Everything about the Artecorte Salon in Habana Vieja is not what you might expect. Not only is the salon a super-stylish haircutting place plus a studio that specializes in skin care and facials, it is also an independent business. The combination of style, décor and business sense make Papito’s place worth a visit.
Yes, Artecorte is a place that does a very fine job with hair for both men and women but it is more than that. In a very compelling way, the salon really tells us a lot about where Cuba is today – where it has come from and where it’s heading.
To access the salon you climb a darkened stairway to the third floor of an ordinary looking, slightly decrepit on the outside home in the oldest part of Old Havana. You pass a family watching television in their living room on the first floor then navigate upward to what was originally Paptito’s (his real name is Gilberto Valladares) home. Even though the salon has expanded to take up the majority of the apartment, Papito still lives there, which makes it perfectly legal for him to operate an independent salon.
Once you scale the stairs to the door, you realize there is nothing the least bit crumbling about this bright, airy, fun hair salon. It’s a booming, exciting space where Papito hosts a fashion party and hive of haircutting activity. He is the recipient of one of the thousands of permits that were issued a few years ago to enable independent restaurants (paladars) accommodation in the home (casa particular) and home based services.
It was13 years ago that Papito first started cutting hair in the apartment. From a modest beginning, he developed his skill and increased his clientele. Today he has five chairs, a part time staff of four and the salon is constantly packed with Havana’s most fashion forward men and women.
The place itself is decorated with amazingly eclectic collection of antique barber equipment, haircut themed artwork and a host of dazzling mirrors so patrons can admire their new ‘do wherever they look. A separate room is used for coloring and facials. As a client it’s a never-ending parade of visual entertainment combined with caring shampoo and cut.
On top of all that, Papito has been actively restoring the neighbourhood with cooperation from the city. He has a school for barbers in the bottom floor and is helping to develop a children’s park with a barber theme- think giant playground size barber poles and the like.
Within the Cuban economy, an enterprising, creative individual with a vision of building his business and the community at the same time can be successful. It’s a new notion in Cuba and it adds up to a genuinely interesting haircut on so many levels.