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.
Renowned Alsatian Chef Antoine Westermann opened his first restaurant, Le Buerehiesel, at twenty-three years old. For several years, the self-taught chef continued to prepare memorable cuisine, earning the restaurant an illustrious three Michelin stars. In 2006, he had those stars recalled in order to escape the creative constriction that accompanied them, and in 2007, he ceded the restaurant to his son. Chef Westermann’s more recent restaurant endeavors offer sophisticated cuisine sans pomp. In Paris, he is the proud chef and owner of four such restaurants - Mon Vieil Ami, The Durant, La Dégustation, and Le Coq Rico. Translating to “Rico the Chicken, ” the first Le Coq Rico opened in 2011 as a restaurant entirely devoted to poultry. After all, the refined chef’s cuisine of choice is fried chicken and French fries. Before bringing Le Coq Rico to Manhattan in 2016, Westermann spent a couple of months sourcing poultry and establishing connections with farmers across the US that adhered to his standards of quality as part of his exploration of “American terroir. ” Unbeknownst to the chef at the time, the space he chose in Gramercy resides next to Theodore Roosevelt’s birthplace, which houses a collection of taxidermy birds. “This one just felt right, ” the staff joked. As to be expected from a chef of Westermann’s caliber, the menu at Le Coq Rico in New York is anything but ordinary. The minimum slaughtering age of the specialty whole birds served is ninety days, more than double the forty-day standard, and Catskill Gunea Fowl are given one-hundred and thirty days. “After that they become a rooster, ” I was informed. Another specialty dish, the “baeckeoffe, ” originates from an Alsatian laundry day tradition. When the women were busy with laundry and did not have the time to cook, they would drop off a marinade of potatoes, beef and sauces to a baker, who would seal the casserole dish with dough and let it cook slowly. Westermann’s version employs chicken, truffles, and white wine. Watching some of the other dishes come out, I would have never guessed that they were all the same species. The playful giblets platter veiled the bird’s offal with elegant skewers, spiced croquettes, glossy wings, and horseradish toast. A foamy butter bath with micro greens overlay the slow-cooked guinea fowl egg, and I was relieved to find out that the tomato and poultry tartare was not raw, but instead similar to an elevated chicken salad encircled by caper sauce. Birds play a role in other parts of the restaurant, too. In addition to French and American wines displayed in a pristine wine cave, the bar offers a bird-themed cocktail program. One of the most popular, The Elvis in the Sky, is an alcoholic take on the singer’s famed peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwich. The “Duck Fitch, ” a mix of gin, turmeric, ginger, and mint, is named for the celebrated polymath artist, Doug Fitch. Having lived with a bird for a month after a live performance piece, Doug was deemed the perfect candidate to design the cheerful rooster that has become Le Coq Rico’s emblem. His backlit, blue-and-white painting is on view for guests seated in the main dining area or at the bar that faces the open kitchen. Serving simple food expertly prepared, Chef Westermann is not only a master in the kitchen, but an excellent mentor as well. Floor Manager and Sommelier Adrien Boulouque could not be more thankful for his fifteen years of experience working with the humble and soft spoken chef. “I met him in Washington D. C. and now I am here, ” he mused. “It is all about sharing and respect. ” This respect is geared towards the staff, the guests, and, of course, the birds.
Nemo Tile’s beginnings date back to 1921 in Jamaica, Queens. Nemo Tile is responsible for lining and decorating many of New York’s most famed and frequently traveled spaces and landmarks: The Lincoln and Holland Tunnels, the original World Trade Center, the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, the W Hotels, and “countless residences, ” according to their staff, all bear their unique tiles. The company specializes in usable, heavily trafficked tiles, of all colors, shapes, materials, and sizes, but Nemo also works on smaller, more decorative or intimate architectural and interior projects. I spoke to Charlotte Barnard, the head of marketing, who told me a bit about the the company’s history and the changes that Nemo has undergone since its inception. Jerry Karlin partnered with, and subsequently took over from, the original owner in the 1950s and since then, the company has been in the hands of three generations of this family run business. I think what struck me most, though, was when I put the pieces together and realized that I grew up in the same town as the Karlin's. One of their daughters was a childhood friend, and our parents were also very close. I even have fond memories of a trip that I took with the Karlins to Florida when I was about fifteen. All of a sudden, Nemo Tiles took on a whole new meaning for me. As I continued my conversation with Charlotte, she informed me that many things have not changed since 1921 - the original location is still operating in Queens and the Karlin family is still involved with MTA projects, including the new Fulton Street station, which features Nemo glass tiles. There have, however, been revolutionary inventions in the tile industry, especially thanks to advances in technology. 3D printing has made it possible to make porcelain look like stone, wood, and even metal. Charlotte proudly stated that Nemo Tile sees some of the most traffic of surrounding showrooms. She pointed out that they have a great location, and that similar companies have followed their lead in moving to the Gramercy area. The company finds most of their products at two major tile shows in Bologna and Florida, but they have wares from all over the world, from China to North America. They have an especially large Italian selection, and Charlotte told us that Nemo had been named “Distributor of the Year” by Confindustria Ceramica, the trade organization for Italian tile. I was deeply impressed with the showroom itself and the constant flow of people stopping by to browse and make purchases: the floor was a clever patchwork of different styles of tile, sliding pull-out displays were tucked into the walls, allowing the space to remain uncluttered, and props like shower heads and mirrors decorated the walls. Charlotte explained, “We are more than a typical tile store. We show tiles within the context of lifestyle. It is a new way to see space, and we are constantly updating the displays. ”
The massive, open interior, high ceilings, white columns, and rows of long, pillow-strewn banquettes at this corner Mediterranean restaurant pay extensive, dramatic homage to what is really a tiny, unremarkable fish found in Greece. Since the restaurant opened in 2005, the barbounia has been elevated to what is most likely unprecedented fame. The sardine, for example, has yet to be honored with a white-feathered chandelier and twenty-foot long, soft cream-colored curtains. The airy space, which also comprises a large, inviting bar, semi-outdoor seating on 20th Street, and an open kitchen, is consistently packed and filled with raucous, lively conversation. Barbounia is certainly a scene worth partaking in, both socially and with its mostly Greek cuisine, especially the fresh, simply prepared fish and seafood. They also offer amazing bread and small pizzas and pasta.
The Players, an organization founded in the late Nineteenth Century to further the careers of talented actors by linking them with established patrons of the arts, is a place of considerable national historic, artistic, and dramatic importance. Though founded by, and for, a small group of primarily American Shakespearean Actors, today The Players serves over 700 active theater and film actors, television hosts, arts patrons, and businessmen and women. Although a private club, non-members are given access to this simply remarkable townhouse that serves as its home - guests are invited to the occasional theater production and lectures that are held here. Edwin Booth, the most famous American Shakespearean actor of his time, purchased the mansion at 15 Gramercy Park South and had it redesigned by famed architect Stanford White to house a monumental club and theater for actors and a residence for himself on the upper floors. The ornate chandeliers, wooden parquet floors, gilded ceiling wreaths, Tiffany Glass windows, open circular staircase, indoor stage, library, and dining room are lined with portraits of Edwin by John Singer Sargent and paintings of the faces of every distinguished member of the club throughout its history. From founding member Mark Twain, to Frank Sinatra, to Carroll Burnett, to Uma Thurman, the breadth of actors and theatrical personalities covering the old, intricately carved walls was awe inspiring. A particularly memorable painting was a full-length portrait of the late, celebrated theater patron Helen Hayes wearing a brilliant, crimson velvet gown. Hayes was the first female to be admitted in 1989. The building is still filled with many of the original decorations, objects, and pieces of furniture used by the founding members of the club: the simple wood “club tables” by the bar in the dining room; humidors and personalized drinking mugs for the famously heavy smokers and alcoholics of the old Shakespearean crew; and mosaic tiles carved with words of wisdom for the actors themselves. “Dear actors, ” reads one – “eat not onions, nor garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath. ” And another, a particularly revealing line from Shakespeare, “you shall not budge, you go not till I set you up a glass. ”And for the real history buffs – Edwin Booth had an older brother, John, another famous Shakespearean actor. The brothers disagreed and competed over everything, from their individual claim to particular theater venues to politics (Edwin was a Unionist, John a Confederate). They settled on a compromise to divide the country into two theatrical spheres for each to work in – Edwin in the North, John in the South. And as for their political disagreements, John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in the Ford Theater on April 14, 1865. When we visited in late 2012, The Players was about to celebrate its 125th anniversary. After asking our tour guide, the knowledgeable assistant executive director of the Club, John McCormick, how he felt about his job, he responded “I get goose bumps every time I think about this site that I work in. ”