This small, old-world neighborhood barbershop is loaded with personality. Everything about Barbiere is unique: the whimsical wrought-iron gate out front, the retro hair and shaving products along the walls, and the high-quality, old-fashioned service. When we poked our heads in to chat with the barbers and their clients—all seated in vintage leather chairs—they were proud to tell us that James Franco is among the celebrities that drop by for a haircut or a classic shave.
“I like our name, ” explained barbershop owner Steve Polanco, “we give people an editing. ” Having studied hair care in college and worked under another barber for many years, Steve opened his own place with his wife in August of 1984. The salon, originally known as Etsy and Twiggy, eventually morphed into a barbershop to capture the fun masculine dynamics Steve appreciated in his visits to others. One of Steve’s hires, a ninety-year-old man, was the son of Frank Sinatra’s father’s barber, and received immediate and plentiful requests as soon as he started, a barber with a following. Steve showed me some old photographs and smiled, “People get some editing and some laughing. ”
In a city where cultural fads and neighborhoods change frequently, one necessity has remained the same - men continue to be in need of a haircut. That simple fact has kept Olde Tyme Barbers in business since 1929. Or at least that is how Joe “the Boss” Magnetico explains being successful, despite the way midtown has changed since his grandfather opened his doors. Joe is the third generation of barbers, and his daughter Anne-Marie is the fourth and first female barber in the family. Joe’s grandfather, the original “Joe the Barber, ” first opened his shop at the Statler Hilton Hotel. In 1945, his son, Frank Magnetico, moved the barbershop to the current location on 41st Street underneath the Chanin building, a New York City national landmark. This makes Olde Tyme Barbers the oldest retail establishment currently in business on 41st from the East River to the New York Public Library. It is easy to tell that Joe, his family, and his staff take pride in the work that they do and the history they have created. Joe still uses the original chairs from the barbershop his grandfather opened. Sitting behind the cash register, Joe stated, “We’re not a business you can do on the internet. ” By this he means that despite the way business and the neighborhood has changed in the past years, Joe and his family have survived for so long by remaining true to their trade. He charges what is fair and treats everyone who comes in with respect. Joe told me, “you have to be able to make relationships in business: it’s how you survive. ” This is why Joe’s regulars are so loyal. Generations of men in the same family continue to come from all over the Metropolitan area to get their hair cut by his staff. They have been able to do something special in midtown - to create a neighborhood environment in an area of Manhattan that is not considered a neighborhood anymore. Joe ended our conversation by mentioning that he does not believe that he could open a barber shop in today’s market for the price that he charges on this block. "We are a dying breed in the sense that there is not much room in midtown for small owned businesses. " In his opinion, all the chains in midtown do not bring the same sense of community or character to the area like the businesses that use to be there.
After being a barber for years, owner Alex decided that he was done working for other people, and wanted his own barbershop. When the opportunity came from one of his clients - the landlord of the building in which Ace of Cuts resides – he took it, and almost immediately regretted his decision. “The building was scary. That is all I can say, really. There was debris everywhere, and I thought ‘Oh no, what did I get myself into? ’” Alex tells the story with a smile on his face now, and says he “still cannot believe [he] made it work. ” Alex redesigned the space himself, and it took him three weeks to have it open for business, complete with a minibar for customers. He brought in a couple of trusted friends, as well as his father, from whom he learned the barber’s trade, to work in the shop. When we stopped by, more than a few people from Alex’s loyal customer base were waiting to have their hair cut, and they assured us that Ace of Cuts is quickly becoming a go-to barber shop.
Perhaps a bit unusual - barbershop in front, shoe, watch and jewelry repair station in back - Uriel and his son seem very pleased with the arrangement of their business. Uri learned the trade of shoemaking from his own father back in Uzbekistan, and when they came to New York in 1994, they opened up the shoe shop together. As Uri learned more and more skills through experimentation, his shop expanded from shoemaking to watch and jewelry repair. He was pleased to tell us how well respected he has become in the business, creating custom made shoes and doing repairs for numerous celebrities. A few years ago, after incessant pestering from his son, Uri agreed to allow Gabriel to open a barbershop up front, and the business moved from one father and son pair to the next generation. Uri is happy with the way things have turned out and feels that his son has been very successful. He stresses the importance of helping family to accomplish their dreams. For Uri, however, one of the most important things in life is fun. There are always people hanging around the shop, and when it gets quiet, Uri breaks out his clarinet. He has long been a musician at night, and lucky customers get a free taste of his beautiful songs. He promises that he is never bored, and wisely informs me that, “Life is simple when you like what you’re doing. ”
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. ”
Since its inception, Barbering by Marcus has been focused on providing great customer service to its patrons, manager Melissa explained as she began describing the story behind their shop. She described it as a “boutique men’s salon, ” rather than a barber shop. Customers come to be pampered, and the staff makes that happen. From the second men are checked in to the time they walk out, Barbering by Marcus ensures the highest quality treatment. People are served their choice of beer, bourbon, and other drinks while their hair is being cut, and they can even take a nap in the salon’s comfortable chairs, which fully recline. Both Melissa and Marcus are from Guyana, a small country in northern South America. They opened up the salon together in April 2011. Marcus had spent time working at Barber Bart, a shop just across the street. With years of experience under his belt, he decided to start cutting hair on his own, with Melissa running the business side of the store. The salon makes sure that everything runs on time. "At other barber shops and hair salons, haircutters often run over time and disrupt a customer’s schedule, " Melissa said. Barbering by Marcus prides itself on trying to keep virtually every appointment to its allotted time. “It’s New York City. Everyone’s on the go, so we keep to our schedule, ” she explained. The salon holds its customers to the same strict sense of time. If someone is more than ten minutes late to their appointment, they are rescheduled so that other customers’ appointments are on time. The staff’s attention to detail has not gone unnoticed; many of their customers have been regulars for years, and the stylists know their exact preferences - even their drink orders.
What could be wrong with sitting in a classic barber shop chair and having a beer - or two - while getting a quality hair cut by personable and talented barbers? According to my son, absolutely nothing. This is his go to place. And that is just for day time fun. Come by in the evening, as we have done on several occasions, and walk through the sliding doors of the barber shop (that closes at 9: 00pm), and stroll through into a living room atmosphere with cozy chairs and small alcoves to sip your well-concocted drinks. Bottom line is that this is a terrific find at any hour of the day.