Hell’s Kitchen has a lot of barbershops. Most of these barbershops are designed with an unfortunate formula that includes bad lighting, ill-considered furnishings and a front window showcasing photos that look like grooming images from an International Male catalog. A guy who is sensitive to his surroundings and looking for a good and fairly priced haircut in a handsome, masculine and tasteful setting would be challenged to find a positive experience in Midtown West. Until now.
I stumbled upon Best Barber while I was walking my dog down Tenth Avenue last week. Looking along the familiar block of storefronts between West 49th and West 48th Streets, I noticed something new: a simple white indoor neon that glowed “BEST BARBER.” When I got closer and looked in the window, I saw something I never thought I’d see in Hell’s Kitchen.
Unlike the crop of nouveau/retro barbershops that look like art-directed sets of Prohibition-era period films, Best Barber strikes a refreshing balance of the old and the new, placing classic barbershop tools and touches in a clean, sparse, yet warm modern environment. Within the bare white walls and the dark stained wood floors are four classic (but new) barber chairs, a shampoo sink, comfortable window sill seats and a vintage metal and glass reception counter stocked with Malin + Goetz products. This is no bro-hive. It’s a warm, welcoming and unpretentious place. There are no props in here; everything in this handsomely edited space has a purpose.
The day after I spotted the shop, I stopped in for a haircut. The nice guy at the desk told me that the soonest available appointment was at 7:30 that evening, which I took. Best Barber uses Square for their register and appointment system. Within seconds of booking my appointment, I received a text message confirming my appointment with a link to make any changes if necessary.
That evening, I checked in for my 7:30 haircut with Boswell Scot, who also happens to be the owner of Best Barber. After taking my coat, he offered me a bourbon, a glass of red wine, some water or a coffee. Though I don’t drink, this place was getting better by the minute as I was handed a glass of water. Not a plastic cup or bottle… a glass. Nice touch.
To give him an idea of what I wanted, I showed him a photo of me after my last haircut, which I really loved. He got it immediately and started cutting. After spending more than a decade working in salons, becoming more focused on men’s grooming as the years went along, the Williamsburg resident wanted to start out on his own. Best Barber is the result, officially opening for business on February 3rd. Boswell is a guy who clearly loves what he does, with a kid like enthusiasm and a palpable excitement about his new venture. It was a true pleasure to sit in his chair.
Even though I had the privilege of working in one of New York’s nicest and most exclusive salons when I first moved to New York in the mid-1990s, I’ve always preferred the experience of a barbershop when it comes to my own hair. It’s quicker, simpler and more straightforward. In the span of a tight half-hour, a man can enjoy a nice chat, have a drink (or a beverage) and get a great haircut. Half-way through a salon appointment, which involves changing into a robe, a shampoo, a conditioner, a cut, a style, and then changing back out of the robe… I start getting antsy, feeling like it’s taking up too much time in my day. I like the barbershop.
Hell’s Kitchen is fertile ground for smart local businesses with taste. I’ve been in this neighborhood for almost 20 years, and I’ve seen a lot of business come and go. The rare diamonds in this ruff have a certain “je ne sais quoi.” Best Barber is one of them, and it’s a very welcome addition to Midtown West. The haircuts run a fair $45. And since I was in the market for a good matte-finish hair paste, I picked up a jar of Malin + Goetz Hair Pomade ($22). Good stuff.
Oh… And I forgot the most important thing: How was the haircut? I couldn’t be happier with it.