“We do all kinds of haircuts, from fades to young kids to old ladies, we do everything, from A to Z.”
Mike Saviello, Manager
Mike Saviello, Manager, and John Vezza, Owner
With over 75 barbers, Astor Place Hairstylists is New York City’s biggest barbershop. It is also the most culturally diverse, employing barbers and hairstylists from all over the globe. “We’ve got Italians next to Colombians, next to Israelis next to Egyptians.. Muslim, Christian, Jewish… I mean, every country has to get their hair cut!” owner John Vezza jokes. Astor Place’s clientele is just as diverse, and many regular clients have visited for decades, expressing a fondness for its unpretentious atmosphere and correspondingly modest prices.
“I’ve worked here for 23 years, and my husband used to work here before me. It’s my second home!”
Josefina, Astor Place barber
On the day of our visit, Astor Place, true to form, is a lively hive of activity. The space itself looks thoroughly lived-in, and the eclectic interior is peppered with DIY-decorations including photographs, magazine cuttings and drawings by Astor Place’s youngest clients. Polaroids of its many celebrity clients (Robert De Niro, Bruce Willis and Channing Tatum are all customers) line the walls.
We sat down with John Vezza, the shop’s third-generation owner, who sheds some light on Astor Place’s enduring popularity. He attributes it in part to the shop’s (now prime) location in the heart of Manhattan’s East Village. However, Vezza explains, it was a very different neighbourhood when Astor Place first opened in the late 1940s. “It’s changed tremendously, back then it was all warehouses, very little retail, no nightlife to speak of… it was a struggle here for a while.”
Astor Place first opened its doors as a modest, 5-seat barbershop in 1947. Vezza jokes that, over the decades, the shop has been somewhat at the mercy of the ebbs and flows of New York’s ever-changing fashion trends, with each era presenting its own unique challenges. “In the 70s, long hair and rock’n’roll were the enemy of the barber”, he chuckles, “but then in the 80s along came disco and punk, and all of a sudden getting your hair cut was ok again.”
In the 1980s Astor Place’s popularity surged, with press interest, celebrity clientele and word-of-mouth cementing its reputation as a much-loved New York institution. “We had lines out of the door, and my father, who was in his late 50s at the time, had a clipboard, and would be taking names at the door. We even had a guy with a tuxedo and a megaphone outside, and the crowds were getting bigger and bigger.” To deal with the demand, Astor Place expanded into the large basement, where it remains today. “Anywhere there was an outlet we would put a little shelf, mirror and a barber chair. It was so busy, at one point we had 118 haircutters working all day long.”
At its core, Astor Place remains a cultural melting-pot, a lively hub which perfectly encapsulates New York City’s diverse character within its four, ever expanding, walls.
“This place is one of a kind, we’re all different types of people in here, from different nations. I love it.”
Don Fifi, Astor Place barber
“From writing the play, I’m aware of how vast, nuanced, beautiful and delicate barbershops can be. Also, how ridiculously funny, over the top, exaggerated and naturally theatrical those spaces are.” – Inua Ellams