The Last Days of Manhattan’s Iconic Barbershop, Astor Hair

Beloved by everyone from Bruce Willis to Robert DeNiro, the 70-year-old hair cuttery will close forever on November 25

November 10, 2020 7:48 am
Astor Hair
A familiar sign for anyone who's spent time near Astor Place.
Elyssa Goodman

Red, white and blue barber poles spin outside Astor Place Hairstylists at 2 Astor Place. Graffiti bearing the venue’s name leads downstairs to a basement haircuttery that’s graced Manhattan for over 70 years, where yellowed images of visiting celebrities, magazines clippings and awards line the windows. A famed sign sits on the front desk in thick red letters: WE SPEAK ITALIAN RUSSIAN GREEK SPANISH FRENCH POLISH UZBEK FARSI MOROCCAN PORTUGESE BENGALI ROMANIAN ALSO BEE BOP HIP HOP RAP ROCK AND A LITTLE ENGLISH. There’s an ambient buzzing of hairdryers and clippers in the air, and behind the desk the phone rings and rings.

Big Mike Saviello, the shop’s manager, answers. “Astor,” he says, in that quick, no-nonsense New York way that swiftly and efficiently begs an answer from the other end. These days, his responses to callers are similar. “Day before Thanksgiving is our last day,” or, “Let’s hope for a miracle.”

On November 25, after more than seven decades, Astor Place Hairstylists will close its doors forever. Unless, of course, there is of some kind of help from a divine force. Like many other businesses in Manhattan and beyond, the beloved venue was crippled by the pandemic, losing 90 percent of its business. For anyone who ever wanted an inexpensive — but not cheap — haircut (a men’s haircut still starts at $23, less expensive than many of the newfangled “barbershops” that have popped up over the last decade), this was the place to go for eons.

“Here, you meet from the richest people in Manhattan to just the regular people in Manhattan,” says Saviello, who has worked there going on 36 years. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has been a regular since his days as a student at NYU, but the walls are also dotted with familiar faces like Spike Lee, Keith Haring, Matt Damon, Sinbad, Daddy Yankee, Mike Myers and countless others. 

Astor Hair sign
Many languages, many haircuts.
Elyssa Goodman

People who come to Astor are both new faces and decades-long customers. People who, brought in by their parents, now bring in their own children.

“There’s three generations of owners but there’s also three generations of customers,” Saviello says of the venue, known for everything from fades to perms to beehives to extensions to … you name it.

Any place the owners could set up a mirror and a chair became a space for a new stylist, with as many as 25 now in residence on any given day (down from 54 before the pandemic). It was no frills, it was easy, it was friendly, it was a neighborhood spot, a tourist destination, the cuttery of choice for people across the Tri-State Area. Jack Alicandri, 22, a student from Ramsey, New Jersey, has been getting his hair cut at Astor for five or six years, he estimates, but his father frequented Astor for 10-15 years before him, and his grandfather’s even been there a few times.

“Where am I gonna go get a haircut? I usually make the whole day out of going to the city because I’m in Jersey usually. I haven’t really found a guy in Jersey I really like,” he says. 

Haircut at Astor Hair
The art of the haircut.
Elyssa Goodman

Alicandri’s not an unusual case, either. Jose Foronda has been cutting hair at Astor for 30 years, and has had clients who have been coming to him for 10, 15, 20 years from not just New Jersey like Alicandri, but Queens, Connecticut, Westchester County and beyond. “No other place will give you the same haircut for the price we charge. We charge $23. Some places they charge you 60, 80 dollars, 100 dollars a haircut for men,” he says. “Some places they charge you 300 dollars for a haircut, so what do they do? They don’t do anything different. The only thing they do, I think, is they [make] the shop [a] very fancy place … but the haircut is more the hairstylist, that is the one who has the technique to do that job.” 

They have technique, yes, but they also have personality. Every stylist’s station is different, whether dotted with pictures of James Dean, Elvis Presley, Albert Einstein, family and friends, or all of the above taped to a mirror with a name. Alberto. Dominick. Valentino. Regina. Rafael. That neon green bottle of Clubman Pinaud Powder and glass Barbicide canister filled with blue liquid, the same clippers and scissors and razors, all in front of a spinning black leather chair sitting on a red linoleum floor.

“There’s a whole big shop full of nothing but barbers and beauticians and other people that you’ve never seen and different nationalities, different personalities, a couple crazy people over here but in a good way, not a bad way,” says Dalmajhal Santana, who goes by Deon at the shop. “It’s fun working around a lot of people like that, you never do that.”

Astor Hair steps
Goodbye Astor Hair.
Elyssa Goodman

After over 70 years, it’s a family of both stylists and customers. “We have a lot of customers crying. I’m crying now,” Saviello says. “I would love to stay here, but you gotta move on. I’m gonna miss everybody here.”

Cutting hair in the time of Covid
Haircuts in the time of COVID.
Elyssa Goodman

You can support the barbers and staff of Astor Place Hairstylists via GoFundMe here

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