Story by Aaron Kandell
Photo by Olivier Koning
“Stay handsome Hawai‘i,” reads the hand-stenciled sign. Below it a row of beers is displayed for purchase, and below that sits a red mahogany humidor filled with cigars. A vintage suitcase overflows with retro issues of Surfing and Playboy. On the far wall a collage of black-and-white photos faces off with three flat-screen TVs flashing highlights of the latest NBA game. A restored 1920s blue palaka chair designed by Ernest Koken, the man who invented the barber chair, beckons to the clientele of Mojo Barbershop.
Obviously, this is no ordinary salon. In fact, the word “salon” might be a hair too effeminate. No, this barbershop is a place where men can be men even when they’re getting coifed. “‘Mojo’ means swagger,” barber Jen Kahuanui says as she snips away. “And every man needs some swagger.”
In addition to haircuts, Mojo offers an array of swagger-enhancements, from “gentleman’s hand and foot detailing” to detoxifying facials to old-timey straight-razor shaves. The last, while inspiring nightmarish visions of Sweeney Todd, is among the most popular and personalized experiences available.
“I love my job, man. It’s all about the human touch,” Kaliq Rashad says as he slides an imported Japanese feather blade along an exposed jaw with a surgeon’s precision. Kaliq is Mojo’s resident master barber, equal parts artist, psychiatrist, comedian and mystic. “I see the clippers as a tool, just like a pencil or a paintbrush,” he says. “Each person that comes in is a book, and I can’t wait to read the next chapter.”
That book is an eclectic one. Mojo caters mainly to men and sees all kinds. “We get little kids, businessmen, hipsters, surfers. Both genders, all races,” says co-owner Marian Lee. Marian and her husband, Matthew Leo, wanted to make the downtown Honolulu storefront more than just a place to get a shave and a haircut; they wanted it to be a “cornerstone of the community,” says Marian. “We wanted to create a space where you can hang out and recharge.” And, of course, get your mojo working.