My first time visiting Dublin many years ago, I remember being broke and walking the streets. Somehow I found my way to popular tourist attractions like The Guinness Storehouse and Trinity College where I visited the Book of Kells.
This was my second time in Dublin, a brief stop-over with a purpose to document a little piece of Irish history. As on my previous trip, and like so many tourists before me, I found myself walking the streets. Walking and winding a way back towards the Temple Bar neighborhood!
The Temple Bar area of Dublin is a popular area for restaurants and Irish pubs, but just around the corner was the telltale striped barber pole I was seeking. Beneath this barber pole are the doors to an incredible piece of Irish history worthy of a visit – and haircut or hot towel shave!
Behind the doors is the Waldorf Barbers. A throwback to the traditions and styles of years gone by, and a tribute to one local Irish barber who helped restore this shop to what it is today.
The Waldorf Barbers Long History In Temple Bar Neighborhood
The Waldorf Barbershop has been on Westmoreland Street in Dublin for nearly a century. First opened in 1929 across the street from its current location.
Originally founded by Thomas O’Byrne after a visit to the Waldorf Hotel Barbershop in New York, which was at the time the largest barbershop in the world. Inspired, Thomas opened his own version in Dublin.
The Waldorf quickly made a name for itself and became the place to go for celebrities of the time while in Dublin including Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Frankie Vaughan and Bob Hope.
The current location, tucked into the basement of a building on Westmoreland Street, was originally a 1940s expansion from its location across the street. It then became the sole shop in the 1960s.
Waldorf Barbers has passed through a few hands since including a collective of barbers who subleased it until retiring in 1994.
It was then that a man, who had experienced a service in the shop decades earlier, acquired the shop with the intent of restoring it to its former glory. That man was Liam Finnegan.
Liam Lovingly Restored The Barbershop To Its Original Style
Today two barbers, Ger Moriarty and Alina Stirbliene, who mentored under Liam have taken over the shop. Their purpose is to continue to preserve Waldorf Barbers as well as Liam’s legacy.
“He [Liam] wasn’t just a boss to us, but a dear friend who not only taught us about barbering, but life. To always be ready to listen, show compassion, and always back the underdogs.”Ger & Alina
One wall is covered in photos of all the past barbers who have worked here. It was important to Ger and Alina that Liam’s photo go up after he passed back in 2019.
“We didn’t feel it was right that the other barbers who had owned the shop were up here and he wasn’t,” explained Ger.
The first thing done after Liam’s passing was to make sure his photo went on the shops Wall of Fame to honor Liam just as he had his predecessors.
Both Ger and Alina worked for Liam for many years in the shop that he lovingly returned to its original style.
A 1970s barbershop “modernization” made it look more like a salon. Liam missed the charm and look it had when it first opened here in 1946. He spent time restoring the terrazzo floor, had stainless steel handrails reinstalled, and put up old advertisements and photographs on the walls to reflect on the nostalgia of times gone by.
Old Fashioned Towel Steamers Have A Home Here
Alina and Ger explained how the barbershop looks today is virtually unchanged from when Liam restored it many years ago. Waldorf Barbers still has the original green barber chairs, cabinets, sinks, taps and mirrors from when it originally opened. Look closely at the mirrors revealing the “WA” for Waldorf embossed on them.
What isn’t original to the shop, Liam collected over the years. He visited antique markets in England and France. Later Liam searched on eBay for vintage barbering items to fill the shop.
Mounted to the back wall are several old-fashioned towel steamers. “I really love the steamers,” Alina explains, “This is my favorite thing because nobody has them.”
The metal steamers work like a kettle. An electric element inside heats the water, and the hot water warms the towels.
Vintage and functional! This steamer made all the hot towels when we filmed our Waldorf traditional hot towel shave experience for the Haircut Harry Youtube Channel.
Waldorf Barbers also has a vintage towel wringer that Ger recalls the day Liam bought it down the stairs into the shop.
“I said, ‘Oh my god, what have you bought?!’” Ger recalls with a laugh.
Wet towels are fed into the wringer, which turns with a crank on one side. It squeezes excess water out to ensure the towels can go into the steamer.
If towels are too wet when placed in the steamer, they will burn the face. Too dry, then they don’t hold heat.
“He [Liam] has it set. We’ve never even touched the setting,” Ger says. “It’s the most perfect towel for a hot towel shave.”
Stepping Back In Time At Waldorf Barbers
Ger and Alina took over ownership of Waldorf Barbers a few years ago. Since then they have continued the daily rhythm of old-fashioned ways and the customer-focused mindset Liam instilled in them as employees.
Dubliners and tourists alike enjoy the feel of the shop from the moment they enter.
“They say it’s like stepping back in time,” Ger explains. “Upstairs you’ve got all the hustle and bustle of the traffic and people and then you come down here, and it’s like you’re back in time.”
“We usually play really old music, we wear the old uniforms. We try and keep it the way it should be kept.”Ger Moriarty
Both Alina and Ger wear white smocks with a green trim. Liam’s uniform still hangs on a coat rack as if waiting for his return to work. A blue trim on his smock indicated he was the boss.
“We kept that for the memory,” Alina says, “we think Liam’s always with us and brings luck to us.”
The spirit of Liam is watching over them as they offers haircuts and hot towel shaves in this Dublin shop.
“We talk to him every day actually,” Ger adds, “ First thing we do in the morning, we come down and say, ‘Good morning boss, how’s it going?’”
“It’s Always Nice To See Their Smile!“
Both Ger and Alina carry-on the shops long-standing tradition by offering haircuts and hot towel shaves, but most important is that customers continue to feel at home.
“Fifteen years ago I came to this shop and the first person I met was Liam,” Alina says.
Liam offered her an apprenticeship, and she’s worked here ever since. Ger has been here more than 20 years. Both feel the shop is their second home.
They want people to feel at home here, like they do.
Now, a steady flow of loyal customers and new clients keep them busy. The occasional interesting characters also brighten the day. Once a customer was dressed as Saint Patrick; Ger gave him a free beard trim to in exchange for a photo!
“I think that’s why we like it so much, Ger adds, “There’s no two people alike in this world. We have so many different types of people that come in, it never gets boring.”
To leave the shop having a better day than when they walked in. It’s a simple desire that both Ger and Alina strive for with their customers.
“It’s always nice to see their smile,” Alina says, “When you finish a haircut or hot towel shave and you see from the mirror, a customer smiling.”
Keeping Traditions Alive for the Future of Waldorf Barbers
As Ger and Alina continue to work at Waldorf Barbers, they have no plans to change or modernize the shop. They’re working hard to preserve the charm and history within these walls.
“We’re not going to ever change the interior. That has to stay the same. We wouldn’t do that. I know that Liam loved it the way it is, and it’s unique the way it is.”Ger Moriarty
And why change anything?! This iconic shop has so much Dublin history and memories contained within its walls.
Dedicated to continuing to provide excellent service for their customers, Ger and Alina follow Liam’s advice to always give their full attention to the person in their chair – never mind what else may be happening in the shop.
Keeping Liam’s vision alive has helped them navigate owning this shop, preserving its history and perhaps getting their own photo on the Waldorf’s Wall of Fame someday.
“We’re very honored to be the people to try and continue on his legacy, Ger adds, “We will never let him be forgotten.”
13 Westmoreland St, Temple Bar