- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 27, 2011

He cuts the hair of ambassadors from warring countries and congressmen from opposing parties, but Diego D’Ambrosio says he doesn’t take sides.

“I’m for everybody,” he exclaims, waving his hands. “Come a Republican, I’m a Republican. Come a Democrat, I’m a Democrat.”

In his hair salon, where he is known by many as the “mayor of Dupont Circle,” Mr. D’Ambrosio always sports a red tie, a neon smile and a mop of golden hair that his nine employees take turns trimming.

Part performance artist, part raconteur, Mr. D’Ambrosio conducts business at Diego’s Hair Salon with a maestro’s flourish, punctuating his sentences with an “ah” after every other word - an aspect of his heavy Italian accent.

“My shop is the best one all over the world,” he says, leaning over to tell the client in his chair that The Washington Times is interviewing him.

“Don’t let it go to your head, Diego,” says the client.

“Too late,” Mr. D’Ambrosio replies.

He points to a photo of himself standing next to Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican.

“I walk with the pope,” he says. “Who walks with the pope?”

Diego’s Hair Salon, much like its owner, is a sensory experience: The walls are papered with the signed photos of the many congressmen, ambassadors, Supreme Court justices and heads of state who have sat in his chair. The scents of shampoo and coffee swirl in the air. Luciano Pavarotti’s rendition of “Nessun Dorma” provides background to the daily symphony of clippers, blow-dryers and ever-ringing bell that heralds the entrance of each client.

The building, on the small slice of Q Street between 19th Street and Connecticut Avenue Northwest, has landmark status. The strip of land was christened “Diego D’Ambrosio Way” last April - thanks to longtime client and mayor at the time, Adrian M. Fenty.

“For every person who has visited his Q Street shop, he has an innate ability to make them feel like the most important customer ever,” Mr. Fenty says.

“Anyone come here repeat come back again because the service we give is very special,” says Mr. D’Ambrosio, a native of Santa Marinella, a provincial town near Rome.

A cappuccino aficionado, he sips between snips and pauses to greet everyone who walks into his shop with a firm handshake and a “Bonjourno.”

Seven other hairstylists work with him throughout the day, but Mr. D’Ambrosio handles the phone and the cash register at his perch in the corner.

“For me, everybody’s a friend,” he says, holding a mirror with one hand and the phone with the other.

And he has had friends in some very high places.

The late Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist? “He was a special friend. I cut his hair for 25 years. Not too short because he have not too much.”

Justice Samuel Anthony Alito Jr.? “He love the way I cut his hair. He come every two weeks.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? “He’s a great guy. Very smart. Very person-friendly. He send me his book,” Mr. D’Ambrosio says.

Mr. Netanyahu was a client in the early 1980s when he served as deputy chief of mission for the Israeli Embassy.

The mayor of Dupont Circle refuses to disclose his age. “Put 39,” he says. (Diego’s Hair Salon opened in 1965.)

He also bristles at the word “barber.”

“I no barber,” he says, wielding his scissors. “Put ‘hairstylist.’ “

A true hairstylist, Mr. D’Ambrosio explains, is an artist who knows what each customer needs.

“The first time, he can tell me how he like it, but after that, I look at the person, I give the haircut,” he says, tilting a client’s head back over a sink. “I’m just like Michaelangelo. I sculpture your head.”

He dries the man’s hair and examines his handiwork. “Molto bene,” he says, turning to a standing-room-only cohort of waiting customers. “Who’s next?”

Dupont Circle has changed considerably since 1989, when Diego’s moved one block to its current location. But the price of a man’s haircut - $20 - has remained constant.

“If you charge $35, people come one time and no come back because it’s expensive,” says Mr. D’Ambrosio, taking a bite of pizza during his half-hour lunch break.

“Especially today,” he adds. “The economy, no good. But for me, it’s great.”

The price and the entire Diego experience keep clients coming back - from wherever they live.

Author Trevor Corson moved from Washington to New York a few years ago but says he still keeps regular appointments at Diego’s, timing his monthly D.C. visits accordingly.

Though most of his clients are men, Mr. D’Ambrosio began his career working exclusively on women’s hair.

“I was distract,” he recalls. “I fall in love too many times.”

But his greatest passion is - and always will be - his work: “Lemme tell you something: You do what you love, you work hard? You never get old, you never get tired.”

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