When I visited Village Barber Shop, Avi Jacobov was giving a trim to a gentleman who lives in the East Village. The customer shared that he makes the trek to Chelsea whenever he needs his hair done because he used to live in the area and he now cannot think of anyone cutting his hair besides Avi. It is not surprising that he should choose to stick with Avi, given the barber’s extensive experience and cheery disposition.
Avi got his start as a very young boy living in Tajikistan, Russia, and Poland, learning at his father’s elbow. He quipped, “My father said, ‘Stay close to me, watch what I do’ – but I wanted to play soccer!” By age eleven, he was cutting hair in his father’s shop by standing on a chair, because he was too short. He became a familiar face to the customers in the salon. Avi pointed to a picture of his father’s large barbershop in Russia, where thirty-five employees worked. When he was seventeen years old, his father entered him into a competition, where he cut hair while thousands of people watched.
Avi moved to New York because he wanted to “make the American dream.” He started working first in Astoria, then on 14th Street, and then finally in Chelsea, always in someone else’s salon. Finally, he decided, “I don’t want to deal with the bosses anymore,” and opened his own small place in Chelsea in 2015. Even by New York standards, “small” does not quite cut it – the Village Barber Shop is certainly one of the tiniest places on a side street, seeming more like an alcove than an actual store. But Avi is confident that one day he will own a place with thirty-plus barbers like his father. Until then, he has decided to start small and gain a reputation for haircutting in Chelsea, a place that he describes as a “good neighborhood with good clientele – and a lot of men.”
In addition to being unique due to its small size, Village Barber Shop stands out because of its prices. Avi gives haircuts for only $19. At that price, he met many skeptics. Passersby assumed that he was not a good barber, since his prices were so cheap. Avi responded by saying, “If you don’t like it, don’t pay.” People did pay, and not just for a good haircut, but for Avi's warm personality. As he describes it, “Sometimes people have a bad day, and I make it better. I talk to them.” This was surely the case for the man getting his haircut in front of me. He spoke up from the chair: “Avi dragged me in one day off the street. Ever since then, I was hooked!”
Eddy, the owner of Freestyle Barber Shop, has been a barber since the early 1980s. He got his start in his homeland of Russia, a country that I learned is known for barbers, thanks to their advanced equipment and scissor skills. In 1995, Eddy and his brother started a barbershop on Seventh Avenue, around the corner from his current location. Since then, he has never strayed from Chelsea. He opened Freestyle Barber Shop in 2005, keeping many of his regular customers with him. He is proud to say that he has had many of the same barbers working on his team for fifteen or sixteen years. “The crew is very friendly, ” he told me. “And I like my customers. ”When I visited in 2016, Eddy had just performed a renovation on the shop - and it looked beautiful. Despite the fact that there are so many salons and barbershops in Chelsea, Eddy is not worried about Freestyle’s ability to survive. “People in the area know us – we’ve been here for twenty-one years, ” he said. “You don’t find other barbershops where the same people have been working here this long. ”
Xavier Cruz has been a stylist since the mid-1980s, but he did not make the decision to focus solely on men until 2014. His reason for the shift, he said with a cheeky smile, was because he “was really bored. ” All joking aside, his true reasoning revealed a clever mind who saw a niche in the salon world and decided to fill it. As Xavier pointed out, there are almost no male salons in New York City. There are barbershops, yes, but not upscale men’s salons where you can get hot towel shaves and buzz cuts but also coloring and other processes. “We’re stylists, not just barbers, ” Xavier clarified, adding, “When guys choose Barba, they know they’re not just coming in for a trim. ”When I visited Xavier in 2016, he had recently moved his salon a couple blocks west on 19th Street. He explained that his old location had grown too small for his clientele – “Guys were literally standing outside! ” The new spot is highly modern, with black and chrome interiors and an atmosphere that echoes the feeling of high-end nightclubs and spas. In this space, Xavier has continued to offer many services, including single and double process color jobs, beard trimming with scissors as opposed to a razor, and beard dying. He also has perfected the art of gray blending, a way of making men’s gray hairs look softer and more natural. Thanks to his unique menu of services, Xavier has amassed a clientele base throughout the city and beyond: some out-of-state customers make a day of coming in to Manhattan to get pampered. “We are a safe haven for some men, ” Xavier informed me, explaining that some guys often feel uncomfortable going to a salon. Barba provides a space where they can get their hair dyed without fear of being judged. It has become such a safe social space that Xavier has considered hiring a nail technician so that the men can have a manicure along with their hair. Many men have told him, “If you did nails here, I would get my nails done. ” Another service Xavier is hoping to add in the future is Scalp Micro-Pigmentation, or SMP for short. It is a special tattoo drawn onto those who are balding to make it look like you have stubble on your head. As far as Xavier knows, there is not one salon in the state that offers SMP, and so he is excited to be the first. And if anyone needs an example of SMP, they need look no farther than Xavier’s own head – he pointed to the front of his scalp, and I was surprised to realize that what I was sure was shaved hair was actually a tattoo. Despite the variety of high quality services, Xavier feels that the prices are still reasonable – “between an average barbershop and an average salon, ” he estimated. Customers are guaranteed excellent service, since “everyone’s super talented” in the salon and everyone who walks through the door is offered coffee, tea, and wine. I was also pleased to witness the camaraderie in the salon: Xavier admitted that many times, “stylists are out for blood, ” but that Barba stylists share clients and get along well. He concluded by emphasizing that anyone who comes to Barba is “in for a treat! ”
Being a barber runs in Sam Chulpayev’s family. His grandfather had his own barbershop in his native Uzbekistan and Sam’s uncles have also opened various barbershops and salons. After working at someone else’s salon for many years, Sam was proud to follow in his family’s footsteps and open up his own place at 170 West 23rd Street. The salon was tiny, however, with only five chairs, and he had amassed many devoted clientele while working in New York. He quickly realized that he would need more space, which led to him expanding across the street to number 169. I spoke to Daniel, Sam’s brother, who works on the business side of Made Man. He was a banker before, but he decided to join the family business after Sam’s second location opened. He feels it is very important to “help out your own family. ” He showed me around the barbershop, telling me about different aspects that made it stand out from other salons in the area. “It’s the little things that count, ” he said, mentioning the method by which the barbershop keeps track of appointments. They custom built the electronic system entirely from scratch based on customer feedback. That means that even before someone steps into the shop, they are receiving personal attention from Made Man just by booking an appointment. Daniel also informed me that the barbershop offers many free services to their loyal customers. The barbers give free clean-up services in between haircuts, including beards, and complimentary massages are given with haircuts. “We really want to build a relationship with our clients, so we offer little freebies, " he said, adding, "We’re the kind of shop that’s always hoping to give more for less. ” Though many customers are local, there are a good amount from New Jersey and Westchester. Daniel took me past a cupboard filled with antique barber tools. I learned that they come from a collection that Sam has amassed since 2010. It became clear that Daniel loves working with his brother. “When you’re working in a family business, the return on investment is definitely better, ” he told me. “It’s your passion and your ideas. ” The brothers’ passion can be seen in every aspect of the salon - even the chairs have been custom made using specially chosen prints and designs from the 1940s and 1950s. The devotion was also evident in the care and attention given to every customer. “Anything you can think of at a salon, you can get in our barbershop, ” Daniel assured me. “We take their appearance very seriously. ”Before I left, I spoke to Sam, who was finishing a client’s haircut. His statement was heartwarming: “I come from humble origins, but I’ve made a really beautiful high-end establishment with every client in mind. ” He explained that though his barbershop is definitely top of the line and can lean towards being pricy, he is always careful to keep things reasonable. “I don’t want to deny people service just because they can’t afford it. ” It was touching not only to meet someone who had created something wonderful from the ground up, but also someone who remembered his roots.
This Swedish Lutheran church is celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2015. The church, organized by two missionaries, was named for Gustavus II Adolphus, who was King of Sweden from 1611-1632. Though the church opened in 1865, it was not until the early 1900s that English services began on a regular basis and electricity was installed in the building. The membership fluctuated over the years that followed, as the church introduced attractions such as the Sewing Club, Help Our Neighbors Eat Year-Round, and the Basement Coffeehouse Program for college students and young adults. In 1961, the church had the honor of hosting a memorial service for the Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld. In celebration of this milestone anniversary, Gustavus Adolphus is renovating its interior, and replacing the chandeliers and stained glass windows in preparation for a festival in the fall of 2015.
“We come together on the common ground of arts, letters, and women owning their own destinies, ” stated Executive Director Dawn Delikat. For well over a century, Pen and Brush has been dedicated to supporting women in the visual arts and literature. The organization was founded by two sisters and painters, Janet and Mimi Lewis, who were frustrated with being barred from art societies solely on the basis of their gender. Knowing of so many talented women suffering a similar fate, the siblings decided to create Pen and Brush to “stop asking for permission and forge their own way in the city. ”Though the group was nomadic for thirty years, it was able to purchase its first location in 1923. Decades later in the early 1960s, the ladies celebrated paying off their mortgage by dressing in their finest ballgowns and burning the contract in the fireplace. “Women persevering is as much of our understory as anything else. ” The organization carries the torch passed down by these remarkable women, whose members include First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and a number of Nobel laureates. Today, Pen and Brush’s goal remains the same, albeit adapted to twenty-first-century circumstances. As such, it makes space for both women and non-binary voices — better reflecting our evolving conceptions of the gender spectrum — and works to bring in the diversity that has been kept out of the canon “not for lack of talent, but for lack of access. ” To this end, Pen and Brush functions as an art gallery and a book publisher, where visual artists and writers from across the world can submit their work. The group evaluates submissions, seeking pieces “that need to be supported, ” either for expressing something that has not been said before or for demonstrating an incredibly high skill level. This has meant giving career-making opportunities to veteran artists looking to break the glass ceiling of their field, gifted students just out of an MFA program, and self-taught artists who received no formal introduction to the art world. Achieving true equality in the arts and letters may seem a daunting task, but Pen and Brush is tireless in its mission to give a platform to brilliant women and non-binary creators. “We can’t give up on them. We have to build into the future so that we can keep passing that torch, so maybe someday, it won’t be needed. ”
Living Fresh Men’s Spa was the first men-only spa in New York when it opened in the early 2000s. Here, men can relax and enjoy luxurious spa treatments in the privacy of this serene, dark wood and stone-paneled space. The store’s entrance is small, so most people are unaware of its existence. Once we walked inside, we were both enchanted and impressed by how extensive and comprehensive it is – a contemporary, warmly lit seating area leads back to a well-appointed bar, manicure and pedicure room, and a long hallway of private spa rooms dedicated separately to facial, body, and hair removal treatments and services. Living Fresh Men’s Spa also works with botox and filler treatments, laser hair removal, ReFirm skin tightening, and acne laser therapy. Each thoughtfully-appointed treatment room has its own sauna and shower. We found Living Fresh to be a luxurious setting for busy, stressed, or simply hygiene-obsessed men to take care of their bodies and release some of the tensions brought on by the daily cacophony of New York. From Tuesday through Saturday, after 6pm, men can enjoy 20% off single service massages.
We stumbled into BXL on a blisteringly hot day and were met by their refreshing air conditioning -- reason enough to stay. But even more, BXL is a splendid space, with warm wooden floors, banquette seating indoors and tables set up outside when the weather cooperates... and a very kind European owner. We spoke to Klaas about his restaurant and learned that having grown up in Belgium, and completing his training, he became the private chef for their ambassador. He was disarmingly charismatic and kind as he told us about BXL’s menu – he emphasized the "all you can eat" mussel pots that come with a cold Stella for $22. 00 and the array of different sauces to choose from: white wine shallot broth, white wine and cream, endive and cream, wheat beer, cream with bacon and onions, coconut milk with lemon grass and curry. Mussels are not the only food choice. There are other great Belgian dishes, plus simple burgers, pasta and salads. Without a doubt, stopping by BXL for a cold beer and some friendly conversation was exactly what our team needed.