East Village Barber Shop
There are numerous barbershops and hair salons in the East Village, but I understood why the East Village Barbershop was so popular the second that I met Ruben, the owner. His charisma is infectious and his cheeky, humorous one-liners had me and the Manhattan Sideways photographer, Alex, grinning from the moment he began to speak.
“I would have gotten my nails done if I knew you were coming,” he joked before telling us about his extensive history as a barber, while expertly cutting a customer’s hair. He got his start in 1996 in Bayside, Queens and worked there for almost two decades before opening East Side Barbershop in 2013. When I asked him what sets him apart from other barbers, he replied, “My specialty is just being me.” His customer, a young man named Steven, spoke up, telling me that he started going to Ruben just a couple months after he opened and has been visiting him for his haircut ever since. Ruben smiled and said, “I have the best customers who come here. This neighborhood is amazing – they’re not even my customers, they’re my friends.”
As Ruben continued to tell me about his life, how being a barber runs in his family and how he learned the art at a young age, three more people walked into the small shop. He greeted each person who came by warmly, including those who did not even enter the store: He yelled greetings at pedestrians who waved from the street. It was clear that for the blocks surrounding his store, Ruben is a celebrity.
The gruff man from Queens continued joking around with both us and his customers, making everyone laugh with lines like, “Will you hug me?” and “Imagine me with makeup…now forget about it.” When a man on the street shouted a precocious quote back at him, he turned to us and said, “You see that? All the men around here think I look sexy.” Meanwhile, he performed incredibly precise work on Steven, creating a perfectly straight line along his part. Afterwards, he finished by massaging Steven’s head with a hot mint oil towel. With a look of satisfaction he said to me, “I’m good at what I do and I don’t care about anybody else.”