Blades of Glory: Manhattan, NYC
Shave your style goes deep into Manhattan to pit two of the Big Apples’ finest barbershops against each other.
In the Lower East side corner is plucky Frank’s Chop Shop. Up in the East Village, just spoiling for a scrap, is the tiny but feisty Neighborhood Barbershop. This winter, Shave your style dropped in on each unannounced to compare like with like.
You don’t come to the East Village for a cheap cup of coffee. But you might for a cheap and fine haircut. Particularly if you’re the editor of FHM or a fashion insider (whatever one of those is) like John Bartlett who are reputed to be regulars at Neighborhood. Nestled in a side street off Avenue A, this is a shop that is located just as it’s name insists – right in the heart of the East Village neighborhood. I half expected to see Joey from Friends pop his head thru the door.
Meanwhile, further south in the grittier, more industrial Lower East Side where gangs of old used to roam and fight, you may – if you’re lucky – find Frank’s Chop Shop. There’s not much to give it away, like many of the hip new joints around here. Maybe you’ve just eaten at ‘Sons of Essex’ and are looking for a chop. Anyhow, a park bench and simple gold lettering on the narrow glass shop front are all that give the game away. But beware – it’s appointments only here.Round one winner: Neighborhood
I barely had time to reach for the zipper of my jacket when Neighborhood’s staff were showing me the coat-hooks and ushering me to a seat. Three of the four chairs were already occupied, and Neighborhood is a narrow wee joint totally geared towards productivity.
All the barbers are from Russia or Ukraine, but there’s no Russian the job here… indeed their cuts are renowned, with Playboy and Mensstyle.com both rating Neighborhood one of the top ten places to get a shave in the USA.
In Frank’s Chop Shop, it’s a roomier, more spacious affair. I get chatting to part-owner Tony who tells me, “we wanted to recreate that relationship you get with your barber, where you come in, chill and have a good half-hour gas with your man while you get cut.”
It seems to work. The receptionist was lovely and accommodating. Even though this is where celebrity guys like Jake Gyllenhaal and Lil Wayne get cut, it certainly hasn’t gone to their heads.
Round two winner: it’s a dead heat.
Neighborhood is all about good, clean, efficient service, and at only $14 a cut, it’s a snip too. After I’d left the shop, another customer told me he couldn’t believe how great the place was.
“Honest, man, you’d think it’d be easy doing a good buzz cut, but I’ve been places all over town and nowhere’s as good as this.”
Neighborhood’s not just about the head and face though – oh no, they’re way more diverse than that. Should you want, you can get a full Back Shave for $15 – “yeah, we do a couple a month!” confirmed the barber I spoke to.
Meanwhile with a man like Mr Bee fronting the work at Frank’s, you’ve got to expect something a little more modern, cutting edge and urban.
“My work’s all about movement, expression, helping someone define who they are” Mr Bee tells me. In the hip hop scene, barbering is recognized as an art form like tattooing, and artists like Dr Dre flock to Mr Bee for his finely-honed skills. At $40 a pop, it’s not cheap, but nothing in NYC is. If you want to get a sense of what Mr Bee is all about, check out this ’lil video here.
Wow, this is like the David Vs Goliath battle of barbershops.
Neighborhood, the small and humble old-fashioned get-you-cut shop, kind of gets dwarfed by the grittier, edgier, more modern rising giant of Frank’s Chop Shop (which incidentally, Shave your style learns is about to open new shops in other parts of the States imminently).
Meanwhile Frank’s can give you an edgy new style and twin it with a logo’d cap – and they sell thousands worldwide, such is their fame and notoriety – Neighborhood can just offer you a simple high quality service.
So let’s leave it at this. If you want a walk-in, head to Neighborhood. Open 8 am till 8 at night, they’re possibly the hardest working barbers in the business. But if you want to book ahead and splash the cash, give Frank’s a ring.
Round Four Winner: Frank’s Chop Shop (by a squeak).
Frank’s Chop Shop emerges victorious, but is honorable enough to raise the plucky Neighborhood barbershop atop it’s square shoulders. Whatever the result of this contest, props to both shops for being so open and friendly to our cold call. We wish we could say the same for other barbershops in Manhattan, but sadly we can’t (ahem, FSC – you may be able to cut hair but where’s the love, people?!).