Scissors and razors, brushes and chairs

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Tools of barbering trade, and a proper cut, at a new museum on Columbus Avenue


  • Arthur Rubinoff’s Barber Museum on Columbus Avenue opened last week. Photo: Sushmita Roy

  • Collectibles such as barbering tools, a vintage chair and a towel steamer are some of the ephemera on display at the Barber Museum. Photo: Sushmita Roy

A routine grooming visit, for men at least, amounts to little more than a shave and a swift cut.

But at Arthur Rubinoff’s Barber Museum on Columbus Avenue, a cut with a pair of diamond-studded gold scissors isn’t the only thing that screams extravagant. If you aren’t already impressed by the six gold-plated chandeliers, the celebrity clientele or the Marilyn Monroe obsession, maybe being surrounded by antiques valued at $1.5 million could help.

The museum, just south of 69th Street, opened on June 15. The public is free to peruse its barbering tools, vintage chairs and other trade ephemera, but grooming services, available by appointment, will set you back some. On the priming menu is a cut costing $118. It includes complementary Champagne and black caviar

“When I started this journey, I was not sure if it was possible, if it would be done, but I am standing here in front of you and it’s done,” Rubinoff said during an opening ceremony that featured dancers grooving to songs in English and Uzbek, a vintage Mercedes and the merely curious.

Rubinoff, 43, is a fourth-generation barber who grew up in what he said was the first wash-and-cut shop in Uzbekistan. He immigrated to the United States when he was 14, settling with his family in Forest Hills, Queens. He would drop out of high school to help his father around his dad’s barber shop and bridge the gap between his mother tongue and the foreign one his father was attempting to learn.

“I have been cutting since I was 14. My father opened his first shop in the neighborhood around 1993 and I have been [on the Upper West Side] since 1999. A lot of people know me here. There’s a lot of barbershops around here but thank God, it’s the customer who decides,” he said. The idea of the museum came from his father, who started collecting antiques and artifacts in 1991.

“He had jokingly mentioned that he might one day open a museum and then passed away in 2003,” said Rubinoff, whose own dark brown hair was neatly gelled and parted for the occasion. “My wife and daughter grew tired of the amount of artifacts we held around the house and that is how this came about.”

Rubinoff and his staff swear by the “scissor-over comb” technique, which he considers a lost art. Younger barbers, he said, “take the buzzer and the number and boom, boom, boom — seven minutes a haircut.” Barbering, he said, is in fact an art and needs to be cultivated and preserved.

Both his sons, 21 and 24, have learned how to cut. “The trade, or barberia as it was called, was started by Italians but their kids have gone out to be doctors and lawyers. Some may have picked up the trade, but I just don’t see them anymore and so they are gone” Rubinoff said.

He hopes the museum can do its part to renew an appreciation for the craft.

A woman in her mid 30s who spent a good 10 minutes inside enjoyed the collectibles and the curios, but had a taste for something else.

“There’s a whole lot of stuff in there,” she said. “If I could, I would go only for the caviar.”

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