taught me how to style my hair after the trim.’