Greg Sysoiev has a straightforward goal when it comes to his barbershop: he wants the customer to be able to “sit down and actually enjoy the haircut.” Indeed, the comfortable chairs, the wall’s original brick, and the overall classic décor of Original Barbershop contribute to an environment that stresses comfort and personalized attention above the mechanical, conveyor belt system that Greg notices in many other barbershops. With over twelve years in the trade, Greg feels that he has the right formula to ensure a superior customer experience.
Born in a town 900 miles from Moscow, Greg immigrated to the United States when he was seventeen and lived in Astoria, Queens. He began working for a barbershop owned by Russians shortly afterwards. Twelve years later, in 2015, he was able to open his own shop in the East Village, a neighborhood that Greg feels “still has character” in the midst of rising rents. In addition to barbering, Greg has used his locale to host a whiskey tasting event with other business owners in the neighborhood and plans to host other activities - like stand-up comedy - and annual events in the future. This of course does not detract from the meticulous yet entertaining attention that Greg gives to his customers, but rather goes to show the extent to which his barbershop is an integral member of the neighborhood and will likely become a local favorite for those wanting more than a traditional haircut.
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.
“The Community Man, that should be my tagline, ” Manny said, “My customers love me, and I love them. ”Having worked and cut hair at this location for seventeen years, it is no wonder that Manny is an established fixture in the neighborhood. When I asked him to tell me a little more about himself, he shared with me that he began his career at Barber School when he was seventeen years old and worked for two years before going to college to study psychology. After graduating, he went straight back to working. “I love it, ” Manny said, “working for yourself– - it’s the American dream, right? ”Manny’s Barber Shop is also one of the few places that still offer the old and classic razor and hot towel shave. “Old-school and clean. We change our razors every time, in front of the customer, ” Manny emphasized. “He can do any hair style, ” a customer chimed in. “Yeah and a nice facial massage too, ” Manny agreed. “We do scissor work and razors here. This art is disappearing quick. Nowadays people just use buzzers. ”
Had we not been personally escorted through the unmarked double doors that lead to Kenkeleba Gallery, Manhattan Sideways might not ever have known it was here. The only sign on the building reads Henington Hall, etched into the stone facade along with the year it was built, 1908. According to Joe Overstreet, in the 70’s the building was condemned until he and his wife, Corinne Jennings, were able to strike a deal with the city in 1978. Although 2nd Street was teeming with drug activity back then, the arrangement proved worthwhile for Overstreet, as it gave him, his wife, three children and the emerging Kenkeleba House a home in an area that eventually cleaned up its act and became one of the most important neighborhoods for the arts in New York City. Since its founding, Kenkeleba House has flown under the radar as a not-for-profit gallery space and artist workspace. Joe and Corinne were only interested in promoting new ideas, emerging artists, experimental work, and solo shows for those deserving of the recognition. They preferred to showcase artists whose works were not typically featured in commercial galleries, focusing primarily on African American art. Joe and Corinne’s vision of Kenkeleba House - as a space for artists to grow, to showcase African American that oftentimes would have been lost, and teaching African American history through gallery shows - was only possible due to their extensive background in art as well as their immense individual efforts. Corinne was born into a family of artists in an isolated part of Rhode Island, and until she was about twelve or thirteen, she thought “that’s what everyone did- I thought people made things. ” Her father, a talented printmaker who studied under Hale Woodruff, is widely known for his black and white wood engravings and costume jewelry. The Wilmer Jennings Gallery - across the street on 2nd Street - is named for him. Jennings’ mother was a Yale graduate and painter. Corinne came to New York in the 1960’s, originally wanting to be a scenic designer. Even though she was qualified, she was turned away by the head of the scenic designer’s union with the explanation that they did not want any women or black people. She instead started to do art projects, and eventually decided to “tackle some of issues that prevented African American artists from fully developing. ”Corinne and Joe spent a lot of time speaking with artists from different parts of West Africa and the Caribbean, eventually coming upon the realization that “they needed to find a different way for people to develop, for people to have space to work, [and] to find alternative educational routes for people. ” In 1978, Joe and Corinne purchased an abandoned building on second street, fixed it up, and opened up their first art exhibition in 1980. From then on, they began amassing their extensive and remarkable collection. The exhibits on display in this gallery recognize the rarely explored contributions that people of African descent have made to the art world. It is here, hanging on the walls and filed away in the deepest recesses of their private collection, we were showed a portrait of Dr. John DeGrasse painted by a largely forgotten African-American artist by the name of Edward Mitchell Banister (1828-1901). Banister won a national award for his most famous painting, “Under the Oaks. ” The magnificent framed picture of Dr. DeGrasse is easily worth more money than we could count, but the history lesson we received from Joe was priceless. Dr. DeGrasse was a native New Yorker and also one of the first African-Americans to receive a medical degree. He gained acceptance to the Boston Medical Society in 1854, making him the first African-American to belong to a medical association in that state. And to boot, he was also the first African-American medical officer in the U. S. Army serving as Assistant Surgeon in the Civil War. In addition, Manhattan Sideways viewed works dating back to 1773, by the late Hale Woodruff, an African-American abstract painter who lived in New York City from 1943 until his death in 1980. In addition to being an artist who aspired to express his heritage, Woodruff was also an art educator and member of the faculty at New York University. “We are African-American, so that is what we do, ” said Corinne, “but we are also interested in artists from the Lower East Side. ” Corinne’s personal art collection reflects much of her parent’s amazing work, as well as that of other African-American artists, both well-known and yet undiscovered. Kenkeleba Gallery aims to teach the younger generations about African-American history. “Every nationality walks by here on a daily basis, but they have no idea who we are as a people. ” Joe and Corinne were well aware of the contribution African-Americans have made to the arts that began right here in this community. Their private collection is made up of over 30, 000 paintings, artifacts, art books and jazz records that tell the rich history of African-Americans in this country.
The space is fabulous at Billy Reid, furnished with vintage southern pieces and housed in an amazing Bond Street building. Billy began his fashion business in Alabama and opened up his inviting menswear enclave here in 2008. Soft flannel shirts, great suede boots, woven skinny ties, colorful bow ties, well-made blazers, beautiful striped shirts and more…I love everything about this boutique, and each time I stop by, I am inspired to make over the men in my family. Billy designs much of the clothing in the store (minus the Levi jeans). He has gorgeous fabrics to choose from for suits and sport jackets. And there is a tasteful selection for women, too.