Eric dances around a client, his movements as crisp as his haircuts. He is thin with a beard, probably in his late 20’s. All the barbers here at this East Village barbershop are young and look like a different version of Eric. His own hair is cut close to his head, but he talks to his client about growing it out. His eyes are focused and his hands steady, the scissors make a slicing sound as pieces of long brown hair fall to the tile floor.
Nicki, Eric’s customer, admires his haircut in the mirror. He has a handlebar mustache that he touches, twisting the strands up into a curl with his pointer finger and thumb. His hair is longer at the top and buzzed towards the bottom. He likes this look, it’s his signature haircut, and Eric knows how to cut it just right. He slips on a flat brim hat once he’s all set, letting some of his longer hair fall out in the front and slides on his glasses. He stays for a while and chats with the three barbers.
Indie music plays through the speakers. They stop every once in a while to discuss the artist or song. It smells of soap and shaving cream.
This barbershop looks like nothing special at first. A white pole with red and blue stripes spins in circles out front. There is a bench underneath an awning where passerby can take a moment to rest, or the barbers can take a moment to get some fresh air and soak up the last moments of summer. If you weren’t looking for it you might miss it altogether. There’s only a small sign out front in black letters, “Barber Shop.”
There are two chairs and two mirrors inside and a row of creaky brown chairs that fold up into the wall for customers to wait in. The large black barbershop seats are tattered with holes and spots where paint is missing. There are sketches hanging on the wall of a girl that are placed in oak frames. Andrew, the manager and barber, sweeps up the hair on the floor almost as soon as it falls. He looks a lot like Eric, but a little bigger with a buzz cut and beard. His hair is blond and he wears thick-rimmed black glasses, tight jeans and a blue T-shirt. Andrew offers customers drinks, which is part of this barbershops shtick—every haircut comes with booze.
Beyond the basics, this isn’t your average barbershop. At night it becomes both a bar and a barbershop. When the shop closes around 9 p.m. the bar stays open until the early morning hours. Eric is usually long gone by then, even if some of his clients hang around. The bar is behind a worn wooden door towards the back of the shop; it doesn’t open until 6 p.m.
The barbers all have a similar East Village style, though one of them mentions living in Brooklyn. They talk about television shows and indie bands. They talk about their girlfriends and breakups.
There are three of them altogether. Eric, Andrew and Nicki, not the handlebar-mustache Nicki, a different Nicki. He is the third barber. This Nicki wears a plaid shirt that’s unbuttoned, showing off a white tank top and chest hair. His jeans are rolled up into capris and he has shoes on that look like Converse featuring every color in the rainbow. His hair is also cut short, and, of course, accompanied by a beard.
Nicki, the client, walks out, slipping a bill into Eric’s hand. He nods and thanks him, suggesting he come check out his new apartment. The three barbers take a break, explaining they see twelve clients a day on average, mostly regulars. This may be their only downtime for the day.
Five minutes later, four guys walk in. They all have thick black hair falling over their ears.
“Do you have an appointment?” Andrew asks, looking at the schedule on a MacBook.
“We don’t,” one of the guys responds in broken English. “Just two of us want cuts.”
“Okay I have an appointment for 2 and 2:30. It’s 2 now.”
The guy nods and the other three take a seat on the old brown folding chairs connected to the wall. The chairs creak as they sit.
“Do you want a drink?” Andrew asks, showing one of the customers to Nicki’s chair. “We have beer, liquor…”
The customer interrupts and says he’s fine. Nicki asks the customer a few questions while wrapping him in a white and blue bib. Nicki, like all the barbers, is easy to talk to. He smiles the whole time he cuts hair, chatting and laughing. The customer relaxes. Black hair coats the floor as he begins to clip away—revealing the haircut underneath.