Goodbye to a wonderful barber

Fred of the Noyes Boys has died, the Daily reports. Manfred Booge of the Noyes Street Barber Shop was 74 and one of my favorite people in Evanston. He and son Manny ran an amazing shop, one that flew by word of mouth in the first weeks of freshman year and then kept you coming back by appointment for the rest of your time in the city. 

I’d try to describe how Fred ran the shop, but Justin Conroy did so just fine for the Daily in ’99. The brief’s stuck with me because Manny later e-mailed for the text. Sparing you my fanboy reply, here’s Conroy: 

Entering the establishment at 916 Noyes St. is like entering a whole new world: the multi-colored barber’s pole, old-fashioned barber chairs, the smell of fresh after-shave, the sounds of 1930s music. Not to mention the barbers, who sport classic Johnny Unitas crew cuts and practice their art with detailed and cautious movements. For 20 minutes you step out of the hectic world of classes and into the calm confines of an old-style barber shop… And for $11, you can get the smoothest haircut you’ve  ever had. 

Yes, the greatest haircut in Chicagoland was $11. You felt good after.

You always came back from the shop with a story, about the greatness of the straight-edge razor, about old times in the neighborhood, about the conversation that jumped off the radio. Just looking through old e-mail, there was the time Nate waited for Fred to get back from surgery, the time Manny and I talked about Halloween laws and sod for half an hour, the times Amit came home with stock tips, the time the barbers remembered him when someone mentioned him to them a year after graduation, the later time he dreamed about Fred, Manny and a third barber singing, the time Fred and I talked about grubs and it took me forever to realize they were a lawn problem and not a heart condition.

Fred had a gentle manner but a professional touch with the scissors and razors, and the shop’s appointment book in a way channeled who he was and how he ran his business. You felt you had a place there.

Evanston’s fortunate Manny has so many of his dad’s great qualities and has added his own style to the mix. I link Sara Peck’s Daily story again and quote the lede because I want you to read it that much.

On the last Saturday of his life, Fred Booge did what he had done for the past 55 years: He went to work at the Noyes Street Barber Shop.

Though he had retired six years earlier and passed the shop’s ownership to his son, Manny, the German-American barber continued to work every Friday and Saturday, even when a broken pelvis confined him to a walker. The last haircut he gave that day was to a Northwestern alumnus — one of the regulars — who brought his young son along. While Fred snipped and shaved, Manny cut the little boy’s hair on his final day of work with his father.

A baguette with roast beef, then a cookie, then a croissant …

Via Lindsay, under a “Only if you already ate” title: “If you’re hungry, don’t read this: why Al’s Deli is awesome, a thread on the biggest Chicago food-loving web site.” If you have not eaten or you’re not hungry, you should still read the thread because the suffering is just so good. I read the thread late last night here in my apartment, which Google Maps tells me is 715 miles and 11 hours 56 minutes from 914 Noyes Street. We have an Earl’s Sandwiches that is good but no Al’s.

Actual descriptions of Al’s are Lindsay’s turf (as is getting free cookies for life thanks of her friendship with the owners), so I’m sticking to a couple links (and of course any coverage if you need a haircut after that sandwich). Here are all of this year’s Great American Restaurants, from Chicagoland’s LTHForum. Here’s a blogger’s Thanksgiving thanks list, which begins with Al’s and, awesomely, The Chicken Shack, next to 1930 Ridge. “I wanted to concentrate on things that I am thankful for in a time when you can fool yourself into thinking there isn’t a lot of thanks to go around,” he writes. “Okay, I did get laid off, no thanks there, but those are circumstances, and I am after something else.”

Al’s Deli in the Trib

Tribune Magazine columnist Rick Kogan profiles the deli and makes me hungry. It still stands as the place sandwich place I’ve ever enjoyed and as one of my all-time favorite restaurants regardless of style. Kogan expresses similar esteem.

“Al’s has been a popular and relatively secret spot since it was opened in 1949 by Al Pottinger. He had been a cook in the Navy during World War II and later worked for a time at a Jewel store before setting out on his own, launching Al’s as a grocery store that sold sandwiches. Over the years the place has evolved into one of the best restaurants we’ve ever visited.”

Food notes

1. I keep giving American cheese a shot. It never succeeds. It suffices on a Triscuit, but a lot suffices on a Triscuit. Every time I taste American cheese these days, I kinda wonder if it’s made by people who’ve failed in the cheddar industry.

2. “The monastery’s motherhouse, the Abbey of Gethsemani in central Kentucky, makes fudge flavored with a Kentucky specialty, bourbon. To give the local fudge a Georgia spin, Delisi settled on peach brandy, peaches and pecans.” After an insurance-friendly fruitcake fire, Atlanta-area monks are switching product lines. With possibly delicious results.

3. One highlight from Key West was meeting Kermit Carpenter, proprietor of the Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe. The place where we were staying had welcome bags of his cookies, and we found his shop just down the block. The welcome bag cookies were light but almost mint-like in power, and I left with more bags. If you’re visiting his site, yes, I saw him strike that pose. We were having a conversation about how he grew up in Gaithersburg, Md., when he started looking outside and picking up a key lime pie. He approached the trolley rounding the corner, raised the pie at a woman in a front seat, then tossed in some bags of cookies with his free hand. It was a little ridiculous, but I bet the marketing worked.

4. Miami International’s Pizza Hut stand is definitely better than its Uno’s stand.

5. I’m intrigued by Elevation Burger, now open in Falls Church, Va. It seems to be a next-generation burger place, and I’ve never been to one of those. With the snow about to start here, a carefully-prepared-yet-greasy burger would hit the spot.

6. Al’s Deli is still great. Have been meaning to recap the Chicago trip but haven’t yet. Will get around to it. But I ate a cookie and some macaroni salad at Al’s, and they made me want eight sandwiches at once.

7. What’s the deal with selling beer at Chicken Out? Not that I have a problem with it, but it’s just surprising. The service leaves something to be desired, but the restaurant makes me feel good about the future of quick taste.

8. The Amateur Gourmet is headed to Paris in a week, and he’s bought a copy of Adam Gopnik’s From Paris to the Moon in preparation. The book’s come up about three times in the last few weeks, and any discussion leaves me frustrated. I’m pretty sure I read the book, but I can’t remember a single thing about its content. I think I liked it, but I honestly have no idea. It’s possible no book has left less of an impact on me in my entire life. And I like Gopnik’s New Yorker work, so this is all very confusing.

9. Every time I see dates in the fruit section at the supermarket, I think of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Poor life-saving monkey.

10. Egg salad, the forgotten sandwich.

Da bracket

With your NCAA bracket already in tatters, the time has come for you to play the Ultimate Chicagoan tournament. Brought to you by Chicago Tribune‘s Redeye, the four regions are Screen Stars, Politicians, Athletes and Musicians. The first round is Screen Stars is already over, but the rest of the bracket is still open.

I’ve mixed feelings on the early results. Bill Murray is going on after defeating Bill Rancic, but Jeremy Piven is headed home, falling to William Petersen of CSI. If the rest of the world had some Noyes Street pride, the world’s sandwiches and cookies would taste a lot better.

Note on barbershops

There’s apparently this barbershop in Chicago named Fannie’s. Started in 1961, the son of the original owner is now changing the place, adding big-screen TVs and putting the barbers in hot pants. Women barbers, I assume. The Chicago Tribune has a story on this move, but the story’s behind the site’s paid-archive wall.

Anyway, I’m not sure what to make of this concept. I don’t think it’s my style. But I do support barbershops in general, so maybe even this place falls under that umbrella. To each his own, as long as it’s a barbershop. As far as Chicagoland goes, I stand by the Noyes Boyz.

For all Noyes Boyz fans

Amit e-mails about Evanston’s greatest barber shop:

“i had this ridiculous dream last night. i walked into the Noyes barber shop, and there was some popular song playing (i can’t remember which one.. maybe a britney spears one). I then I see Manny, Fred and the 3rd barber singing along with a song, trading off different parts like a medley or something…. ridiculous!”

Noyes Street’s Only and Rudest Cafe

I’m working on a class report about small businesses and how they advertise. One of the campus paper’s better and more frequent advertisers is the Noyes Street Cafe, so I decided to stop in and try to get an interview there.

Coming in, I hadn’t expected to be welcomed with open arms. The Cafe, despite being in a young neighborhood, has a reputation of treating students to service a few notches below friendly. Blowing them off, more or less. (Some evidence here.)

But, I must admit I didn’t expect the glare I got upon walking in the door. Or the look I got as I began to speak. Or the most pained conversation I’ve ever had with restaurant staff.

My counterpart in conversation was Glaressa, countess of rude.

Me: “Hi, is this person who handles your advertising around?”

Glaressa: “No, he’s not.”

*awkward pause*

Me: “Well, when will be be in?”

Glaressa: “This weekend.”

Me: “Great–what’s his name?”

Glaressa: “I’m not allowed to tell you that.”

There was another awkward pause as she glared. Then a waiter turned around, gave her an angry look and told me that the advertising man’s name was Chuck. I thanked the waiter and left.

Chuck, my friend, you have your work cut out for you.


Amit and I placed an ad in last Tuesday’s Daily Northwestern, touting the benefits of subletting our apartment (as well as touting the Noyes Boyz — Fred, Manny and Ben — and Al’s Deli — John and Bob).

Good HAIRCUTS, good SANDWICHES. 2133 Ridge, near Noyes St. 2 big bdrms, 1 bath. Living/SUN room. Top floor; city’s best breezes. On-site manager. Avail. after graduation. Price negotiable. Call Patrick, XXX-XXXX.

On Friday evening, we received our first call about the ad. We weren’t here to answer; the answering machine said 8:05 p.m. With high hopes, we returned the call at 2:15 the next afternoon. “Oh yeah,” the man said, speaking for “Edy” who had called, “we already took care of that. Sorry. Thanks, though.”

They had found and taken another sublet in a period of 18 hours. Who does that? They never had a chance to experience good haircuts or, for that matter, good sandwiches. Amit and I were disappointed, but we wish them well in their new hovel. The city’s best breezes will ease our pain.