Barbershops of America - Tony's Barbershop

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Barbershops of America is a beautifully curated coffee table book and a photographic essay by a good friend of ours, Rob Hammer.

In creating the essay, Rob spent the better part of three years on the road visiting all 50 states of America in search of old barbershops that represent their place in history. During that time he traveled over 50,000 miles and visited roughly 750 barbershops. Only 75 of the best made it to the book.

You might recall when we first celebrated what Rob put together. We thought it was time to open the book once again to shine light on some of the best in the industry.

Tony’s Barbershop - Brooklyn, NY

I’ve always thought that walking through the doors of a barbershop should almost feel like stepping into a different world. The second you cross the threshold, everything going on outside ceases to exist. All of your senses are hit in a completely different way. 

Aside from the obvious sounds and smells of barber tools and tonics, a real barbershop has a tangible vibe that can’t be replicated anywhere else. If you don’t know what I mean, then take a trip to Brooklyn and pay Tony’s Barbershop in Sunset Park a visit. 

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Rumour has it the building has been a barbershop for over 200 years. Sound suspect? Sit in there for 30 seconds and you’ll have no argument. Even from the outside, you can feel the years. The beat-up old sign says Tony’s, which is what everyone knows him as, but that’s not exactly the truth.

“Tony” came to New York from Italy with a thick accent and zero knowledge of the language. All he had were his skills as a barber that he honed as a gypsy wandering from country to country making money along the way. 

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Days after arriving in New York he landed a job, but the language barrier was an issue. His real name is Felice Garafolo. When customers came into the shop, they would always ask his name. He replied Fel-each-ay. Because of the accent, everyone thought his name was Phil. 

After a while, he got sick of trying to explain himself. And when the next customer came in wearing a name tag that read Tony asked his name, he replied: “I am like you - Tony”. It stuck. So, when “Tony” took over the shop that’s what went on the sign. And to this day everyone in the neighbourhood still thinks his name is Tony.

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If I had to build a barbershop for a movie set it would be based on Tony’s. Even with a Hollywood budget, you couldn’t come close though. Every detail inside and out is completely authentic. Of course, everyone has their own definition of what an authentic shop is, but he is authentic to him.

Tony happens to be as authentic an old school barber as you’ll find anywhere. Who knows when the sign was made, but I doubt it’s been touched since? The colour of the walls is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in another shop. Combine that with the lighting and it’s a completely unrepeatable entity.

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The whole place has a layer of grit that only comes from years and years of hard work. It’s a space that was born during a different time. Like Tony.

Ask when he plans on retiring and you won’t get a good answer. Barbering is a huge part of him. After 55 years it’s all he knows. Like the rest of Brooklyn, Sunset Park has gone through major changes which have led to very lucrative offers on his building. He has no intention of selling though. After all, it’s paid for, and at the end of every day he walks upstairs where his wife has dinner waiting for him.

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