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.
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.
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. ”
I was met by an eclectic, interesting selection of decorations as I entered Hairrari. There was everything from taxidermy to modern art, making it homey and welcoming in a very quirky way. Andy and Marcel, two of the employees, told me that the owner, Magdalena, does all the decorating herself. She picks up art and objects from anywhere and everywhere, including city antique stores and flea markets. “She doesn’t really plan anything, ” Andy said with appreciation, "She just picks up random stuff. " The two hairdressers clearly have a lot of respect for their employer, who is the sole owner both of the three Hairrari salons scattered throughout the city and the company “Manetamed. ” “It’s mom and pop-ish, ” they said. Madga is Polish-American, having moved to the United States when she was very young. She opened the first Hairrari in Brooklyn in 2012, and has since come out with her own brand of beard oil. I asked Andy and Marcel what it was like working in a neighborhood with so many hair salons and barbershops. Andy said that even though sometimes you get “salons next to salons” in the East Village, they still all manage to fill a niche and become busy around 5pm. Marcel added that their clientele travels not only from every part of the city, but also as far away as France and Germany. “It’s just everyone, ” Andy stated, including local professionals and students. Though they get a pretty even split between men and women, Andy pointed out that most of the people who stop in could be defined as “artistic. ” Marcel nodded and mentioned that they had seen a lot of beards. He told a story of how one gentleman stopped by with a beard down to his waist, asking to have it chopped off. Magda stiffened the entire beard using hairspray and then cut it off so it kept its shape, like a hair sculpture.
Without a doubt, this is the neighborhood place for guys of all ages to be on Saturday afternoon – for a haircut, at least. When we stopped by, the shop was busy with all four chairs occupied and some folks happily waiting... and consistently, every time we walk by, those chairs are filled. Shaves, shampoos and facial massages are on their menu of services.
"The Two Faces of Italian Food" is the tagline at this restaurant and wine bar. The perfect blend they are referring to is tradition and innovation. The menu boasts homemade and traditional options - the wine list is not limited to Italian varieties, though the beer is. We stopped in briefly and relaxed with a glass of wine in their quiet back garden and spoke with one of the restaurant's partners as waiters set up for that evening's meal. When we asked him to describe the food that Giano served in a short sentence he told us humbly: "Italian food. No big deal. " Can't wait to try it!
Most business owners know how difficult it is to bounce back after being robbed. Makoto Wantanabe has done it twice and, ironically, has a thief to thank for the very birth of Tokio 7. Makoto was globetrotting in the early 1990s when he arrived in Southern California on what was supposed to be the penultimate stop on his tour. He befriended a homeless man and let him stay in his hotel room for the night, but Makoto awoke to find everything except for his passport was stolen. Stranded with no money and far from his home in the Japanese countryside, Makoto called one of his only contacts in the U. S., who worked at a Japanese restaurant in Manhattan. He scrounged up enough money for a bus ticket and was off. While in New York, Makoto felt that men’s clothing suffered from a lack of style. Having always had a knack for fashion, he knew he could change that but lacked the funds to open a store with brand new clothing. So, after several years of saving his wages as a waiter, he founded one of the first consignment shops in New York City. Tokio 7 now carries men’s and women’s clothes, with the overarching theme being, as Makoto says, that they are simply “cool. ” The clothes are mostly from Japanese designers and name brands with unique twists. In the store, clothing that has been donated with a lot of wear is labeled “well loved. ”Despite its importance in the community, the shop fell on tough times during the COVID-19 pandemic. To make matters worse, Tokio 7 was looted in the summer of 2020 and had 300 items stolen. When Makoto contemplated closing his doors permanently, longtime customers begged him to reconsider. Resilient as ever, he set up a small photography area in the back of the shop and sold a portion of his clothes online to compensate for the decline of in-person purchases. Reflecting on his journey, Makoto marveled at the whims of fate. Had he not been robbed all of those decades ago in California, he had planned to start a life in the Amazon rainforest