Classic Cuts: NYC Barbershops

Jeremy Lehrer

Thanks to the continuing cultural embrace of the authentic and handcrafted, one need only stray a few blocks in New York City to find everything from the perfectly mixed Manhattan to a mint pair of vintage redline Levi's—and the same is true for a haircut. While the City has always had its share of classic, old-time barbershops, in recent years a new generation has emerged that offers high-quality cuts and old-world charm, an evocation of an era when people had more time, less work pressure and knew they could rely on barbers for precision work at an affordable price. The new breed of barbershop serves as a kind of social club for men and simultaneously celebrates the everyman—that archetype of the well-coiffed gent who works hard and doesn't want to break the bank for good craftsmanship. Depending on your inclination or the extent of your hair, you can go to these venues for a skillful scissor cut, treat yourself to a straight razor shave replete with hot towel wraps and essential oils or get help with a balding pate. The venues are destinations both for locals and out-of-town visitors in search of something special. Read on to find out how each of these shops is putting its own unique twist on the genre and redefining the barber's striped pole.

F.S.C. Barber, Lower East Side. Courtesy, Freemans

FSC Barber
5 Horatio St., 212-929-3917, West Village, Manhattan
8 Rivington St., 212-673-3209, Lower East Side, Manhattan
101 N. 8th St., 718-522-4959, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Even on a weekday afternoon, a steady stream of customers flows into FSC Barber's Horatio Street location. Similar to the barbers of bygone days, FSC barbers don't take appointments, and patrons can wait anywhere from a few minutes to two hours, depending on the day—though there are eight chairs. The barbers here cut the spectrum of styles, trim beards, and do straight-blade shaves involving a multistep process of oils, shaving creams and hot towel wraps. A special at FSC is the "hangover treatment," a shave that adds on some additional restoratives encompassing Malin + Goetz product and a facial massage. The shop, characterized by traditional charm and a no-fuss, straightforward approach, strives to embody the quintessence of the barbershop. Emphasizing that manifesto are vintage furnishings such as the Koken, Paidar and Kochs barber chairs, built in the 1920s. Other FSC locations can be found on the Lower East Side and in Williamsburg.

Photo: Alexander Thompson

The Hustle
134-11 Hillside Ave., 718-658-5605, Richmond Hill, Queens
The Hustle is a destination for those who want a meticulous cut and shave, done by six barbers who adore what they do. The collective ambience of satisfied customers, meaningful conversation and camaraderie has built up here since the shop's opening in 2005, giving The Hustle a communal, friendly vibe. In addition to classic and more edgy haircuts, barbers here skillfully render edges, fades, tapers and shaved designs that tend toward the abstract and graffiti influences (as opposed to team logos); if you want a shaved design, call ahead to book the right barber for an appointment. At $16, a haircut and a shave combo is eminently affordable. Owner Charly Hustle has been cutting hair since 1992 and thoughtfully rhapsodizes on the barber's role. "Barbers are psychiatrists," he says. "We definitely help men with their confidence, and we hear their problems. You can walk into a shop feeling like crap but walk out feeling like a million bucks. We offer a service that completes a man." The decor here is sports-inspired, including an athlete's bench and two seats from Shea Stadium; the Hustle also has a line of T-shirts and hats. The shop's motto is a paean to the common man: "No hustle, no profit."

Photo: Alexander Thompson

The Stepping Razor
952 Flushing Ave., 917-586-7710, Bushwick, Brooklyn
Once located in the back of a bike shop, The Stepping Razor moved into this new location in November, where three barber's chairs are unpretentiously situated in an aqua blue room. Owner Danny Baptista and fellow barbers Derek Hake and Richie Bresson aim to ensure that clients experience the three essentials of "free beer, a great haircut and one unforgettable conversation," as Hake describes them. All are on offer here, with the staff crafting haircuts suited for Wall Street types in nearby new loft conversions, longtime locals and Williamsburg artists alike. The service here is designed to satisfy grooming needs as much as metaphysical ones. Hake emphasizes that part of his job when cutting hair is to hold space for clients to feel comfortable and express themselves—in conversation and hairstyle. An equally important goal, he says, is "helping people to slow down and be present." The decor here blends kitsch with counterculture: the large-scale parakeet totem, vintage B-movie posters and images of Marilyn Monroe are juxtaposed with skateboards and cholo illustrations. The level of trust here is evident when one customer sits down and merely says to Hake, "Just do your thing."

Photo: Alexander Thompson

41 Havemeyer St., 347-799-1849, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Manetamed feels like an extension of a friend's Williamsburg apartment, with its cool furniture finds, thriving plants, dark-wood floors, stacks of great books and art—lots of it, since the bright, pleasant space doubles as a gallery for photography, paintings and drawings curated by owner Magdalena Ryczko and friends. Clients here are primarily men, though not exclusively: about a third of the customers are women. The shop offers classic cuts or more avant-garde stylings, true to Williamsburg form. "The haircuts are consistently good," says patron Darian Lusk. "They're in style but not in your face." In addition to a range of services—"night on the town" cuts, buzz cuts et al—owner Ryczko has developed some unique specialties: helping men with thinning hair as well as hairstyling for gay women who want a look that's neither too masculine nor too feminine. The three chairs in the space ensure an intimate atmosphere for clients and the rotating cast of four barbers here. Another plus: the de facto used bookstore in the basement, the repository for Williamsburg bookseller Mario Morales—has some incredible finds.

Photo: Nicky Famous / Gilt City

55 Greenwich Ave., 212-929-3663, West Village, Manhattan
Barbers at Moustache, a "Greenwich tonsorial," dress in vests, ties and dress shoes. The shop is a venue where men can get basic haircuts, classic styles and everything else rendered with scissor work, straight blades or clippers. Guests are offered a glass of whiskey, beer or red wine, and barber Aureliano Surdeno notes that the latest trend is a '30s-era hairstyle, short in back and requiring pomade. Shaves here are a multistep affair, and the (hot and cold) towels for the treatment are daubed in essential oils that the barbers make themselves. The wide-beamed raw wood floors give the space a relaxed feeling, and the walls are adorned with a homey hodge-podge: deer antlers, a photo of Elvis in a barbershop, a framed image of Il Progresso newspaper. The one-room space has only five chairs; out-of-towners will sometimes book the shop so the entire group can savor the laconic joy of an old-time cut and shave.

Person of Interest, Smith Street. Photo: Steve Marks

Persons of Interest
299 Smith St., 718-858-5300, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
82-84 Havemeyer St., 718-218-9100, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Most stylists would say they listen to their clients, but how many times have you left the salon or barbershop with a bad style and the thought, They just didn't get it? At Persons of Interest, the craft of haircutting, and listening, is elevated to a high art—and an affordable one at that (haircuts come to $42 with tax). The barbers here achieve a meditative attunement with clients as they discuss and visualize the desired style or shave—and that same level of mindfulness is applied to the cut. The result is a haircut that looks far better than you could have described it in words. The barbers here are veterans of much fancier salons who grew tired of the high-end shtick and wanted something a lot more laid-back. The Carroll Gardens location, opened in 2010, fulfills that mandate, with its five chairs, diminutive reception counter and communal waiting table stacked with magazine titles such as Monocle, The Surfer's Journal and vintage Playboys. There is also, of course, the POI signature: a green Coleman cooler with cans of Brooklyn Lager, Seagram's sparkling seltzer and Coke (in glass bottles) for customers.

The company opened a second outpost in Williamsburg in late 2011, and local start-up Parlor Coffee now has an espresso bar in the back that is open early mornings before the barbers arrive. In contrast to chop shops like FSC, Persons of Interest takes appointments, and the place books up quickly.

Tommy Guns, Manhattan. Photo: Ed Reeve

Tommy Guns
138 Ludlow St., 212-477-1151, Lower East Side, Manhattan
85 N. 3rd St., 718-388-8288, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
The beautiful floor tiling and mirror cabinetry at Tommy Guns' both locations are replicas of the interiors at the original London salon that proprietor Russell Manley opened in 1994. Offering cuts for both men and women, Tommy Guns is not a barbershop per se, but a salon that takes inspiration from the genre. "We classify ourselves as hairdressers rather than barbers," says Manley, who adds that the Tommy Guns approach is to give clients classic, well-done cuts: "We don't do overtly crazy styles." At the Lower East Side location, there are six chairs upstairs and a spiral staircase leads to a well-appointed downstairs area where customers get hot towel shaves. The shaves are $45, last 45 minutes and include hot towel wraps and passes with the grain and against it. Vintage fixtures, chairs and art in both locations add to the old-timey vibe. The Williamsburg location is a vast space with an apothecary area featuring a plethora of grooming products. Manley's comment about the store's design could be applied to the haircuts: "What we strive to do is as authentic as possible—without pastiche."

Courtesy, The New York Shaving Company, Midtown

The New York Shaving Company
202B Elizabeth St., 212-334-9495, Lower East Side, Manhattan
146 E. 49th St., 212-644-1888, Midtown East, Manhattan
The family-run New York Shaving Company offers a sublime shaving experience. It starts with the application of a pre-shave oil (a mix of essential and castor oils), then a hot towel wrap, followed by an initial application of shaving cream. The barber then shaves the face with the grain, puts on another hot towel, removes it and applies more shaving cream, then shaves against the grain (or not, if the customer has sensitive skin). The "Ultimate Shave" adds an application of clay powders and essential oils—made fresh—to soothe and cleanse the skin.

The shop has been on the Lower East Side for five years, where the intentionally small space has only two chairs, ensuring that the ambience remains intimate and customers can be taken care of with the utmost attention. A recently opened Midtown location is more spacious, with two chairs and two shoeshine chairs.

Though the shave might be the initial attraction, the barbers here are also skillful hair stylists. Another draw are the company's own locally made shaving products—including shaving creams, oils and aftershave balms—which are free of sulfates, parabens, preservatives and detergents. The house-branded shaving paraphernalia includes a variety of razors and shaving sets, and customers who buy a straight razor are treated to a free shave and a shaving lesson. The shop, like many of its brethren, offers complimentary whiskey or wine, and the music—big bands, standards and the ilk—fits the store's ethos. Manager Mike Curcio observes, "Shaving shouldn't be a privilege, it should be a right."

Photo: Marley White

The Blind Barber
339 E. 10th St., 212-228-2123, East Village, Manhattan
Each of the new breed of barbershops has a defining concept, and the Blind Barber's is to combine barbershop with bar—expressing the symbiosis of good grooming and socializing. In the front area is an intimate, white-walled barbershop area with two vintage barber chairs, big mirrors and globe lights; the windows in front face the north end of Tompkins Square Park. The barbers here typically dress in white T-shirts and jeans and offer services encompassing the entire men's panoply: cuts, beard trims and all the rest. The shave here is a five-step act, with the "hangover remedy" including an extra step and ointment. Blind Barber has a small space and a devoted clientele, so customers should be sure to arrange appointments in advance.

After the cut is finished, the newly dapper patron can go through the sliding door on the back wall and enter the spacious, fully stocked speakeasy bar with its several seating areas, couches and leather banquettes. The portraits of men—on motorcycles, wearing top hats, taking a work break outside a butcher shop—celebrate the gentleman at his best. The bar, which gathers a lively crowd, features DJs Tuesday through Saturday nights. Barbershop customers are given a complimentary drink, which include signature cocktails like Batman (consisting of gin, St. Germain, lemon juice, mint and bitters) and Hot Heather (tequila, lime, agave, pineapple and ginger). The bar also features pizzas from Gnocco, an Italian eatery next door.

Photo: Stephen Zuccato

Paul Molé Barbershop
1031 Lexington Ave., 212-535-8461, Upper East Side, Manhattan
The new film version of The Great Gatsby proves that our contemporary fascination with earlier ages of style remains a vibrant cultural drive. The main character of the book—or its writer—might very well have gotten his hair cut at Paul Molé, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary this year. The shop certainly has the corresponding patina of history, with its portraits of well-known clients from several eras: among them, Henry Fonda, Dan Rather, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Benny Goodman. Framed clippings similarly evoke decades past. A 1967 newspaper article reporting on an emerging hairstyle has the headline, "John-John: King of the Mopheads."

Though the shop may be venerable, the barbers, some of whom speak several languages (to accommodate an international clientele), are skilled in a variety of styles. "It's not just traditional, it's modern cuts as well," says Elizabeth Stuckler, a 22-year veteran. There are 12 chairs here, plus a diminutive one for children, as well as multiple barber's poles spread throughout the space. Though the business is almost a century old, it has bopped around a few blocks of Lexington Avenue over the years, arriving in its current space last April. And talk about longevity: owner Adrian Wood took over the shop in the '70s, and some of the barbers have been here for several decades.