Sunday, June 19, 2011

Paul Molé Barber Shop: Does It Still Have NYC's Hottest Haircuts?

Adrian Wood chats with a client in a barber chair from the '50s. The client is the newsman Allan Dodds Frank.

By Mitch Broder

I’ve spent a lot of time at Paul Molé Barber Shop. Someday I may spend some money. I just have to conquer my aversion to paying. And my fear of a charbroiled head.

The boys' chairs are downstairs.
The aversion is defensible, since a wash and cut would run around forty bucks, which is eighty times what I paid as a boy, and I thought that was too much. The fear is less rational, but it’s based in reality. The shop’s namesake got famous for cutting hair with fire. I don’t even like hot water.

The century-old business is owned by a genial gent named Adrian Wood. Paul Molé has been dead for decades; he is no longer a threat. But his legend lives on in framed clips on the walls that tell of his renowned “flame cut.” Reading the walls is one of the ways I spend time there without spending money.

Molé hoped to be an actor but became a self-promoter, back in the days when those were two separate things. He upstaged his celebrity clients and got on TV igniting hair with candles. He claimed to be reviving an ancient Egyptian art. You can see apparent disciples in videos like “Fire Hair Cut.”

When Adrian talks of Molé, I think of a parent shaking his head at a child who’s just shown up wearing a shaving-cream hat. Molé was cheeky. Still, his clients did range from Fred Astaire to Joe DiMaggio, John Steinbeck to Benny Goodman, and Tennessee Williams to Bing Crosby.

Adrian has his own famous clients. But he knows the value of his forerunner. And he knows the value of his forerunner’s traditions. Like Molé, he hires barbers, not hairdressers. Like Molé, he keeps a masculine atmosphere. Unlike Molé, though, he does not torch hair. He told me so. I want to believe him.

Three members of his family work at the shop, including his son Michael. I’ve spoken a lot with Michael. He seems very creative. One day as we spoke, he unearthed a box labeled “Barbers’ ‘Singe’ Tapers.”

The box was very old and dusty. And yet I could feel my ears burning.

Cool your heels at Paul Molé Barber Shop, 1031 Lexington Avenue, at 74th Street, in Manhattan.


  1. Oh just think of the post if you actually had a haircut?! I'm thinking, for the record, that $40 for a haircut is a bit expensive for a guy but if you also get that lady at your knee and a time with a towel wrapped around your freshly chopped hair its a pretty good price. Besides, this guy needs the support to keep up his fancy signage. Thanks for the post!

  2. What a roster of patrons! Thanks for sharing this gem. Truly unusual and a "vintage" New York treasure.

  3. I think you should go for it. Think of the photos! I want to see what it actually is and how you will turn out.

    "Paul Molé has been dead for decades; he is no longer a threat." Great line. You are too good. Really.

    Do you write your openers first or last? Love them.