Ritual Barbers

An espresso being pulled at Ritual Barbers in Madison using a bottomless portafilter.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.

  • Ritual Barbers, occupying a sunny spot facing southwest on Madison's South Pickney St.
  • Ritual shares its space with its own coffee bar, with each having its own window.
  • The view from just inside the door, with the barbershop (right) and the coffee bar (left).
  • You can sit in the sunny (coffee bar) window on the left...
  • ... although you can't sit in the barbershop window on the left. Nice tiles though.
  • The barber's chairs line the right-hand wall, each with its own mirror.
  • Meanwhile, on the left, is the handsome coffee bar. There are more windows at the back.
  • The coffee bar in more detail, seen here from the front, where there's a single stool...
  • ... and seen here from the back, with four more bar stools down the side.
  • Ritual goes a long way back, continuing the barbers (right) & coffee (left) split.
  • Right down the centre is a back-to-back, red padded bench seat.
  • Off to the left is window-bar with five more bar stools....
  • ... while, right at the back, there's a pair of comfortable chairs.
  • On the other side, the barber's chairs have given way to a pair of sinks...
  • ... while, in the corner, there's a vinyl turntable and a stack of LPs.
  • The view from the back. It's quiet bright back here, but dark compared to the front!
  • There are lots of neat features in Ritual. I love the windows and the window design...
  • ... while I also like the little retail shelf between the window and the counter.
  • Naturally, my eye was drawn to the lovely lamp.
  • More lighting. These hang over the barber's chairs.
  • Obligatory close-up shot.
  • There are also these beautiful lights on the frames of the mirrors.
  • A barber's chair in detail. Sadly you need to book a haircut before you can sit in one.
  • If you've just come for coffee, you need to start over here at the coffee bar.
  • The coffee operation is on the left. Check out the hooks under the counter-top. Handy!
  • There's a lot going on at the back of the counter...
  • ... including a fully-fledged bar on the right.
  • Neat lamp. And even neater till. Note that Ritual is cash only.
  • The boiler and the grinders for the coffee are off to the left...
  • ... while there's a one-group espresso machine on the front of the counter.
  • A concise coffee menu. I approve! There's also a limited range of alcohol during the day.
  • Okay. Let's see what the espresso machine is capable of.
  • First step, grind the coffee.
  • Next, weigh the shot to get it just right...
  • ... then attach the portafilter...
  • ... and off we go. Not forgetting to time the shot, of course.
  • Here comes the first drop...
  • ... quickly, a second stream forms...
  • ... and then a third...
  • ... before they combine into one. I love bottomless portafilters!
  • Almost done.
  • A quick flick of the lever...
  • ... and we're done.
  • Let's give pour-over a go. There's a second grinder at the back, just for pour-over.
  • The ground coffee is emptied into a pre-rinsed filter paper...
  • ... and the kettle is filled up from the on-demand boiler.
  • Here comes the first pour...
  • ... and then we let the coffee bloom.
  • Naturally, everything is weighed and timed at Ritual.
  • Unlike some, Ritual refills the kettle between pours, so the water doesn't cool off.
  • And we're ready.
  • Ritual employs a continuous second pour technique...
  • ... where the V60 is filled with the requisite amount of water (in this case 8oz)...
  • ... in a single pour, the kettle being moved around the surface of coffee. No stirring here.
  • Then we just wait for the water to filter through.
  • Almost done now.
  • The final step: the coffee is poured into a mug to be served.
  • Personally, I prefer it left in a carafe, but you can't have everything!
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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.

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
Saturday CLOSED Wifi No
Sunday CLOSED Power No
Chain No Visits 7th July 2017

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3 thoughts on “Ritual Barbers

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