Most people probably don’t know that one of the downsides of being a full-time writer is that you don’t often get to splurge on haircuts. Myself and writer friends can go for an incredibly long stretch between haircuts. I’ve gone as long as six months without a trim. Otherwise, we find some strange solution to the problem: we convince a friend with good motor skills to learn how to cut hair, we barter with our local barber (most barbers don’t accept poetry as payment), or we figure out how to look good with long hair.
I came up with something better. You’re reading it. A well-snipped summer haircut will not only make you look good, it will make you feel good. The feeling of having the back of your head and the sides freshly sheared and newly exposed to crisp warm air can feel like losing ten pounds and juicing for a month, if it’s done well.
For many men, a haircut is the one pampering luxury we not only allow ourselves, but revel in, celebrate, and rave about. Our barbers are important members of our inner circle. They are warriors! They’ve got sharp tools, machines, and Barbicide. These are craftsmen and women to whom we confide, often more deeply than our bartender, and with the growing trend of free beer at barbershops, your barber might just be your bartender. With all this in mind, where to get your summer haircut is a choice that’s not to be taken lightly, especially here in Williamsburg, where the number of salons and barbershops rivals the number of tattoo shops. Here, you’re not just expected to look good, but unique. If you keep up with trends, then it’s a whole other can of worms, and hopefully that one side of your head you shaved last summer is starting to grow back.
To celebrate the new season and finagle three free haircuts, I culled word-of-mouth and Yelp reviews, finding three local barbershops in order to compare three summer haircuts that represented the very different kinds of haircut spots in the neighborhood. Without providing any guidelines, I asked them to “do whatever they wanted,” and, as we expected, they delivered vastly different styles.
Before: I was desperately in need of a haircut when I walked into Hairari. Work had been sparse, and thus it had been nearly six months since my last professional cut. Summer was coming, and it was getting hot under all that shag. In my last go-around of local barbershops, I discovered Manetamed and fell in love. They were the highest rated neighborhood shop on Yelp, and owner Magda Magdalena had a talent for delivering super-unique and complimentary cuts for artists and business folks alike. The summer air was beginning to circulate, and I yearned for the kind of cut I got at Manetamed. Fortunately, Magdalena had opened a new shop, right in my neighborhood. The interior of Hairari has a slightly nautical theme mixed with the kind of ultra-modern gallery vibe shared with its sister shop Manetamed. The inside is minimalist and clean, and the experience is straightforward, although the actual haircuts are anything but. Manager Sara Schaab cut my hair as she explained why she believes Magda (who also recently opened a Manhattan location for Manetamed) is so successful. “Magda is really focused on the customer,” Schaab says. “If there is ever a problem, she will fix it without overthinking it.”
The difference between Hairari and Manetamed parallels the shops different locations. Though always capable of delivering wild and out-there cuts, Manetamed also caters to those who want more more business-minded and conservative haircuts. Hairari is a Bushwick shop for Bushwick types. Schaab describes her specialty as “A fresh view on creative cuts.” You can always count on Hairari to give you a cut that’s going to make people stop, take notice, and likely comment.
The Verdict: When Sara told me she was giving me a faux hawk, I became extremely wary. I’ve always been of the opinion that, while a Mohawk is an honorable look, a faux hawk is far too faux to be worn with pride. However, I walked out of Hairari with the exact feeling I’d been hoping for. I could feel the air on my scalp, and my face looked sharp. I found myself subconsciously making model faces as I walked back to my apartment, squishing my lips together and posing for a non-existent camera. I felt attractive. Though the cut could be called a faux hawk, the faux aspect of it was subtle and had a thinning effect on my face. The two-tone effect of the nearly shaved sides made the cut unique and interesting. Not only did I look good, but I stood out from the pack.
Hairari Barber Salon
206 Bushwick Avenue, Bushwick
Defining Quote: “This is one of the fashion capitals of the world. People are more stylish, and our cuts match that.”
Before: It had only been a couple of weeks since my haircut at Hairari, but I was already feeling like I needed another. The thing about summer haircuts is that they demand frequent maintenance. I also had a lot going on: father’s day, job interviews, and my mother’s birthday. Bart’s, with its more traditional barbershop for the steakhouse loving, scotch drinker feel, seemed a great match for the kind of look I needed, the kind that my mother wouldn’t hate. Give Bart’s barber/manager Michael Wood a chance, and he will make you feel like a new man.
Bart’s, in Williamsburg, is not just a barbershop, it’s a gentleman’s club, aimed at clientele vastly different from those who frequent Hairari. Wood identified the major changes the Bedford Avenue area of Williamsburg was undergoing and decided to leave his longtime post at his father’s Upper East Side barbershop and open a new kind of barbershop. It was a risk. Paul Molé, Wood’s father’s shop, is one of the oldest barbershops in the city, with a steady and high-class clientele. Nonetheless, Wood’s old clients make the hike out to Brooklyn, and it’s easy to see why. Bart’s is equipped with a large flat-screen TV, consistently showing whatever game is on, and customers are welcome to come in, hang out, and watch, whether they’re getting haircut or not. A Kegerator consistently pumps out cold, complimentary beer, and the bar is stocked with vodka, scotch, and the like—all free.
Barber chairs dot the perimeter of the space, the middle of which is occupied by a large pool table. As I waited, one of Wood’s Upper East Side customers, a doctor, showed up an hour early for his appointment with Wood, which pretty much says it all. Bart’s the kind of shop where an entrepreneur or a doctor, a person with limited free time, might actually show up an hour early to shoot the breeze and blow off steam.
“Barbers are important members of our inner circle. They are warriors! They’ve got sharp tools, machines, and Barbicide.”
Wood is a philosopher of sorts in the realm of men’s haircuts. “Men’s haircuts are so easy, and people make them so complex,” says Wood. Wood is a fascinating guy to talk to. He has interesting clients, and he likes to barter. For instance, a machine out in front of the shop will take an HD picture of your new haircut for you and post it to Facebook.
If you use it, you get a discount on your haircut. Hang out and have a drink and Wood might tell you about his hobby as a fish barterer (Wood fishes in the East River and trades what he catches for free dinners, cab rides, and the like,) or he might give you advice about your hair. He told me to put a dot of conditioner in my hair when I’m done showering to keep it from drying out. Toward the end of the haircut, Wood strapped a vibrating machine to his fingers, a rare vintage contraption used by barbers of old, and gave me a head massage. When the cut was done, I was moved to another chair, laid out flat, and put beside a steaming machine to prepare for a straight razor shave. With my face shaved cleaner than it had been since middle school, I was brought into a back room and given a 45-minute massage by an on location masseuse. These services are not included in a regular haircut, but Bart’s in Brooklyn is only a few month’s old, and they’re looking for customers, so an occasional loyalty perk isn’t unlikely. Wood has succeeded in making Bart’s the kind of place you won’t want to leave when your cut is done.
The Verdict: Wood’s cut was versatile, able to be worn up or down with a restored part on right side. This was a cut that made me feel like wearing a suit just for the hell of it. I wore it with a solid pompadour in the front. Wood said he “killed my hipster cut.”
Barber Bart’s Salon
267 Metropolitan Avenue, Williamsburg
Price: Cut $40; Shave $45; Cut and Shave Combo $70
Defining Quote: “You can’t battle your hair. Use what you don’t like about your hair to your advantage.”
Before: About three weeks after my Bart’s cut, my hair needed some sprucing. I had a lunch date with a new editor and a wedding coming up in the days following my appointment at Cocoro. The wedding was black tie, and since my old tux from my sister’s Bat Mitzvah no longer fit, I’d need my fresh haircut to make up for the fact that I’d be underdressed.Open now only six months, Cocoro (which means heart in Japanese) is right in the heart of Williamsburg on North 6th Street. The interior is made of reclaimed wood and brick that gives the place a sprawling yet warm feeling. My stylist for the day, Ronnie, was quite informative and a great conversationalist despite his heavy Chinese accent. Ronnie explained that owners and employees at Cocoro are mainly Asian—Chinese, Japanese, and Korean—and that in Hong Kong, where he comes from, hair is taken very seriously, and creativity is always encouraged. What set Cocoro apart immediately was their pre-haircut consultation. It was like the appointments I used to have with my college advisor senior year of high school; fortunately my hair consultation turned out much better. To determine the best style, Ronnie asked what I had coming up in my life, how I liked to wear my hair, and what products I use.
When we were finished, Ronnie sat me down for a shampoo and conditioning, then gave me a quick ultraviolet toning session to get rid of some of brassiness in my blonde hair. Cocoro has about a 50/50 male to female ratio but pulls out a lot more tricks than your average men’s barbershop. Ronnie explained that part of his job is going to annual hair and fashion shows to stay in the know about what’s going in the world of style. In fact, Ronnie was a veritable professor of hair, explaining each step of the cut as he went along and using many tricks of the trade that I’d never seen before. Ronnie spoke a lot about the importance of texture, but instead of using thinning sheers, he cut “from short to long,” sort of diagonally, which gave the hair a 3D-like affect. He gave me a high fade on the sides and back, but did so entirely using scissors instead of a buzzer, something I’d never seen a barber do; the effect was a far softer appearance. Contrast, Ronnie explained, is something he enjoys in a haircut. He urged me to grow the top of my hair longer, to create more contrast between the sides and the top. When it came time to blow dry, he performed this interesting tamp down and dry technique that I’d also never seen before. He then recommended a Japanese hair product, which they sold in the store. Though slightly more expensive than the other salons, Cocoro comes with a lot of bells and whistles that apply strictly to the haircut, not to mention a slew of other services. Ronnie is a guy who’s truly passionate about what he does. That, and his dedication to making his customers happy, shows in his work.
The Verdict: My haircut had texture. I could do almost nothing to it, and it would look deliberately mussed. I could also wear it up in a pompadour in the front, slicked to the side, or down. He gave me a defined part, which made it look great when neatly combed and parted. The haircut looked great, and I could tell that it was going to look good for a long stretch of time. A good thing, since this was my final cut.
129 North 6th Street, Williamsburg
Defining Quote: “Any salon can make you look good the day you walk, out but I try to give low-maintenance haircuts and explain exactly what I’m doing and how to continue to do it so that you can look as good each day as you looked when you stepped out of my chair.”
Read John Reiss’ 2012 review of 3 North Brooklyn barbershop salons: Mantamed, Stepping Razor, and Tomcats, here.