F.S.C. Barber on Horatio Street in the West Village looks old, but it isn’t. It opened in 2008. Credit Joshua Bright for The New York Times Beard trimming styles gq.
EARLIER this month, Tristan Chirico was trying to do some last-minute errands in New York before flying back to Jordan and his job teaching theater at a prep school there. The most pressing item on his list was a haircut.
His plan was to head into Manhattan from the friend’s apartment in Brooklyn where he was staying. But then, right there on Smith Street, the main drag of Carroll Gardens, he happened across a brand-new barbershop, Persons of Interest, and decided to pop in.
“As soon as I saw the place, I felt this deep, inner yearning,” he said. “It’s very striking, with these red barber chairs and this fantastic photo-mural. And it’s rare to see well-dressed, well-groomed men cutting the hair of equally well-dressed guys.”
He was convinced that he’d found the spot where he could get the short, early-1960s-model haircut — complete with a neat side part — that he had wanted for years. And he was right.
Moreover, Mr. Chirico, 26, discovered what other young men in New York have begun to notice in recent months: In the city’s more style-conscious ZIP codes, there has been a renaissance of that much-loved old neighborhood standby, the barbershop.
Proving Fran Lebowitz’s oft-cited dictum that “you’re only as good as your last haircut,” authentic-looking barbershops have popped up all over lower Manhattan. Done up with, say, vintage lighting fixtures, antique barber chairs and, of course, a big glass jar of blue Barbicide on the counter, they are offering good, solid haircuts and shaves for less than half the price of a fancy salon cut. And in a kind of tonsorial version of chicken-or-the-egg, their arrival is perfectly timed, coinciding with the twin desires among urbane young men to tame their unruly locks and look neater and sharper from the neck up, and do it in all-American, gentlemanly, modestly priced fashion, far from the salon smells of peroxide and perfume.
That spot in Carroll Gardens aside, Lower Manhattan seems to be the epicenter of it all, where these new-old-fashioned places range from the punk-rock-plain (like Frank’s Chop Shop on the Lower East Side) to the fancy-pants (the New York Shaving Company in NoLIta) to the gimmicky (the Blind Barber in the East Village is also a bar). Prices at those places run from $30 to $40 for a haircut and $25 to $40 for a straight-razor hot shave (which has itself become a popular choice).
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At C. O. Bigelow in Greenwich Village, sales of high-quality brushes and combs from English firms like Kent, along with straight razors that cost $100 and up, and even old-fashioned leather sharpening strops have all risen 200 percent in the last two years, said the company’s president, Ian Ginsberg. “Guys are coming in here and asking for military brushes, and I can’t even believe they know the term,” Mr. Ginsberg said, referring to the traditional oval men’s hairbrush that has no handle.
But New Yorkers aren’t the only ones fueling this trend. On eBay, according to a spokeswoman, there’s been a surge of interest in vintage shaving, grooming and barbershop paraphernalia. In comparing a two-week period earlier this month with a two-week period six months ago, she said sales of merchandise returned by the search term barbershop were up 77 percent, sales of Barbicide were up 60 percent, and sales of items found by searching for the words vintage barbershop sign were up 251 percent. On Amazon, archaic devices like straight razors and safety razors, and grooming products (including mustache wax and combs) from Gilded-Age-y brands like Edwin Jagger and Colonel Conk have been selling so well that Amazon created a special category — “classic shave” — to showcase them all. Charles Kirkpatrick, the executive officer of the National Association of Barber Boards of America, said that the number of licensed barbers had grown roughly 10 percent in the last two years, to 245,000 from 225,000.
F.S.C. Barber, a barbershop within the Freemans Sporting Club clothing boutique on the Lower East Side, was the first proper hipster barbershop to open its doors back in 2006, complete with old barber chairs, hexagonal floor tiles, antique lighting fixtures, and no shortage of electric clippers. A second branch opened in the West Village in 2008, both branches are now hipster mob scenes on Saturdays.
“We wanted to be very firm and not take appointments,” said one of the shop’s owners, Sam Buffa, whose idea it was to open a barbershop as part of the Freemans brand. “We wanted it to work for the guy who wakes up and thinks, ‘I need a haircut.’ So you go put your name down, you have a drink, you read a magazine, you shop for some clothes, and you’re up.”
There’s usually a healthy wait at Geno’s Barberia a few blocks away, which was opened last summer by Dzenad Bicic — a k a Geno. A Yugoslavian-born barber who for the last 10 years built a loyal following at another neighborhood shop, Mr. Bicic now has his own place for tending the locks of an impressive roster of clients, from the venerable, like the Broadway producer Arthur Laurents, to the trendy, like the bad-boy artist Dan Colen. And that’s just the east side of the street. Right across Greenwich Avenue is Ernest and Olivia, another newly opened barbershop.
Then there is one of the pioneers, which, to be honest, isn’t really a barbershop at all. When Ricky Pannell opened his West Village salon Snip ’N’ Sip 10 years ago, he did it up with vintage barbershop fixtures he found on eBay. Now bigger and more barber-y than ever, the place has become such a font of authenticity and inspiration that Mr. Pannell was enlisted by The Inside Source, eBay’s online magazine, to give readers a checklist of what to look for.
However, he’s not a traditional barber, and doesn’t charge like one. “People are so confused, because they see the place and come in, and they think you are going to give the $15 barber cut,” said Mr. Pannell, who charges $100 for a man’s haircut. “A true barber wants to do four cuts an hour,” he said. “I don’t even own clippers.”
As cute or contrived as these places might seem — many are selling a kind of false nostalgia to customers too young to remember the real thing — several factors are coming together to make this a barbershop renaissance. Foremost among them, Mr. Buffa said, is that young men, in this depressed economy, can’t afford to look unprofessional today, and don’t want to spend too much to keep it up. “I hear it all the time: ‘I need to cut my hair off, I have to go to interviews,’ ” he said. “That includes me. I used to have hair down to my shoulders. It’s also part of becoming men — we’re not boys anymore just hanging around the Lower East Side getting drunk.”
Another factor has to do with why men turned away from barbershops in the first place, finding it hard to get the more stylish, individual or careful haircuts they wanted from the outdated style sheet and cookie-cutter process practiced by so many barbers..
“I actually have tried to get this haircut before,” said Mr. Chirico, referring to the 1960s Don Draper cut he got last week at Persons of Interest. “I went to one of these neighborhood barber shops where the barber was probably named Sal, and I figured that’s the kind of haircut I’d get, but he gave me the haircut he would have given Keanu Reeves in 1993 — all gelled and up and terrible. That put me off barbershops forever.”
Mr. Buffa of F.S.C. Barber said it was exactly that kind of discerning customer they were after.
Not a hairstylist himself, Mr. Buffa recruited his barbers from hair salons, finding stylists game to take a different crack at the salon idea. They are going for a vibe that feels like a cross between Bedford Falls, circa 1946, and a GQ photo shoot, circa 2010. To wit: on a visit to Freemans last week, the muscled and tattooed guy in the chair next to mine told his — his stylist? his barber? his barbista? — that he was a union pipe welder, but the problem was that he hadn’t worked in two years and his unemployment was ending Dec. 1. Meanwhile, in another chair was a chap who — in looks, dress and bearing — could have passed for a model. (Despite looking so neatly cropped that he could have been leaving instead of coming, he was there for a trim.)
They do give a decent haircut at Freemans, and can give you a straight-razor shave if you want it. But be warned: to men used to the Trac II or Mach3, the straight razor shave will come as a surprise. You feel as if you are trapped in a chair while your beard is intently licked off by a mountain lion with an 80-grit-sandpaper tongue. The word “luxury” does not come to mind.
And for all the charm of places like this, there may still be something to be said for an appointment at a salon.
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“They cut great hair at Freemans,” said David Binder, a theater producer who lives a block from F.S.C. Barber’s West Village branch. “But what’s so funny about this illusion of old Main-Street America, where you pop in and get a haircut, is how it just doesn’t jibe with reality. The last time I tried to get one there I was told there was a three-hour-and-20 minute wait. And not only do I think there has not ever been a barbershop on any Main Street that had a three-hour-and-20 minute wait, I don’t know a single New Yorker who can afford to wait that long for a haircut.”
For a table, maybe, but never a chair.