A ‘legacy hang’: The Blockhouse pays homage to barbershops of yore

Editor’s note: During each Chips Quinn orientation and multimedia training in Nashville, Tenn., scholars are required to complete a mobile media reporting module, which includes producing videos and reporting and writing stories. Their work is displayed here.

by Marissa Gaston

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Carved into one of Nashville’s historic warehouse spaces at 516 Houston St. is The Blockhouse, a barbershop and bar that serves up its haircuts and drinks the same way: old-fashioned and with care.

Co-owners Matt Fine and Tom Hockensmith decided to combine their passion for hair-cutting with third co-owner Jerrod Brown’s love of Americana heritage and style to create not only a barbershop and bar but also a space for men to hang their felt hats and relax. The concept found a home in a warehouse in the Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood that once served as a wartime sock factory and is surrounded by other small businesses and individuals who work in the creative field.

Stylist Kelly Francour is one of six hairdressers – five of them male – at The Blockhouse barbershop at 516 Houston St. in Nashville, Tenn., which offers amenities from an eyebrow trim to a glass of whiskey. (Photo by Marissa Gaston)

“This area is growing right now. It’s in kind of a renaissance period,” said Fine, who is also a barber at The Blockhouse. “There’s this whole maker community. It’s been fun to get to know the owners and the workers of the establishments. I think they value what we do, and we certainly value what they bring to the table.”

Before the barbershop’s doors opened, Fine and his partners got to know neighbors from Fort Houston, a workspace for artisans complete with wood, metal and print shops, and Bastion, a small restaurant and bar. The Blockhouse was practically built by hand, and neighbors were instrumental in loaning tools.

“Anything that’s made of wood in there we built ourselves,” Fine said. “We spent a lot of nights and weekends just coming up here, polishing it and grinding it out and hustling after the work week.”

In nine short months, The Blockhouse has garnered a steady clientele by mirroring the sense of camaraderie and community that helped build it, meanwhile throwing the business back to the time when a barbershop was not just for haircuts.

The Blockhouse’s website tells the story of Brown’s grandfather, who would shave his face with precision each night before bed. Fine recalled a time when men would take their breakfast to the barbershop, sit and read the paper, or talk with other patrons as they waited for their names to be called.

“There was something about that pace that was (attractive) to me,” Brown said. “Our culture is so “insta” – insta this, Instagram, instant gratification – that to be able to sit there in the space and be quiet and just relax for a minute is kind of refreshing. So our goal is to allow you an opportunity to have that time again.”

Customers may schedule their regular trim or style and then linger for a drink from the shop’s full bar or a game of pool, or to meet up with others. Some even come in between appointments to work and unwind. The room offers leather couches and chairs, flanked by barstools and the latest issues of Native magazine. The two pool tables are a hit with customers, who go head-to-head on a regular basis, the owners say.

Stylist Kelly Francour cuts and styles a client’s hair at The Blockhouse barbershop in Nashville, Tenn., in May. (Photo by Marissa Gaston)

“You see half a dozen dudes coming in on a daily basis just using our amenities and taking off, and we value that. That’s what we want,” said Fine. The owners rely on word-of-mouth referral programs, such as free beer for first-time visitors and parties of a certain size, as their primary marketing tool. After hours, the barbershop’s doors are open to neighborhood events such as the Wedgewood-Houston Art Crawl and a recent hosting of a whiskey debut through a partnership with Jameson.

Eventually, the owners say they plan to expand throughout the city and state. For now, their focus is on maintaining an old-fashioned, all-American experience tailored to men that will encourage them to come back and share the experience with buddies and even sons.

“That experience to me, there’s something special about it that I think, unfortunately, is being lost,” Fine said. “That’s one of the things we wanted to recreate in here, a nod to what used to be (and) having guys be conscious of what can be in that spot, in that moment of time. It can be special.”

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