Recommended: Twigs hair salon

Julie Reale, one of three stylists at Twigs

My second post in the Things I Love about New York series. This time it’s a Manhattan hair salon!

One Friday night in autumn 2008 when I first arrived in New York and had little else to do, I was wandering around the East Village. I spotted a hair salon and popped in for a cut. There I met Julie Reale, a blond, tattoed, talented stylist who would become my New York Hairdresser. She whispered to me that she was about to leave that salon and set up on her own. We exchanged contact details.

Just a few weeks later she’d set up Twigs, a delightful salon further east in Alphabet City. It’s a supercool place: the decor is warm and simple. The floors are wooden, and flickering green silver birch screens adorn the walls. In the basement a red wood-stove-light creates a sort of ski-resort feel. The building may or may not have been a rub-and-tug brothel in an earlier incarnation, but Reale and her friends Janell Waddington and Kristiana Andrews transformed it into a cosy, bright space.

Most importantly, Reale’s cuts are good value (starting at $85) and consistently excellent. I’ve received compliments on my hair from strangers and friends in Dublin, New York and San Francisco. Once at a book launch, a random woman started taking photos of me, sweetly explaining it was my haircut, not me, that she wanted to snap.

One of the impressive things about this business is that the girls set it up at the peak of the recession, yet it’s fared extremely well. Reale says she’s noticed a trend. “There’s a lot of stuff closing down, but I feel that a lot of really nicer places are opening up,” she says. That makes sense. Another business I know that flourished in the last two years  is Roots cafe in Brooklyn, which like Twigs provides a friendly, high-quality experience.

Twigs salon

The downturn brought other benefits. “Because of the recession, we got to negotiate on everything,” Reale explains. She and the other girls had been pushed out of a former salon by the high rents they paid for chairs, but with their own salon they could do deals. “The landlord, the contractor; people are willing to be more flexible.”

Reale is from Albany but she’s a de facto New Yorker. She’s lived in the city for 12 years, and shares a rent-controlled apartment in the West Village with her boyfriend. From an early age, she wanted to be a hairdresser. “I met my sister’s friend who was a hairstylist, when I was a kid,” she explains. “She looked like Joan Jett and had a really cool car. And I thought, I wanted to be like her.”

It’s a flexible job. “We don’t have to work in flourescent lighting, there are no cubicles. And you don’t get secretary spread!” she says. Incidentally this ties in with an article on happiness in the Guardian last month, which said that hairdressers rank as the happiest workers in the UK.

Reale’s apartment is also shared by two dogs, and a cat. In her spare time she works on her own canine-fashion website called The Punky Pup, an excessively cute business that sells punk rock t-shirts, collars, tanktops and accessories, for pets.

East Village is sometimes overrun with NYU students and tourists (especially at the weekend), but Alphabet City, named because it begins at Avenue A, is just a little ways off from that, and it’s more diverse and residential. The whole area was Patti Smith territory in the ’60s and ’70s — the rockstar gave her first poetry reading at St. Mark’s church — and it’s rich with history, late night second-hand bookshops, family-owned pizza joints, design stores, coffee shops and restaurants.

In short, go there. And get your hair cut.

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