Men’s grooming is a changing art, and one that like so many others used to be more glamorous — and a bit more dangerous.
Arthur Rubinoff had the trade handed down to him. The men in his family have been cutting hair and giving straight-razor shaves since his great grandfather, who claims to have started Uzbekistan’s first cut-and-shave shop. Rubinoff, 43, has been plying his trade on the Upper West Side since his family immigrated when he was a teenager, with a clientele that boasts a handful of celebrities including Bruce Willis and Tony Danza. But the tools, skills and technology he uses now would be foreign to his forefathers.
So to preserve its history, Rubinoff created the New York City Barber Shop Museum, a tribute to the art of gentlemen’s grooming. “You know why God created the day with 24 hours?” Rubinoff says in response to the question of why he’s opening the museum. “Eight hours to sleep, eight hours to work, and eight hours to educate and help others.”
Among the many artifacts in his gold-trimmed room are trays of wicked-looking blades by Wilkinson Sword and Gillette no longer used by modern barbers, antique barber poles, vintage signs and a Koch barber chair dating to 1929 looking very much like the one James Dean made famous. “I’m trying to have that authenticated,” Rubinoff says.
The museum is also a tribute to his late father, who passed away in 2003. “My father was always buying this antique stuff,” says Rubinoff. “I asked him one day, ‘Why are you buying all this old stuff?’ He joked with me and said, “I don’t know, maybe one day I will open a barber museum.’”
After his father’s death, Rubinoff inherited New York’s chain of Reamir barber shops — and took up his hobby. “Then one day, my wife and mother were screaming at me, ‘What are you going to do with all this old stuff?’”
When a space came open opposite his barbershop at West 74th Street and Columbus Avenue, the museum started to come together. It’s going to be a living piece of history, too, with grooming services, haircuts and shaves offered in a retro cool atmosphere recalling America’s Gilded Age — literally, in the case of Rubinoff’s gold-plated scissors.
The museum is free to visit, only charging for the grooming services that will be performed by Rubinoff and a rotating cast of professional friends from the city and abroad. “I hope to make the barber shop a nonprofit,” he say. “People can donate, that would be appreciated.”
The NYC Barber Museum is located at 290 Columbus Ave. It’s open “casual hours” Sat-Mon; Tues 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Wed 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Thurs 11 a.m.-11 p.m. and Fri 10 a.m.-7 p.m.