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! ”
Beneath the Spanish Benevolent Society lies La Nacional, one of Manhattan’s most authentic Spanish restaurants and the most easily accessible part of the society. Just by walking down the steps into the dimly lit basement lounge, we felt the bustle of 14th street quickly recede and we were transported across the ocean. La Nacional has the same relaxed, no frills atmosphere as most tapas bars in Spain. We gazed at the old photographs from the society’s earlier years on the walls and then had the option of sipping a drink at the bar, sampling some classic simple Spanish tapas such as tortilla de patatas, croquetas or chorizo, or dining on a full meal of paella. Perhaps the most authentic option, though, was to simply have a seat by the television to watch the fútbol game - it is always on. For visitors from Spain who want a taste of home, those of us pining for the Spanish travels of our past, or New Yorkers simply curious about a new culture, La Nacional is the place to go.