Flying High

In Austin, TX, a city that bills itself as the "Live Music Capital of the World," it was only a matter of time before someone opened a hair salon that doubled as a music venue. With the debut of Birds Barbershop, Austin's first rock and roll salon, Michael Portman and Jayson Rapaport have done just that. "Birds is a new twist on an old-school tradition," says Portman. "It's got the feel of a barbershop, but it's for today."

 An old-school barbershop motif is topped off with a 40-foot collage; Michæl Portman (left) and Jayson Rapaport celebrate the opening of Birds
An old-school barbershop motif is topped off with a 40-foot collage; Michæl Portman (left) and Jayson Rapaport celebrate the opening of Birds

With Wi-fi, a foosball table and a built-in stage for local bands and DJs, Birds is definitely not your grandpa's barbershop. The goal, says Portman, was to create a place that provided high-quality haircuts at an affordable price ($19 for men, $39 for women) in a relaxed environment that clients would like to hang out in. "We've created a place that resonates with people here," says Portman. "Men feel comfortable coming in, but so do women and children." In fact, business is currently 50 percent men (the staff gets requests for about one mohawk a day), 30 percent women and 20 percent kids.

Portman and Rapaport, both music lovers, came up with the idea for Birds one day after talking about how hard it was to find a decent haircut at a decent price. "I felt like the quality salons were for my mom or my wife, but not for me," says Portman, who reports that they launched Birds with an initial investment of about $30,000 and used their backgrounds in finance and marketing to get the word out. "We did some advertising with local, like-minded businesses," says Portman. "But our clientele is really below the radar. The rock and rollers who run this town are TiVo-ing their commercials, and they're not listening to pop radio." To find their target market, Portman drew up flyers advertising $15 mohawks to hand out after concerts. They also turned to the Internet. "We talked to some local business owners who told us we needed to create a MySpace page. So we did, and we went out and invited friends to our page like it was nobody's business," says Portman. "It's been the one thing that has worked for us when it comes to finding and marketing to the X, Y and Z generations. It's a phenomenal way to do that."

If it weren't for the eight styling stations and chromed barber chairs, Birds just might pass as another one of Austin's hip live-music hotspots, thanks in part to interior designer Joel Mozersky, who did MTV's Real World: Austin house, and Bryan Keplesky, who created a 40-foot, screen-printed mural with a collage of wacky hair-related images, such as a punk rocker sporting an old-fashioned barber's smock and a police helicopter with scissors for blades. Portman says it wasn't difficult to recruit stylists, because many of them were attracted by Birds' individualist approach to haircutting. "We want our stylists to bring their own creativity to their cuts," says Portman. "There are no hard and fast rules here on the right way to do everything."

But whatever they're doing seems to be working. Just three weeks after opening, Birds began to see return customers and a large upswing in clients. "People have really been blown away," says Portman. "More than anything, they appreciate the eye for detail that's evident in everything from the design of the shop to the care that each stylist puts into every haircut. My focus is on being the best cuttery in Austin. We never want to be a chop shop."