Two steps down from a Carroll Gardens street, there's a shop where the number of tattoos per-capita approaches critical mass, where the beer on tap is usually from the excellent Other Half brewery up the road, and where you can get some of the best haircuts in Brooklyn. That place is Blue & Black Barbers.
Though co-owner Tony DeAngelis was born in the city, just across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge on Staten Island, it took a lot of exploring to end up with his own shop in Brooklyn. I spoke with him about that journey, which, it turns out, began nearly 2,500 miles away.
"There was a brief period where I moved out to Arizona, just randomly," he tells me. "I moved in with some friends and I went to school for massage therapy. There was a school in the neighborhood close to where I was living and I was like, 'This seems interesting.' I walked in and signed up.
"I got my license and I worked out there for a little bit. My plan was to start working in New York. When I moved back, I found out that New York City will only accept two hundred fifty hours from an out-of-state school, and they won't accept out of state licenses. They don't transfer. So, pretty much what that meant was that I would have to go back to school for another year and a half full-time and spend probably more money on school than I'd paid already.
"I was a little lost for a while and just worked retail jobs. Then I noticed that the whole barber thing was experiencing a resurgence in a way. When shops like Freemans were opening up, you saw that there was something cool going on. From working in massage therapy, it made me comfortable working with people in a close environment and being one-on-one and touching people. I had the skills to do that so I thought maybe I could look into barbering. I figured, 'Why not? Let me take a crack at this.' So I went to barber school, I apprenticed at Freemans Sporting Club for about a year, and then I started working at other shops."
Of course there's a massive difference between working as a barber and opening a barber shop. Entrepreneurship certainly isn't for everyone. I was curious as to why he decided to take that leap.
"It was one of those things where when opportunities come, man, you have to go for it. I was given an opportunity to do something really cool and it seemed worth it. My business partner used to be my client. I'd been cutting his hair for years and we both shared a lot of interests in barbering and in style and the whole culture of everything. So, we met up for a drink one night and started talking about maybe doing a shop together. We wound up saving our pennies and putting something really cool together.
"I'll be honest: I feel like sometimes, I get so wrapped up in work and being in the moment that I kind of forget. There are times here and there where I'm like, 'Wow. Okay, cool. I'm doing my own thing.' Those moments hit every once in a while but for the most part, I'm just kind of in the zone and I'm just working and doing what needs to be done. The whole idea is that down the line, it'll really pay off.
"But it's really fun. What I really like about it is that we get to put our point of view on things. Sometimes, you work at a place and you're like, "Man, I really wish they would do X, Y, and Z" or "I really wish they would do this differently.' But now, I can change that. If that's not being done, the only thing that's stopping that is us."
Here's what he brought to show us:
THE STANDBY – Kouho shears
"Funny story: I was bringing a friend out to brunch for his birthday and I knew I had to go get shears afterwards. We were just hanging out and we had a few drinks with some buddies. I had a little buzz going on and we wind up going to the shear place and I spent way more than I wanted to on these shears.
"At first I saw a pair that were like half the price that I liked but my buddy was like, 'Show me, like, the Ferrari of shears.' He's a photographer and he was saying, 'When I buy my camera, I always want to get the best.' And my buddy who works in computers was saying the same thing. They were like, 'This is your career. This is your job. If you're going to splurge on one thing, it should be this.'
"So they start bringing out the nicer ones and before you know it, I wound up spending like double what I wanted to pay—but they felt right. They were really, really nice. Maybe it wasn't the wisest decision to go out shopping after having a few drinks but I got something I was really happy with that I know will last me the rest of my career.
"What really made me like these is the way they felt in my hand. My hands fit into the holes perfectly and the way my hands were resting, it just felt natural. They also had a nice weight to them. They're really thick and nice. They just felt like the perfect pair. I guess they're not cheap for a reason.
"I've been using them for a few years now and I don't regret the purchase one bit."
THE SPECIALIST – frank leder tradition "unter prima" tonic
"I was doing some gift shopping at Modern Anthology for Christmas and I saw it and I was like, 'Oh, this is kind of cool.' I just loved the way it looked and I liked the way it smelled and I liked the idea behind it, so I picked it up.
"It's supposed to be used just to be uplifting and invigorating. In the way the company describes it, it doesn't have much of a purpose besides that. I guess when you're feeling a little bummed or dragging, you put a little bit behind your ear or splash a little bit on your neck. It's more of an aromatherapy-type tonic.
"It's one of those things where I don't whip it out because, also, it's not cheap. And you don't necessarily want to be pouring it around because it's something that looks great the way it is, nice and full in the bottle.
"Every once in a while I'll shake it up and throw a little bit on. And if clients ever ask about it, then I'll give them a little splash of it. I think it's more fun just to shake it up a little bit; it looks like a lava lamp. Every once in a while, someone will ask what it is. It sparks interest. It's a cool little product.
"It doesn't really do much but it smells great. And that's what it's supposed to do."
THE SENTIMENTAL FAVORITE – disposable-blade straight razor
"In New York, by law, you're not allowed to use straight razors that don't have disposable blades in barber shops. You have to use more of a safety-type straight razor. I got it when I was apprenticing under Ruben (Aronov). He was cool, man. He's a good dude. He's a really talented barber. He comes from a family-line of barbers. He was really precise and skillful. It was really good to apprentice under someone like that.
"Ruben, was like, 'Hey, I'm picking up these razors from Russia that are kind of hard to get.' And all the guys really liked them there, so I put an order in for one and I've had it since.
"It's put-together well. It's durable. It has a lip on it, right where there would be a point in the razor, that just fits the razor well. It provides a good shave but it lowers the risk of nicking somebody.
"I use it every day on every client. I do all my shaves with it. Any time I use a razor, this is the one I'm using."