In Dubrovnik, searching for the elusive fire shave

Ok, you can get a shave anywhere, I know. Still, the ones to be found in Dubrovnik’s old town, not far off the tourist-trampled main thoroughfare, really seem to take the experience to another level.

That’s what my friend said, at least. Sadly, not knowing that we were going to undertake an unusual quest in Dubrovnik recently, I had woken and shaved already.

What were we looking for?

My friend had heard that you could find a shave in Dubrovnik, and perhaps elsewhere in the Balkans, that involved fire.


Apparently, the ritual included all the usual things. But when it came time to slap on the requisite copious amount of aftershave, the barber would strike a match and set your face on fire — ever so briefly, one assumes. The image that came to my mind was rather like the effect one sees when lighting a glass of absinthe on fire: a fluttery, low blue flame that is easily extinguishable.

Don’t ask me how this might benefit your face. But it sounded cool.

Of course, you probably think this is a case of travel urban legend, one of those really exotic things you hear about on the road but can never somehow encounter. You’re right.

Still, my friend gamely searched one morning for a barbershop that looked sufficiently authentic, though I don’t know if he asked candidates whether their method was a conflagrant one. He’d decided on a place when we met, and he soon led me down Izemdu Polaca and promptly settled into a blue barber’s chair. I envied his face from the start.

It was one of those old school places, with the men’s room up front and a separate room in the back, where a bored looking woman waited for her own customers. My friend was treated to a five-minute, foamy face massage before the barber set to work with his razor like someone etching the finest detail into wood or stone. Then the barber leaned him over and sluiced his face with warm water.

When the afteshave appeared, the moment of truth was at hand — but it passed, as you probably guested, without spectacle, save for my friend’s slight wince at the shock of alcohol on his skin. The barber applied some cream, and was finished.

Now, I’m not saying the fire shave doesn’t exist somewhere out there in the Balkans (though the place I tried out this past weekend in Sarajevo also kept its matches holstered), but it seems like it’s something you might have to request. I plan to confirm that with the next barber I meet.

Still, a traditional shave in a back-alley barbershop in Dubrovnik is not the worst way to spend half an hour there, and you certainly won’t meet any people wearing silly purple and yellow cruise pins.