The Man Behind Montreal's Blue Dog Barbershop
A look at one of the finest barbers the city has to offer.
Photo cred - Dany Medeiros
With all of the Blue Dog Barbershop on St. Laurent.and hair salons in Montreal, it can be hard to decide where to go. Once you’ve found the perfect stylist, you’re set, but the search can be a difficult process. However, if you’re looking to get a great haircut, watch classic wrestling, look at vintage Playboys, drink a beer, and have a friendly conversation (all inside of a licensed bar), there’s only one place to go—
Head there anytime between 11 am and 9 pm on a weekday, and you’ll almost certainly catch barber Dan Marin hard at work. Although the space turns into one of the Main’s more popular dance spots at 10 pm, prior to then it functions as the current home for Marin’s talents, where he does about 20 haircuts a day, five to six days a week. Only pausing for the occasional late customer or bathroom break, Marin toils away day and night, striving without fail to make everyone who walks in look their best. “Every client’s different; everyone gets their own, like, custom cut, you know?” he said. “When you have your technique, whether it’s this guy, who’s 400 pounds, or the other guy, who has this kind of face, or this type of hair, there’s a way of doing it.”
It’s a “way of doing it” which Marin has been perfecting since long before his eight years of professional haircutting. His journey through the world of styling began in his friend’s garage, where the two of them would bleach each other’s hair various colours in imitation of the punk musicians they idolized. It wasn’t until he was in Sec IV, however, when he went to a hair competition, that he truly found his calling. “I walked in, and they had thirty minutes to complete a hairstyle…then the music started pumping,” he said. “All I see is people with funky hair, and girls with big boobs and tattoos, and stuff like this, and I was like, ‘Oh, man.’ This was a scene that I’d never seen before…and here I am, cutting hair in a bar, ten years later.”
Naturally, there were several stops between Marin’s cosmetological epiphany and his current position. Upon graduating high school, he enrolled in a local hair school, where he was the only male student in his class. He found himself at a disadvantage, because the female students had experience braiding each other’s hair, whereas he was stuck with what he described as “very virgin hands.” Despite this hindrance, he worked hard to perfect his craft, and, soon enough, his teacher recognized his talent and hired him as an assistant while he was still in school.
Upon graduating, Marin started working at a salon which he called “too classic.” Although he was thankful to have a job of any sort, he was bored by their “outdated styles,” and his desire to do “edgier, punkier stuff” led him to work at Little Italy’s Queen of the World.
Despite his proficiency, Marin struggled to build a clientele, and the dearth of work led him to take his talents to the boardwalk on the U.S.’s infamous Jersey Shore. There, Marin worked out of a bikini store, where he was able to gain the experience of promoting himself and acquiring customers.
Though Marin found some success amongst the Shore’s style-conscious population, he couldn’t resist the allure of his hometown, and he eventually came back and worked at the high end salon La Coupe. Clients paid high prices to have their hair cut by him, but much of the money was going back to the salon, and his frustration led him to nearly quit the beauty business altogether. “It taught me a lot, but…it sucked all the creativity out of it,” he said. “You’re there all day, and you have your clients, but you’re not working for yourself—you’re working for a boss. I was just a number in the system; I had no creative flow.”
Marin’s yearning for independence led him to forge his own path as a freelance stylist. He bought a ‘50s barber chair, put it in his living room, and did group haircuts of friends and family members for three years. The cuts would also function as social outings of sorts, with people hanging out and drinking beers as they waited their turn.
As much as the freelance model fit Marin’s independent streak, he didn’t yet enjoy the success he has today, and a journey to New York City helped him to kickstart his current business. There, he found the pomade Layrite, which he brought back and began selling to clients and friends. Soon, he was regularly ordering cases of the product, becoming something of an ambassador for it in Montreal.
Still, this all wasn’t quite enough to satisfy Marin’s entrepreneurial motivations—to achieve such satisfaction, he’d need Blue Dog. When walking by the club on a night he’d be performing there (he DJs in his spare time), he got the use it as a place to sell Layrite. However, merely hawking it wasn’t enough, so he brought his barber chair into the bar and offered free haircuts for customers who purchased a beer and a product. Sure enough, people soon began coming to the bar and asking for haircuts even when he wasn’t there, the manager approached him about working regularly at Blue Dog, and the rest is history. As of this article, he’s cut the hair of over 1,500 different clients.
Despite his success, Marin hasn’t lost the passion and humility which helped make him so successful in the first place. “Everybody is treated equally,” he said of his customers. “They come in the door, you say their name right away, you make sure they got an appointment, and you make them feel at home—that’s what it is. They don’t gotta go to that receptionist, and do consultations, and all that stuff.”
In addition to his friendly demeanour and killer styling chops, Marin also has developed an atmosphere at Blue Dog which contributes to its appeal. The day I watched him at work (full disclosure: I’m also a client of his), the Ramones were blasting (on a playlist with both live and studio versions of “Sheena is a Punk Rocker”), and he regularly has rock music of some sort playing as he works. On top of that, the bar’s TV constantly plays classic wrestling or sports, and he keeps vintage Playboy magazines around so that his younger clients can “see how women were built back then.” “It’s a lot of my life rolled into one,” he said of his workspace. “It’s like my living room. It’s like, what’s going on in my brain, it’s just splattered onto the walls.”
These elements have come together to make Marin into the titan of the Montreal hair scene he’s become. “I want everyone to feel like it’s very rock and roll, meaning it’s very laidback,” he said. “It’s all about rock and roll and honesty…what comes out of there, every client who comes out of the chair, it’s just me being honest with the client.”
As proved by Marin’s success, there’s not much more one could want from a barber.