“I’m five foot six and a ball of fire!” That is how J.T. Madison, the founder and owner of Studio 219, describes himself. Studio 219 opened in 2002, during a time when Chelsea was flourishing, especially for the art and LGBTQ communities. J.T. wanted to open a salon that would cater to these groups. When Manhattan Sideways team member Jon asked him how he got started, he stated simply, “It was Chelsea. My whole life was and still is here.”
J.T. views haircuts not just as a style statement; for him, hair is a piece of “temporary art.” It lasts longer than a performance, but not as long as a painting or photograph. It will eventually disappear, an ephemerality which he described as “beautiful.” He believes that haircutters have “lost their artistry” in many places, but that he seeks to maintain quality.
J.T. also creates more permanent art. Hanging on the walls of the salon are pieces of J.T.’s own artwork, which he proudly displays for his clientele. Studio 219 is not like the other larger salons in the area that have moved in over the years. “There aren’t many places where you can walk in and just talk to the owner,” he explained. He loves that he can interact with his customers personally and form close relationships with many of them. For him, it is all about being a part of the Chelsea community. He hangs pictures of his clientele on the walls, showing off their latest haircuts and styles. He has also developed his own line of hair products, including a French argan oil that Manhattan Sideways team member Jon praised enthusiastically.
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! ”
In keeping with the original nautical theme from the 1960′s, each room in the hotel has a porthole window and is decorated with teak wood. In 2014, the hotel’s restaurant La Bottega closed to make room for La Sirena by Mario Batali. The Cabanas, open in the spring and summer, is on the rooftop and offers a welcome reprieve from the city streets when the weather permits.
No matter what time of day we have stopped by Grey Dog, the restaurant is pulsing, but in a quiet, relaxed sort of way. Despite the lines to order food from the menu on the chalkboard and the crowded tables, everyone is calm and content. Apparently, this has been the vibe since two brothers opened their first restaurant back in 1996 on Carmine Street. Today they have expanded to four different locations, each one incredibly successful. The formula seems to be quite simple – a chill atmosphere, easy-going but efficient staff, a menu that covers all of the basics with a bit of a flair, hefty portions and, most importantly, everything tastes great. Beginning early in the morning, there are pancakes, French toast, eggs, homemade granola and coffee being served. As the day progresses, lots of sandwiches, salads and other creative dishes are available for lunch and dinner. Without a doubt, if I lived nearby, I would also become a regular.
Trendy and filled with beautiful people, the Dream Hotel has created quite an aura around it. Sitting in the lobby is certainly entertaining at any hour of the day, but in the evening the action really kicks in. There is a DJ in the lounge area right off the lobby and not far from the entrance is Bodega Negra, with a Mexican menu. Also attached to the hotel is a restaurant called Fishbowl, with a 5000 gallon fish tank behind the bar. On the rooftop, the PHD Club tends to play top 40's music, and downstairs is the Electric Room, which is described as a rock club.
I learned of Agnes B's clothing while in college and studying abroad back in the '70's. Somehow, even then, I knew to appreciate her simple French designs for women. It wasn't until I was much older, however, that I was able to purchase a few of her pieces for myself, and I truly treasure them. It seems that many of Agnes B's stores are closing around the country, but here's to hoping that she can continue here in New York.