Michael Portman is co-creator and co-owner (with Jayson Rapaport) of Birds Barbershop here in Austin.  They opened the doors to their first location on South Lamar Boulevard in 2006 and set the world ablaze with their innovative alternative shop.

And, “the world” is no understatement with a 2008 vote as “one of America’s 52 Best Salons”  in Elle magazine and coverage in Newsweek and on MSNBC to prove it.  Locally, they’ve caused a stir as well.   Usually that’s how it works; have to impress the “homies” first.  They’ve been The Austin Chronicle’s Best of Austin Poll’s “Best Barbershop” 3 years running. 

They’ve recently opened 2 new locations on East 6th Street and in the SoCo District (South Congress Avenue for those who don’t know).  We have an exciting announcement regarding the East 6th Street shop that we’ll unveil in Part 2 of 20 Questions for tomorrow. And, I believe, you’ll be hearing it first here at popolio!  Find out more about Birds from Michael now.  Photos courtesy of Michael Portman/Birds Barbershop.

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1. For those late on the come-up, like myself, what is Birds Barbershop (And, why “Birds”)?   Salon?  Bar/Club?  Neighborhood Hangout?  Music Venue?  All of the Above?  None of the Above? All of the above.  First and foremost is having the best salon-quality cut at an affordable price.  We say “barbershop” because it’s walk-in.  “Birds” because a woman would never step foot in a “Frank’s.”  Birds is a local barbershop for everyone, a new spin on an old idea — barbershop as neighborhood hub — but built around the things we love most.

2. Do I have to get a haircut or can I just hangout and enjoy the festivities? Remember the guys hanging out in the barber shop in Coming to America?  Do you remember them getting haircuts?  They just hung out, but that’s what made that place awesome.  So yeah, you can just hang out.  We don’t charge for parties and the booze is always free.

3. When you have music shows are folks still getting their hair did while the show is going on?  What about the artists and DJs who play gigs there, do you do their hair before the events? When a show starts getting packed, we have to stop cutting hair.  Lots of free beer and sharp shears don’t mix.

4. Now is it [for those with] more of a rock vibe or are those with hip hop and/or pop appeal welcome, too? It really is for everyone.  We try to reflect it in the music we play every day…there’s nothing better than bouncing from Merle Haggard to Grandmaster Flash and back to LCD Soundsystem by way of that PM Dawn song you won’t admit you love. 

5. You’ve just recently opened a Downtown/6th Street location.  How is that location different than the other two?  East 6th is where my heart is right now.  It’s so cozy in there — a lot less “grand” than the other Birds, more “barbershoppy” but in a pop palette.  The art is awesome — Bryan Keplesky did it and it’s all wheatpasted.  The mural depicts all the stuff we love about the neighborhood.  Also, last time I checked I have the high score on the Joust machine (249,000).


Michael Portman and Son (Future Birds Empresario?)

6. Will you just keep opening new locations?  What’s the master plan? This had been a crazy last six months.  We were in the middle of building Eastside when we got the call for Congress.  In other words — it was not in the master plan to open two at once.  We are so done right now.  It’s time to staff and make every shop perfect.  This is always where we wanted to be with Birds.

7. You’ve gotten a lot of attention the last few years both locally and nationally.  How does that feel?  Endlessly grateful, cautiously optimistic and totally terrified at the same time.

8.  Were all the press and the new locations always part of the plan or was it just a happy accident?  That is, did you envision world domination?  Or at least Austin domination?  That’s funny.  Not domination, no. We just thought paying a lot of money for a quality haircut was dumb, and took a bet that others in Austin would feel like we did, driving to campus from South Austin for a cheap chain chop. We’ve lived in Dallas, NY, LA and Washington D.C. between us, and we can’t possibly imagine this working as well as it has in any of those places.  This is a laid-back town where people want to look good without looking like they tried.   Fame and power don’t run Austin, so affordability matters.  Not to mention fun and creativity in every possible detail.

9. Now, when I get my hair did I like to collaborate with my stylist (or at least they let me believe we are collaborating).   Would I be able to do this at Birds?  Of course.

10.  If there was a mission statement for Birds Barbershop, what would it be? Walk in, rock out.  [The tagline of course! Guess I set myself up for that one. ;)]

I challenge you to check out the official site and to go to the Sixth Street location to try to beat Mr. Portman’s Joust High Score.


To be continued... Tune in tomorrow -- same bird-time, same bird-channel!