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For hairstylist to the powerful, a place of honor

Diego D'Ambrosio has owned his hair salon for almost 50 years, serving locals to the Supreme Court justices and the Pope. Ask him if it's fun, and he'll ask you if Italians like pasta. The city is re-naming Q Street between 19th Street and Connecticut Avenue NW after the beloved barber Friday.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 24, 2010

Diego D'Ambrosio never sits, bouncing between customers, taking reservations, chatting and greeting those who enter his shop with a hearty, "Ciao, bella."

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He's a hairstylist to many of Washington's elite, and D'Ambrosio dresses the part, with crisp shirts, silk ties and slacks that rarely show a trace of hair. He hums Italian folk music or sings along with Pavarotti as clients visit.

Photographs of the famous and honored ones adorn the walls of Diego's Hair Salon: Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), former Italian ambassador Giovanni Castellaneta, D.C. Council members, high-ranking military officials and international politicians. What keeps people coming back, clients said, are D'Ambrosio's wit, friendship and exemplary service. After haircuts and washes, he always says, "It's a pleasure," or "Thank you, my friend."

"This style of retail has really gone out of fashion," said Steve Levy, 60, who has kept appointments nearly every Friday for 40 years and considers D'Ambrosio a friend.

Friday, after 47 years of being D'Ambrosio's professional home, the short stretch of Q Street NW between 19th Street and Connecticut Avenue was named Diego D'Ambrosio Way.

"He is the foundation stone for the entire area," Levy said before D'Ambrosio warned him, in a thick Italian accent, to be quiet while his scalp was being shaved or risk bodily harm.

The Italian-trained stylist worked in his first shop two years after he came to the United States in 1961, within days of John F. Kennedy's presidential inauguration, D'Ambrosio said. About 20 years ago, he moved to his current work space, on the opposite corner from his original salon, and raised the price of a man's haircut by $2 to $20. It hasn't changed since.

Each person who enters the shop is greeted like D'Ambrosio's best and oldest friend. Conversation about politics or opera will often float between chairs, above the hum of the clippers. Many times, a customer will get a referral to a neighboring business or the Italian restaurant owned by the son of one of the other stylists.

But that's not the main reason, D'Ambrosio said, for repeat customers.

"I do good work," he said. "People tell friends."

Chief Justice Warren E. Burger referred Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. Apostolic Nuncio Pietro Sambi referred Wuerl, the archbishop.

'He loves his work'

"What I admire about this man is that he does his work with love. It is clear he loves his work," said Sambi, who estimated that D'Ambrosio began visiting the Vatican Embassy to cut hair in the 1970s. (D'Ambrosio said it could have been earlier.) Il Nuncio, as D'Ambrosio calls him, arranged a brief meeting with Pope Benedict XVI. D'Ambrosio didn't get to cut the pope's hair, but he proudly displays the photos of their meeting at the papal Mass in the District in 2008.

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