NYC’s Blind Barber Takes Hidden Lounge Concept Out West
There is an old theater expression, "But will it play in Peoria?" The question asks whether something edgy on Broadway will translate to “mainstream America.” Many New Yorkers seem to think that Big Apple nightclub, bar and restaurant concepts need to be dumbed down to succeed west of the Hudson River.
But the East Village’s Blind Barber — where patrons can get an old-fashioned haircut and shave in addition to a chilly cocktail from the hidden back-of-house lounge — is now poised for greatness in its new Culver City, Calif., location. In mid-May, West Coast bon vivants will be able to relax in a barber’s chair while sipping specialty drinks like the Sweeney Todd, made with Jameson Irish Whiskey, egg whites, lemon juice, honey and creole bitters.
The Blind Barber is more than just a shot and a shave. It is a lifestyle choice — a revisit to the style and values of the roaring ‘20s, where an explosion of culture included music, fashion and adventures on the big screen. A casual passerby may turn a blind eye to what seems like just another retro barbershop. The back-room bar is invisible to casual observers, but the requisite hidden door allows revelers to imbibe long after their aftershave is applied.
As the Blind Barber takes its show on the road, Partner Joshua Boyd weighs in.
Nightclub Confidential (NCC): How does one open up a quirky brand like this in a faraway land without risking quality at the original location?
Joshua Boyd: The idea of opening in Los Angeles and being successful is based on us being hands on and introducing our concept to people here like we always have in New York. I have relocated indefinitely for this, my partner Jeff Laub has moved out West to open up and my brother Jordan Boyd partnered up with us as he has been out here for a year. Our other partner Adam Kirsch remains in New York and keeps it together. The truth is, we have a great staff in the city and with that, we can be out here and feeling good about it.
Los Angeles has always been a city I wanted to open up; I have lots of love for L.A. It's a nice contrast to New York, and when we started looking for spaces last year, we picked Culver City. On the surface, it isn't the popular choice, but the west side of L.A. is very cool. The restaurant scene is booming, while scattered nightspots are still few and far between. I think we can help change the landscape a bit if they like us.
There is a huge void in Culver City for creativity in our business, and it isn't the obvious choice for location. Forget Hollywood, not for us. They still don't get it out here it seems; there are a few places that I like out here but everything else seems to flip in and out and seem quite contrived. If we stick to what we know and do well in New York, people will respond and hopefully support our brand out here like they do back home.
Of course, it is always a risk to open up your own place — especially in a new city. It's a very calculated risk, but expansion to other cities and markets is how we grow. We have good family and friend roots out here that will help us hit the ground running. We are going to run soft openings until May 17, and then we are off and running! L.A. is in big trouble — people don't seem to hustle out here, so I think we are going to do well.
NCC: Why didn't you let people talk you out of it? What makes your brand successful?
Boyd: Why talk us out of it? New York isn't going anywhere; we can come on out here, get some sun and check out these hummingbirds and sea lions. As for our expansion, since opening in my old Plan B space almost two years ago, we have been working hard through our N.Y. location, partnerships and collaborations with brands that like what we are doing and vice versa.
We even put out a candle styled after an old barbicide jar with elements of smoke, lavender and leather. Last month, we released our first family of men's grooming products. Two pomades, a shaving cream and an aftershave. The pomades are 60 and 90 proof and contain hops. As for the aftershave, we infused juniper berry —one of the elements of gin — to tie our idea of a bar and barbershop together.
L.A. is a city that I have wanted to open for some time now. There is great synergy between N.Y./L.A., and when we decided it was time for expansion, I targeted Culver City. In my eyes, it’s off the beaten path a bit with great restaurants popping up as we speak. People said, "Go to Hollywood," which in my eyes isn't us. It’s the New York equivalent to the Meatpacking District, and that has never been my style with any of my bars in NYC. The other places we own — Plan B, Gallerybar, Ella as well as the Blind Barber — are all in the East Village and the Lower East Side, so we followed suit as far as neighborhoods go.
Anyway, we are so excited to get open, and the people out here plus N.Y. folks seem very eager for our opening. It's crazy how slow people are out here compared to back home. It just tells me that we will do really well because we hustle, and cats out here are slow.
NCC: After Los Angeles, where can the brand go?
Boyd: New York’s West Village, San Fran and Vegas are on our whiteboard for next stops. I'm going to be on the West Coast for a while; Venice is a nice slice of life that I can't be mad at.