The Chicago Syndicate: Barber Shop's Showing of Mob Movies a Hit with Customers

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Barber Shop's Showing of Mob Movies a Hit with Customers

Mike Welsh walked into Larry’s Barber Shop one afternoon and witnessed two men getting clipped, one in a barber’s chair, the other on a small television screen.

Larry Babizhaev, a barber from Azerbaijan, is hooked on mob movies like “The Godfather,” and watches them in his shop.

“What are we watching today?” Mr. Welsh asked Larry Babizhaev, the shop’s owner.

“The Godfather: Part II,” Mr. Babizhaev replied, his scissors dancing atop a customer’s head. “Why, you want to watch something else?”

“Nah,” said Mr. Welsh, standing beneath a framed poster of Tony Montana, the maniacal drug dealer played by Al Pacino in “Scarface.” “I like your taste in mob movies — I’ll watch what you’re watching.”

Mr. Babizhaev, 29, and his family left Baku, Azerbaijan, for Midwood, Brooklyn, 12 years ago.

“We were furriers back in Baku,” he said. “I came here and started thinking that cutting hair would be a good job, so I went to barber’s school and opened this place six years ago.”

From the mirrored reflections of the talking heads in his tiny shop on 57th Street near 10th Avenue in Manhattan, Mr. Babizhaev receives political opinions, financial advice, sports commentary and other news between haircut and tip.

Along the way, some of his customers started recommending films like “The Godfather,” “Goodfellas” and “A Bronx Tale.” “I just got hooked,” Mr. Babizhaev said.

He began spending a good portion of his tips on mob movies and “anything to do with gangsters.”

Before long, he was waxing nostalgic about “made” men like John J. Gotti and made-up men like Michael Corleone. His DVD collection lines several shelves in his shop, sharing space with scissors, combs, talcum powder and other tools of his trade. On one counter sits a small velvet coffin that Mr. Babizhaev opened slowly to reveal a “Scarface” DVD resting peacefully inside.

“Did you know that there were several different ‘Scarface’ movies?” he said. “My favorite is from 1932, with Paul Muni.”

But movies are not the only lure. Mr. Babizhaev recently finished reading “Little Man: Meyer Lansky and the Gangster Life” by Robert Lacey and is now reading “Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia” by John Dickie.

As for his favorite movies, he rattles off titles as if he were emptying the clip of a tommy gun: “Angels With Dirty Faces,” “White Heat,” “Donnie Brasco,” “Wannabes,” “King of New York,” “10th & Wolf,” “Brooklyn Rules,” “We Own The Night.”

Decorated entirely in the style of American Underworld, Mr. Babizhaev’s shop is the kind of place where Martin Scorsese might not mind getting a little taken off the sides. Framed portraits and posters of real-life gangsters like Mr. Gotti and Bugsy Siegel crowd wall space with some of the actors who portrayed such men, James Cagney, James Gandolfini, George Raft, Edward G. Robinson, Joe Pesci.

Some of his customers, old Hell’s Kitchen types, can be pretty colorful, too. They occupy chairs alongside doctors, lawyers and businessmen. Mr. Welsh, an accountant at CBS, says he enjoys it when Mr. Babizhaev blurts out memorable lines from mob movies, including “Made it, Ma! Top of the world!” (Mr. Cagney in “White Heat”); “I’m funny how, I mean, funny like I’m a clown? I amuse you?” (Mr. Pesci in “Goodfellas”); and “Say hello to my little friend,” (Mr. Pacino with a machine gun in “Scarface.”)

While snipping Mr. Welsh’s hair, Mr. Babizhaev began talking about Albert Anastasia, the mob boss who was assassinated in 1957 in a barber chair at the Park Sheraton Hotel (now the Park Central Hotel), just blocks from Mr. Babizhaev’s barber shop.

“Oh man, while he was getting his hair cut,” Mr. Babizhaev said of Mr. Anastasia’s demise as he sneaked a peek at “The Godfather: Part II.” “That was a tough way to go.”

Mr. Babizhaev said that working long hours and spending time with his family — he lives in Midwood with his wife, Esmeralda, and their 1-year-old daughter, Nicole — sometimes gets in the way of watching a good mob plot unfold.

For instance, it took him weeks to open a Christmas gift from a customer, a DVD of “The Pope of Greenwich Village.”

“I watched it with a few of my customers,” Mr. Babizhaev said. “We all loved it.”

Thanks to Vincent M. Mallozzi

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