While the history of speciality coffee shops in barbershops is surprisingly short, it has a strong pedigree. Sharps Coffee Bar in London and Brooklyn’s Parlor Coffee (sadly now closed) spring to mind. Now you can add Madison’s Ritual Barbers, serving coffee from local roasters, Kin-Kin, to the list.
A barbershop on one side, coffee bar on the other, Ritual occupies an almost symmetrical space, with a central, recessed door, flanked by massive picture windows. Barbershop and coffee bar get a window each: Ritual (right), coffee bar (left). Inside, the split continues: a row of five barber’s chairs, each with its own mirror, on the right, while a handsome, wooden counter on the left is the aforementioned coffee bar.
The symmetry’s broken at the back. While the barber’s chairs continue, before giving way to sinks, beyond the counter on the left a pair of large windows flank another door. These overlook an enclosed, old-fashioned mall-like area. You can sit at the counter, at a window-bar beyond that, or in one of two comfy chairs in the far corner. Alternatively, a long, back-to-back padded couch runs lengthways down the room’s centre, while there’s even a fitted wooden bench in the front window.
June 2018: I’ve learnt that Ritual Barbers has permanently closed.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
Facing southwest on South Pickney Street in downtown Madison, a block from the State Capitol, itself a delightful area for strolling, Ritual Barbers splits itself neatly between the barbershop (right) and coffee bar (left). Of the three speciality coffee shops in barbers that I’ve visited, Ritual is the one where the divide between coffee and barbershop is least apparent. You just walk in and there’s a row of barber’s chairs on your right and a coffee bar on your left. And nothing in between.
Compare this to Parlor Coffee, which used to occupy an ex-storeroom at the back of the Persons of Interest barbershop in Brooklyn. Sure, you had to walk through the barbershop to get there, but once inside, it was a self-contained unit. In contrast, Sharps Coffee Bar is in front of the barbershop of the same name, which is portioned off at the back, enabling you to enjoy Sharps as a coffee shop without ever really interacting with the hair-cutting side of the operation.
In contrast, the divide between coffee and barbershop is more conceptual than it is physical at Ritual. For sure, they occupy different sides of the same space, but if there is a line drawn down the middle, either metaphysically or for real, it’s one that’s frequently crossed by both sides. Indeed, it’s positively welcomed.
One thing that Ritual shares with both Parlor and Sharps is something of a chequered past. Parlor (the coffee shop) is, of course, no more, while Sharps went through several iterations to get where it is today. However, in the case of Ritual, its history is more down to external circumstances than anything else. The coffee bar was originally Si Café, an outpost of Yes Coffee Roasters. Unfortunately Dan, the man behind Yes, broke his back, temporarily giving up both roasting and running Si Café, although everyone hopes he’ll return one day. In the meantime, Ritual was keen not to lose something that clearly worked well, so now, as far as I know, it runs the coffee bar as a separate operation, supplied by Kin-Kin, the roasting arm of local coffee shop, Johnson Public House. In an interesting twist, the whole outfit morphs into a bar from seven until midnight on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.
During the daytime, however, you’re more than welcome to pop in for a coffee, although if you also want your hair cut, be aware that Ritual is by appointment only. During my visit, a single-origin, a Colombian Hulia, was available as both espresso and pour-over (through the V60). The coffee menu is commendably short, with names replaced by descriptions. You can have a pour-over (sizes: 8oz, 12oz and 16oz) or espresso, which comes on its own or with water, tonic (I might be brave and try that one day) or milk (2.5oz, 4oz, 5.5oz or 7oz). I can only approve.
I went for an 8oz pour-over, an expertly-made V60, made all the more impressive by the fact it was just my barista’s third day on the job. Clearly whoever runs the training at Ritual knows what they are doing! A fairly subtle coffee, the only thing I could fault was that it was served in a mug, rather than the carafe, but otherwise, it was very drinkable, holding its own as it cooled.
|117 SOUTH PICKNEY STREET • MADISON • WI 53703 • USA|
|Monday||11:00 – 19:00||Roaster||Kin-Kin (espresso + filter)|
|Tuesday||11:00 – 19:00||Seating||Counter, Window-bar, Benches, Comfy Chairs, Bench (outside)|
|Wednesday||11:00 – 19:00||Food||No|
|Thursday||11:00 – 19:00||Service||Counter|
|Friday||11:00 – 19:00||Payment||Cash Only|
|Chain||No||Visits||7th July 2017|
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