By Jon Reiss
As a man looking for a haircut in Brooklyn, one faces a quandary: barber or salon? Barbers have been the go-to choice for men’s haircuts since Ancient Rome, and in the Middle Ages, barbers performed major surgeries. Today, they’re dependable for a quick shave and a haircut, often without an appointment, and are cheaper than a salon. However, there’s a tendency for barbers to have only two or three haircuts up their sleeve. And for a person with an oddly shaped head, or a flair for the unique, this just won’t do.
Salons, on the other hand, tend to give more interesting and creative haircuts, and sometimes even a little pre-haircut pampering. But a man is likely to feel a bit out of place at a salon, which tends to be filled with women and cost more than a barber. Your average barbershop cut costs somewhere between $8 and $30, while a salon cut can range from $40 to $500. Masculinity is also a factor. At your average barbershop, one might not feel masculine enough to live up to the often machismo-soaked standards of an old-school barbershop.
Fortunately, men across the borough, myself included, now have a third option: A hybrid of the barbershop and the salon. These establishments combine traits from both to produce the best experience for the hair-discerning male. Barber Shop Salons often are priced somewhere in between a salon and barbershop, and have a special focus on making men of all shapes, sizes, and levels of masculinity feel welcome. I set out to visit three of these hybrid “barbalons” in the span of two months, stating, each time I sat in a new cutting chair, “Do whatever you think will look best.” The goal was to walk away from this assignment with a new go-to spot to get my hair cut.
Stepping Razor Barbershop
257 Varet St. Bushwick
Danny Baptista is the owner of The Stepping Razor Barbershop as well as the singer/guitarist for Brooklyn psych-dub band The Cool and Deadly. Baptista opened the shop as a way to pull in money when he wasn’t away on tour. Baptista says there’s a number of different types of barbershops, including The” Greaser Barbershop,” which he characterizes as being inspired by 1950’s greaser culture. However, Baptista stipulates that The Stepping Razor is not one of them. “I like hot rods and stuff like that, and I do classic haircuts, but this shop is more inspired by low-rider and skater culture rather than greaser culture.” Located on Varet St., the Stepping Razor is a two-chair barbershop inside a backroom within the Post Bike Shop in Bushwick. Despite the notes of graffiti and skate culture, ever present at The Stepping Razor is that classic barbershop feel, with old style pomades, and barber tools at both stations. Classic slick backs tapers, and high, tight side parts, are the haircuts Baptista’s been giving the most lately, cuts that are very much in his wheelhouse.
The Verdict: I learned two things at The Stepping Razor. First, that subculture can be an integral part of a barbershop, so it’s important to feel like one relates to the subculture reflected in the aesthetic of their chosen shop. I also learned that conversation is an important part of the whole experience. The conversation at The Stepping Razor is non-stop and before you know it, you’re all done. I walked out of the shop with a classic slick back, a cut similar to the one donned by Michael Pitt in Boardwalk Empire. For weeks I walked around with my hair slick, dressing in vests and button down shirts in attempt to match with my new cut. I loved this haircut, however, I did find it was a style that needed fixing within a few weeks.
Price: Clipper Cuts- $20, Scissor Cuts- $25, Shaves $17
Defining Quote: “Conversation is an important aspect of it to me. I love that about the job, I meet new people every day and they open up. It’s never boring and I’ve learned to never underestimate people.”
130 India St. Greenpoint
Joe Covington, co-owner of Tomcat’s in Greenpoint takes credit for bringing the hybrid Barbershop/Salon to Brooklyn. According to Covington, New York had nothing like Tomcat’s when they moved into Greenpoint in 2009. Having apprenticed as a barber for 15 years, Covington has a strong sense of what he’s going for and it’s certainly not the “emover,” a trendy haircut he refers to derogatorily marked by its sweep in the front that’s combed over the eye. Tomcat’s aim is to give “classic American haircuts.” The shop has a couple features that make it stand out from the rest, not the least of which is the cold fridge full of Pabst for waiting guests. Tomcat’s is clearly aimed at the manly male, with a 1950’s rockabilly aesthetic. According to Covington, “The Boardwalk Empire Haircut” is the most popular request he gets these days and it’s a cut he’s happy to give. It’s pretty safe to say that Covington is an expert at these cuts since many of his clients work on the HBO prohibition-era series, which shoots only a few blocks away in Greenpoint.
The Result: I really liked the way my hair looked walking out of Tomcat’s. It didn’t look like any haircut I’d ever had. I looked something like an air force pilot from the 50’s. However, I found myself unable to look that way on my own in the days that followed. Other people’s haircuts looked fantastic as they walked out of Tomcat, however, I was unable to find a style that really worked for me with this one.
Defining Quote: “Our clients will walk out of here looking awesome. People tell me all the time that my haircuts got them laid.” “With a good haircut you can style it multiple ways and look out of the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s or 60’s without compromising youth or style.“
Price: Clippers- $20, Scissors- $30, Shaves-$30
41 Havemeyer St. Williamsburg
Walking into Manetamed it’s impossible not to be struck by the loud and vibrant art that covers every bit of wall space. It’s not uncommon in Williamsburg to find in art where one might not expect it, such as coffee shops or bars. However, the art displayed at Manetamed seems expertly curated, with stunning collage work by Secret Project Robot artist Cameron Michel and paintings by artists like Michael Krasowitz and Eric Penington. Manetamed owner Magdalena Ryczko takes the art on her shop’s walls very seriously and holds regular shows to welcome new work as it comes. In a sense, the art is comforting. Walking into a new haircut place, it’s reassuring to know that the person cutting your hair has an eye for aesthetics. Polish-born Magdalena Ryczko opened Manetamed just over a year ago and has built a steady clientele since. Manetamed, at first glance looks like a salon, except for the classic barber pole and old-fashioned men’s hair products at the cutting stations. Ryczko explained to me that this is because she considers Manetamed “a barber shop at heart” and that she “prefers to cut men’s hair, or at least short hair.” She continued, “It’s easy to make a big difference with a man’s haircut and men are more loyal to their barbers, while women shop around.” Longer women’s haircuts and layering, on the other hand, are the specialty of Manetamed stylist, Ana Benaroya. Ryczko admits that she likes working with artists. “I enjoy cutting the hair of people who are willing to try unique and creative cuts.” Most of her clientele she says, are artists and musicians (including members of the band Hunter Valentine, recently featured on Showtime’s The Real L Word,) although she also does kids, mothers and people of all stripes. Also available at Manetamed are sugar face scrubs invented in house, which, after sampling, I highly recommend. My haircut with Ryczko had all the trimmings of a classic barber cut including a hot towel neck shave. Ryczko says she is extremely focused on delivering the best haircut for a person’s head shape and that she specializes, even takes pride in, hiding thinning and balding men’s hair.
The Outcome: Ryczko truly rejoiced upon hearing my “Do whatever you think will look best,” mantra. I walked out of Manetamed, thrilled with my new cut. It was something I’d never seen on my head, looking like a Zack Morris from Saved By The Bell- style crop with layered sides and funky line work. There’s no other way to put it. This place was my favorite.
Defining Quotes: “I worked at salons for years but once I started working at a barber shop, I started to love cutting hair.” “It’s not about what you take off, it’s about what you leave on.”
Price: Unlike most shops, the prices at Mantamed are elastic. Men’s haircuts range from $30-$40, sometimes more for intricate cuts. Women’s cuts start at $50, unless you have short hair, in which case it’s the same as a men’s cut.