Diego D’Ambrosio
Diego D’Ambrosio Credit: Darrow Montgomery/File

The door for Diego’s Hair Salon was propped open Monday morning, and the Dupont Circle stylists cut their clients’ hair like it was any other day. But notably absent from the shop was its namesake. Diego D’Ambrosio’s station is no longer covered with scissors or combs. They’re replaced with photos, flowers, and a giant ribbon covering the mirror in memory of the D.C. stylist who died early Friday morning at 87 years old.

That the shop remains open in the days after his death reflects the dedication Diego showed for his customers, says stylist Mario Acuna. You can see the dedication on the floor around his chair, where a U-shaped path is worn into the tile.

“He tried to lead the shop with examples to provide the best service,” Acuna says. “I guess he reached this goal and overpassed his own expectations because, at the end, he was recognized as a valuable citizen for Washington, D.C.”

Diego’s station is covered in flowers and old photos. Photo by Bailey Vogt.

The loss of Diego is a giant blow to D.C. as he was arguably one of the most famous barbers/stylists in the world. Diego’s Hair Salon doesn’t have a website, but it does have a Wikipedia page. His career in the District spanned 60 years. The walls of his shop include signed portraits of hundreds of his customers: presidents, Catholic clergy, and dignitaries. Fabrizio D’Ambrosio, Diego’s son, says he even became “the unofficial barber of the Supreme Court.”

“He would say that there is a particular style that they like, and that keeps them coming back,” Fabrizio says. “It’s a kind of customer service that you just don’t see anymore.”

Fabrizio says his father had just been released from isolation Thursday after contracting COVID. He says his father had flu-like symptoms, and then in the evening he complained about a sharp pain. Frabrizio called 911, but Diego suffered a heart attack at the hospital, and doctors couldn’t revive him. 

Fabrizo says his father was proud of his Italian heritage. He was born in Roseto degli Abruzzi and began working as an apprentice with a barber at 10 years old. He immigrated to D.C. in January of 1961 and opened his first shop in the Dupont Circle Hotel. In 1988 the shop moved to its present location down the street. Over the years, Diego received many accolades for his work. He was instrumental in helping D.C. and Rome become sister cities. He was knighted by the Italian government in 2010. And the stretch of Q Street NW between Connecticut Avenue and 19th Street NW is ceremoniously named “Diego D’Ambrosio Way,” which Fabrizio says Diego took seriously.

“He was getting on someone’s case for parking his bike in front of the shop,” he says. “This person turns around and says, ‘Well, you act like you own the street. Don’t you?’ He pointed to the sign and said,`That’s my name.'”

Fabrizio says his father had an unexplainable energy. When he and his brother, Marco, attempted to get their father to retire, Diego’s compromise was to rest “two or three hours a day.” Fabrizio says his dad was ready to get back to work the day after his isolation. That passion for his craft continued in the minutes before his death.

“The doctor said that he was, 10 minutes before he died … talking about the shop and the street and, you know, his customers,” Fabrizio says. “It was his dedication to work that’s inspiring to me. It’s also been a rather daunting example to follow. 

“I just don’t have the energy that he did,” he adds, laughing.

Fabrizio says the shop is maybe what kept Diego alive for three and a half years after his wife, Rosario, died.

“Just the contact with people would shave 30 years off of his real age,” he says. “My mother used to say that what she admired most about him perhaps was his constancy. You know, rain or shine, whether he was sick or ill … he would be at the shop.”

Diego’s dedication is contagious.

“Diego was a man of life,” Acuna says. “His priority were the customers because he was [there for them]. I think we are doing the same thing that he would like … us to do. You know, to continue providing the service to the people who visit the shop. His memory will stay there as long as we stay in the shop.”

Diego’s visitation will take place Friday from 6 to 9 p.m. at the National Funeral Home and Memorial Park in Falls Church. A Funeral Mass will be held Saturday from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Holy Rosary Church.

Bailey Vogt (tips? bvogt@washingtoncitypaper.com)

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