Iconic Village barbershop gets documentary movie focus
By Michael GartlandJanuary 5, 2014 | 6:43am Modal Trigger
Brandon Gomes gets a fresh cut by Marcello Badr at Astor Place Hairstylists.
The barbershop will be featured in a new documentary.
Photo: Helayne Seidman
The newly sworn-in mayor comes for a coif and a touch of the mother tongue. Bruce Willis is a regular and likes to tip big. And Mayor de Blasio is also a longtime client.
Sugar Ray Leonard got a clip job not long after beating Roberto Duran into “No más” submission.
The barbers at Astor Place have been giving trims, styling mohawks and bickering among themselves for 75 years, and the edgy shop is now the subject of a documentary, “Astor Barber All-Stars,” directed by Karen Gehres and premiering Monday at the Courthouse Theater in the East Village.
“Vidal Sassoon, how they say, ‘If you don’t look good, we don’t look good,’ ” says Sal the barber, in a thick Queens accent. “At Astor Place, I say, ‘If you don’t look good, I don’t give a s- -t.’"
Popular styles have ranged from the “Guido” to carving the Batman logo into the scalp. The rule of thumb: Don’t be a scold if a customer wants something ill-advised but fun. In its heyday, Astor boasted three floors and a man with a megaphone calling out the numbers of men and women in waiting. But one thing it didn’t have then was a karaoke machine to make the wait a little easier.
Celebrities and powerful politicos flock to the place, but the super snippers usually don’t make a big deal — unless it’s to snap a picture for the store’s extensive wall of fame.
De Blasio has frequented the Greenwich Village institution for about 30 years, according to John Vezza, one of the shop’s co-owners.
“He’s been coming since he was in college [at NYU],” Vezza said.
Hizzoner sits in Alberto Amore’s chair and practices his Italian on the Sicily native.
“He loves to speak in Italian. He calls me professor because I only speak in Italian,” Amore said with pride. “He reads the paper in Italian. If there’s a word he doesn’t understand, he says, ‘What does it mean, this.’ ”
The two don’t discuss local or national politics. Instead, de Blasio prefers to chat about what’s going on in Italy and shares with his barber a disdain for former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Before he became a household name during the mayoral election, de Blasio could walk in without much fuss, but now he comes with a security detail.
“He’s like a rock star,” said Amore. “They want to shake hands. They hug him. They kiss him.”
De Blasio gets a pretty standard haircut — “a business haircut, whatever you call it, like a mayor’s haircut,” Amore says — and it usually takes scissors and a No. 1 and No. 3 clipper to get the job done.
But his $16 hairdo isn’t the most famous family coiffure to grace the shop. Dante de Blasio, the mayor’s son, got his Afro trimmed there.
“He’s always had an Afro,” Amore said. “Now it’s become an icon — it’s amazing.”
Less-hip cuts include Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s and former Gov. George Pataki’s — both have frequented Astor, Vezza said. Channing Tatum, Sinbad and Lennox Lewis have stopped by.
Willis gets his familiar head shaves at Astor. Giovanni Falco had just finished cleaning him up when Willis asked to have his ear fuzz trimmed. Only he didn’t want Falco to do it, he wanted the female barber next to him.
“He wanted me to tweeze his ear hairs, and I was like, “What? Sure, Bruce,’ ” recalled Susan “Fran” Ferris in the 70-minute film.
For her extra effort — Fran had to run out of the shop to buy the tweezers — Willis gave her a $50 tip. Falco got $100.
Gehres, a Syracuse native and Lower East Side resident for the past 30 years, became interested in doing the film after CBGB’s closed in 2006. She worried that more neighborhood institutions would follow suit.
“I used to go there in the early ’80s,” she recalled. “It’s pretty much the same except smaller.”
The basement shop has two revolving barber poles outside on the corner of Astor Place and Broadway, but it doesn’t stop people for mistaking it for a subway station. There are no windows — the only light inside is fluorescent — and at full strength, 60 barbers work the white linoleum floors. Haircuts go for $16 to $25, and a straight-razor shave is $16.