- Associated Press - Saturday, March 19, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - George Patrinos cuts the hair of a state Supreme Court justice and the bellboy; Capitol Democrats and Republicans; lobbyists and UW frat boys.

In the basement of the Madison Concourse Hotel, 1 W. Dayton St., near the Capitol Square, Patrinos has been cutting men’s hair, always finishing with a lathering around their ears and behind their neck, for nearly 40 years.

He’s certainly not a beautician, he’s quick to say. Patrinos, 75, is a traditional barber. He tapers and blends hair, crafting clean hairlines with a clipper and straight razor.

His two-chair, 600-square foot shop, Georgio’s Concourse Roffler, or Gio’s, with its orange linoleum floor and shampoo bottles neatly lining the counters looks as if it has been pulled out of 1978, the year it opened.

The shop sits across from the hotel parking garage on level A of the Concourse, a box of floor-to-ceiling windows.

Patrinos arrives at 7 a.m. each day and stays until 3 p.m. or 5 p.m., depending on appointments. He does not take vacations. He does not take sick days. He does not take lunch breaks.

If customers can count on a cut when they need it, they will keep coming back, he said. Loyalty to customers is paramount.

“If you give them three or four phone calls that you’re not here, why should they keep coming? If someone calls me, I do it,” he said. “I put a guarantee on haircuts.”

State Supreme Court Justice David Prosser was depositing a check at Chase Bank on the Capitol Square 10 years ago when Patrinos approached him.

“George walks by and says, ‘You know, sir, you need a good haircut. Here’s my card,’” Prosser said. “He was very friendly, not in any way threatening, not insulting, and so I went to him and have been to him since.”

“He’s an institution in Madison, there is no question about it,” Prosser said. “He has attracted an enormous clientele of influential people.”

Prosser gets his hair cut every six weeks and said Patrinos always accommodates him when he calls.

“It’s not just a hair cutting, it’s the friendliness and the service that are really so valuable,” he said. “I am very fond of George, he’s a great barber and a wonderful friend and we have great conversations.”

The Capital Times (https://bit.ly/1RbhrLt ) reports that barbershops like Georgio’s are rare in hotels, which increasingly favor spas, said Stephen Zanoni, the hotel’s general manager, who also gets his hair cut there.

“George has been around a long time and he’s a part of the place,” said Zanoni, who has worked at the hotel for more than 20 years.

On a recent morning, Patrinos opened at 7:45 a.m. for longtime customer Mark Barry, a field service worker at Johnson Controls in Madison. Barry, 58, has come to Georgio’s every six weeks even before he opened his shop at the Concourse.

He washes Barry’s hair, dabs the green menthol-based Osage Rub on his scalp, picks up the straight razor and begins. It’s as if he’s stepped on stage.

“And lookit here, I don’t do too bad, as long as I’m not drinking,” Patrinos jokes. He pauses.

“That’s my favorite line, ain’t it, Mark?”

He bluntly shears off Barry’s thick gray hair with the straight razor, shaping its length from the nape of the neck upward, chatting all the way. Patrinos is a practitioner of the Roffler cut, a “sculpture” cut style with a corresponding product line and training school founded by Edmond Roffler in 1958.

At the height of the cut’s popularity in the 1960s there were at least seven authorized Roffler shops in Madison. Now, Georgio’s is one of two. Patrinos’ old boss, Rick Meier, still runs Rick’s Roffler Family Hair Salon on Park Street.

“Here’s how it is: when you’re building a house, you got to do the base of the house, framing it up, the basement and all that. I’m just cleaning it up right now, the way I want it, then dig back into the base of the haircut ‘cause this is where he wants to be right now for length.”

After he finishes cutting, Patrinos steps back, moving his hand through Barry’s hair as he dries it.

“His wife, when he comes home, she goes ‘Ooh, I like that,’” he said. Patrinos grins, tousling the hair left then right.

Does the cut have a name?

“Not really.” Patrinos pauses. “Just, ‘handsome devil.’” Both of them laugh.

“I’ve never had a bad haircut from George. He’s a magician,” Barry said. “The thing about George that I’ve learned over the years is family is everything to him. His customers, he treats them like family, he really does.”

And he always answers the phone, Barry said. The barber doesn’t own a cell phone (quipping, “I’m not important enough for a cell phone,”) but always answers the white corded one connected to his shop’s wall.

Cuts cost between $20 and $30. December is customer appreciation month at Georgio’s. Patrinos gives his customers free beer, wine or soda to show them how much they mean to them, he said. If it was legal, he would put slot machines in the shop too, he said.

Two years ago, George had a heart attack over Memorial Day weekend. He didn’t realize he had one until the following Wednesday. He had a stent put in Thursday and was back at the shop cutting hair Monday.

“That’s how I do my job,” he said.

He has a hernia now, he said. It hurts, but he is loath to take a day off to go to the doctor.

Patrinos cut former Gov. Tommy Thompson’s hair when he was in office.

“Everybody calls me, they say I’m the barber to the stars,” Patrinos said. “But people are people. I ain’t ever dropping no names. I never told anybody Tommy comes here, everybody told me he comes here.” He chuckles.

Thompson’s picture hangs in the shop with a faded note: “To the best barber in the state of Wisconsin.”

Thompson said he doesn’t go to Georgio’s anymore because it is hard to get downtown and he’s often traveling. But he said Patrinos was always “very efficient and extremely pleasant.”

“Hopefully he’s not retiring,” Thompson said. “I like the guy, he’s a good guy. He’s done a great job, a successful small businessperson. I’m always happy with George.”

Patrinos said he doesn’t vote and won’t talk politics in the shop. He is convinced all of his customers, regardless of where they reside on the political spectrum, would get along.

He introduces customers to each other as they come and go, talking each one up.

As Barry leaves, Chase Salazar, a 23-year-old graduate student at the UW and a first-time customer, sits in the chair. He found Georgio’s on Yelp. He requests a sharply parted, contemporary tapered cut, short on the sides and longer on top. He shows the barber a photo.

Patrinos clips and cuts Salazar’s hair, asking him about his love life and his studies over the sound of the buzzing clipper. He is always ready to link a man’s fortune with the ladies (or the lack thereof) to the state of his hair. After discovering that, before moving to Madison, the people at SuperCuts maintained his new client’s hair, Patrinos asks quietly, “Did you have any dates?”

Salazar replies: “I had a girlfriend.”

“Oh, OK, so it didn’t matter to her,” Patrinos said.

“Actually, I think it did.”

“Oh, but she was your main squeeze,” Patrinos chuckles. “She ain’t going anywhere.”

He finishes the cut and then begins the final detail, dotting lather beneath Salazar’s ears and around the back of his neck.

Patrinos said this part is like “putting a frame around a picture.”

“OK, look at his hair, look at all this garbage and this,” he begins wicking off the fine hairs obscuring the freshly cut hairline, deftly maneuvering the blade around the neck. “This is really accentuating the haircut.”

After the lather is gone, Patrinos puts a mirror in his customer’s hand and slowly rotates the chair to give him a “panoramic view.”

“Look out, girls, here he comes. And if he feels as good as he looks, it will work out for him,” he said.

Patrinos grew up in Milwaukee, the son of a Greek immigrant father and a Polish mother. He started cutting hair when he was 18, thinking he would go to work for his uncle, who owned a barber shop. After finishing his training, his uncle no longer had an opening so George went to a different shop, eventually moving to Madison and working for Rick Meier on Park Street.

The pair, along with another barber, opened up the shop at the Concourse. Rent was reasonable and businessmen with hair around the Capitol Square plentiful, said Meier, who cut Gov. Gaylord Nelson’s and Gov. Warren Knowles’ hair.

Initially, they hoped to move to a space upstairs, but nothing ever opened up, Meier said. Patrinos later bought the business and Meier said he’s proud of how well it has done.

“He’s done a super job down there, he’s just been wonderful,” Meier said. “He’s worked hard, he’s a good family man. He’s done real well for himself.”

Patrinos lives in Stoughton and also cuts hair two nights a week and on Saturday mornings at a shop space he rents in McFarland. He takes walk-ins only. There’s no phone, no website, no appointments.

He has four children and eight grandchildren. He named his three sons - Georgio, Antonio and Danio. His wife, Mary, a retired high school custodian, named their daughter, Tina. His wife sends him to the shop with food for lunch and breakfast every day.

He shared one recent breakfast of strawberry muffins with Juanita May, who cleans the hotel’s hallways and lobbies on the first shift. She passes the shop and he shouts her name and waves her in. They’ve been friends for more than 15 years.

“He loves to talk, he’s friendly, outgoing. I admire him for being here so long,” she said. “What are they going to do when he quits? He’s a good person.”

May leaves and Patrinos leans over. “Ain’t she sweet? She looks out for me.”

For Kawika Maduro, the Concourse’s bellboy, Patrinos maintains an unconventional style that’s tightly tapered along the side and in the back, except for a section of long hair on the top, pulled into a thin ponytail.

“You would think by looking at it, that it’s a straight buzz, but he tapers it along the way,” he said. “He pays attention to the fine details that I would never think and I was like, ‘Wow.’”

Maduro, from Maui, Hawaii, found Georgio’s on Yelp shortly after moving to Madison five years ago.

“His conversation and demeanor just made me like him even more,” Maduro said. Shortly after meeting Patrinos, he mentioned how he had to take the bus to the grocery store because he didn’t have a car yet. The barber offered his.

“I never used it, but he offered it. I wasn’t expecting that kind of hospitality from him,” he said. “That really made me take a different view of the mainland.”

The shop’s bookkeeper and manager, Marte Wetzel, 60, has been working with Patrinos since he started at the Concourse.

“He’d do anything for ya, but he ain’t going to change, either. And you know, that’s OK,” she said.

Wetzel is Patrinos’ counterpart in disposition and drive. She staffs the shop when he’s not there and sees the few female clients. And she looks out for the barber who never seems to slow down.

“It’s 24/7. He can’t say no,” she said. “When you’re so tired you can barely stand up at the end of a long, hard day, you should have said no two hours ago. You gotta stop somewhere.”

Business at the shop was slow in February, but always picks up around spring break, she said. Still, nothing compares to the effect the protests following Act 10 had on the business.

“That was really the hardest time in 38 years, when everybody came down to the protests,” she said. “That was the absolute worst thing that ever happened to us. It killed our business.”

Customers who came for decades suddenly stopped, she said. It took four years to rebound.

Patrinos said he is entertaining offers for someone to take over the business, but doesn’t want to leave his customers to just anyone. He wants to honor their loyalty.

“They’ve been coming here, I’ve been taking care of them, I’m always here,” he said. “My obligation is to them, and they’re so loyal to me … I’ve got everybody from the bottom, up.

“It’s fun for me.”


Information from: The Capital Times, https://www.madison.com/tct

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