Broadway Barber Shop and Shoe Repair
49 West 32nd Street (on the way to the subway)
New York, NY 10001
I left my office during lunch to check on two possible subway barber locations that people have told me about (the 53rd and 5th E/V station and the 53rd and Lex E/V/6 station). It turned out these folks were either misinformed, the barbers closed down or I just couldn’t find them. I really needed to cut my hair, so I decided I would hit up one of the locations I knew I could rely on.
I jumped on the V after work and headed down to 34th Street. I got off the train and went straight towards the 32nd street exit where I would find the Broadway Barber Shop tucked behind a newsstand near the stairs. I’ve known about that place for years, but never got a trim there.
I walked through the door and down a few steps. Both Russian-speaking barbers were working on the heads of customers. That was a good sign late on a Friday evening. I sat down in one of maybe eight chairs. That many seats for waiting clients is also a good sign. My hopes were high as I looked over the stack of magazines (they all seemed to be Blender).
The shop itself is much larger than it appears from the subway entrance. It’s the same green color as a Department of Motor Vehicles office and is lit by florescent bulbs that run the length of the room. They’re functional, but certainly not flattering. In addition to haircuts, they offer shoe shines and repair as well as massages.
As I waited, I decided that I wanted one of the two barbers to be the one who cut my hair more than the other. There was no good reason for that decision, but I was happy when he finished up first and I took my place in his chair. While he was settling up with his previous customer, I took a look at his barber license. His name was Boris.
I always make a point of looking at the tiny pictures on the licenses. They’re like time capsules. His was probably 20 years old, but you could tell it was him, just with less gray in his mustache and fewer wrinkles.
“My friend, what would you like?” asked Boris.
“Short on the sides, a little longer on top,” I said. “Not too short on the sides, though.” In the interest of getting my haircut at every subway barber in New York in a reasonable amount of time, I feel like I need to keep my cuts a little longer than I usually do.
Boris went to work with his electric trimmers on the sides first and then moved to the back. He took a few steps away from the chair a couple of times and inspected my hairline like an artist looks at one of his paintings. The back of my head really causes problems for barbers. When he moved closer to make some corrective passes with his trimmer, I noticed that he sort of smelled like chewing tobacco. That’s not necessarily an insult.
Boris then grabbed his scissors and cut some length off the sides and top. At one point he started to cough uncontrollably and had to excuse himself. I sat in the chair while he escaped to the back for some water. With nothing better to do, I noticed Prince’s “Kiss” playing on the radio. A man occupying one of the chairs in the waiting area was quietly singing along. Another customer next to me was telling the other barber what he wanted.
“Short on the sides, just leave the top. Last time I got it cut they didn’t listen and made it way too short.” He went to great lengths to make it clear that this happened at a different barbershop.
This short intermission seemed like a good time for the owner of the shop to sweep my hair from the floor. Boris returned and started cutting again while the owner continued to sweep every chunk of hair that fell. I think he wanted to go home.
I asked Boris to take a little more off the top before he finished up. He did and then he grabbed the mirror.
“My friend, excuse me my friend. I show you back and you tell me if it’s short enough.”
It was and we were done after some finishing touches.
I got out of the chair and walked towards the register with my camera already out. I asked Boris how much the cut was, knowing it was $10. I handed him a twenty dollar bill and he fished through the register for a five and five singles. I grabbed the singles and left the five dollar bill for him as a tip.
“I’m getting my haircut in every subway barbershop in the city. Do you mind if I take your picture?” I said.
The man with hair too long on top for his liking turned and laughed. So did Boris.
“Of me? Sure, ok.”
Then the man who runs the shoe shine and repair part of the business offered to take our picture together. Who was I to refuse?
Here are the before and after pictures. As with most haircuts, I thought it was pretty good. I never know one way or the other until my wife reacts. I wore my hat on the way home and that was probably a mistake. I knew it would mess up my hair a little bit and could possibly influence any sort of reaction from the wife. I took my hat off before walking into the apartment.
Here are some of the things she said:
* “Did you have your hat on?” (Yes) “Ok, good. Because if you didn’t, that would be a bad haircut.”
* “The back is even.”
* “It’s a weird shape.”
I’m not sure how I’m supposed to take “it’s a weird shape,” but it is what it is. I’ll have another shot at the perfect subway haircut in a few months.Tags: april 18, b train, Broadway Barber Shop and Shoe Repair, d train, f train, n train, q train, r train, Shop Details, v train, w train