In the Cut: Lower East Side's Barbershop Reinvents a Lost Tradition

In the Cut: Lower East Side's Barbershop Reinvents a Lost TraditionPhotos by Liz Barclay

Barbershop
Neighborhood: Lower East Side
10 Rivington St., New York, NY
8rivingtonbarbershop.com
212.673.3209

Entering Barbershop feels a lot like stepping onto the set of a sitcom. It's a Tuesday morning, but the handsome shop hums with the potential of a Friday afternoon. Having previously occupied a small, five-chair space in menswear store Freeman's Sporting Club, Barbershop's (very short) move around the corner and subsequent expansion has allowed the crew (which includes most of the original barbers) not just more space, but a chance to collectively expand upon their original vision. As a result, the staff has the synergy of a true team, a chemistry so seamless it almost seems they were cast. 

And, maybe they were. Like the products that line the spruce shelves, the staff is well-curated, a fact co-owner/barber Ruben Aronov attributes to the space. "It's just a matter of atmosphere and where you’re happy," Arnov says.

Indeed, the space has a warmth about it that would be difficult to replicate. As envisioned by restaurantuer Taavo Somer, the shop's design mimics the stylish minimalism of a Scandinavian ski-lodge. The ceiling, along with each barber's station, are encased by 200-year-old spruce, reclaimed barnwood from Sawkill, New York. Each chair (vintage, naturally) is covered in rich amber Horween leather. It's a place you don't mind spending time in.

Come January, Barbershop will officially merge with the rest of Somer's lifestyle empire, which includes the beloved Freeman's restaurant, and a bespoke suiting shop that will soon occupy the former F.S.C. barber space. There are also plans to open a Japanese-style cocktail bar in the barbershop's basement.

For now, clientele sip on aged whiskey from the glass cabinet behind the front desk. But that's not why they come. Barbershop has found the elusive middle ground between luxurious and practical. The former is a splurge; the latter is fundamental. It's striking a balance between the two that has allowed Barbershop to become an irreplaceable ritual in their patron's lives. 

 

"Most barbershops have lost that culture. We care about our craft. We take everything back to the old school." —Miles Martinez

 

The aesthetic sets the stage, but the classic barbershop vibe the place captures goes beyond the the chairs. Barber Miles Martinez says the cost ($40 compared to a salon's $125) and, of course, the quality of the cuts themselves (hot towels, eucalyptus, and top-of-the-line Japanese razors) play a large part, but the connections forged are what really set the shop apart. "If you come in at any given moment, you can see we have good relationships with our clients," Martinez says. "We consider them friends. We hang out with them. We serve them drinks. There’s a lot of banter."

In that way, Barbershop feels like the Platonic ideal of a barbershop. Somewhere you come to get a great haircut, yes, but more than that. Somewhere you go to make a connection, to share a laugh. "Most barbershops have lost that culture and quality." Martinez says. "We care about our craft. We take everything back to the old school."

Martinez relates a story about the hiring process."They do a haircut and shave, and the quality and skill need to be perfect," he says. But the formula for securing one of the limited chairs is a little trickier that that. It entails hijacking the would-be-barber's iPod, and waiting for "something embarrassing to come up," Martinez says, laughing. "Music is really important."

What does the selectiveness of the shop's staffing mean to you? It means feeling like you're among friends, because, well, you are. There is genuine comradery here. The staff trades techniques as often as they do jabs, relating stories and cracking dirty jokes. "We don’t put on show to gain clients," says Martinez. "We are an actual team."

And that sense of community extends to clients. They relate a story about how, on a recent afternoon, Arnov drove a stranded customer back to his home—in Queens. It's those tiny kindnesses that keep these chairs filled. The process of getting a haircut has intimations of intimacy ("You’re sitting in a chair with me for a half an hour, and I’m touching you," as Martinez puts it) but it's the barbers themselves that bring that concept full circle. It's the reason getting a weekly straight razor shave is as pleasurable a ritual as sipping your morning coffee while sitting in your favorite chair.

This is your new ritual, and your new favorite chair. 

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Tags: barbershop, nyc, les, lower-east-side, freemans-sporting-club, rivingston-street
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