my turn


A New Trend From Way Back

I'm at Ninth Street Espresso right now, just on the north side of Tompkins Square Park, East Village. They're playing Billy Holiday over the sound system. I'm having coffee after a tour that Ford Motor's trend expert Sheryl Connelly put together for reporters as a demonstration of trends that Ford will reveal in its upcoming ethnographic study. The results of that are under wraps. The last stop on our tour was to a kind of sartorial man cave called The Blind Barber, a real — and real tiny — old timey barber shop fronting an old timey bar. It reminded me of a trend I've written about before and like to think about on occasion: the glories of the past.  

The Blind Barber, two doors down from where I'm sitting now, was started by Jeff Laub and Adam Kirsch, a pair of young entrepreneurs, the latter having gotten the idea from his grandfather. Kirsch recalled how, when he had told his grandfather that he was going into the cosmetology field, he talked about how when he was young a barber shop was a place to mingle, hang out with guys, get a good shave, read the paper, and escape the world for a bit. The "blind" part of the name refers to the Prohibition-era convention of cops turning a blind eye to the speakeasy fronted by a legit business.



The real business at The Blind Barber is not just the haircut or the classic cocktails you can get in the back after your cut ($40 for a cut, $20 for a trim, appointment only, drink gratis), it's about the experience, something that both Kirsch and Connelly alluded to. 

It's about sacred space in which one has a different experience of time, place, and of physical things. It’s a place to which people are even willing to make pilgrimages. “We get people from all over the world,” said Kirsch about the store. “They speak about us in Japan.”

I'm not an ethnographer, but I think nostalgia is more and more representative of the sacred space aesthetic. The Blind Barber most aspects of that: a pre-metrosexual idea of male bonhomie (maybe celebrated in its extreme by Chuck Palahniuk's sado/masochistic novel Fight Club that was both a meditation on masculinity and a castigation of techno-modern castration); the tactile experience of an old-fashioned, vintage shave, the wooden bar and padded benches in the back, and the implicit idea that the old, pre-digital days were less frenetic and more laconic; that you have time to get a trim and lounge around for a beer. You have the sense that you might be tossed out on your ear if you brought out your cell phone, though that might be wishful thinking.

Speaking of nostalgic places and pre-digital devices as antidotes to perpetual connectivity, it's worth mentioning that in his acceptance speech for the 2013 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the National Book Awards event in New York, E.L. Doctorow warned of the perils of the always-on digitally connected world and the Internet in general.  

In typical horse/cart relationship, marketers have noticed the value of the good ol' days and may well be accelerating the trend. Hendrick's Gin went old-school to re-introduce the spirit with early 20th century graphics, art and themes; ads for Bushmill's Irish Whiskey combine images of hipsters with the tag “Since Way Back.” There's the return of beer in a steel can that requires a churchkey opener; mid-century mixed drinks; the old-school heavy-as-a-ship, classic bicycles; the diner; the vinyl record; shaving as male ritual; and even typewriters. I have two classic typewriters, by the way, and can't bring myself to sell them, although I'm thinking of giving one of them a digital interface, which you can actually do.

The Blind Barber's accoutrements are old school. The barber chairs, like everything else, are enamel originals as old as the dinosaurs and as heavy. Kirsch told me that they went on Craigslist to find the chairs -- one in New York, the other in a different state. "We had to carry them here." The shop, which has a location in L.A. and one coming in Brooklyn, has a bar in the back that serves drinks with house-made infusions and syrups. The store recently started selling its own shaving and men's personal care products. 

Well, I've had my coffee, was being serenaded by Diana Ross, but now it's weird techno music. And since I've finished this column, albeit on my laptop, I'm going next door for a trip to 1930, a shave and a sidecar. 

Next story loading loading..