A Little Off the Sides, Camaraderie on Top

By April 17, 2015 31 comments Permalink

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You would have a hard time finding a better representative of Old Brooklyn than Frank Codispoti. A barber who immigrated to New York when he was 18 from the town of Sant’Andrea in the southern Italian region of Calabria, Mr. Codispoti has cut hair in Brooklyn for more than 40 years. So it might seem somewhat jarring to find him in such a fancy spot in the lower lobby of the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge. But the crossroads of new and old Brooklyn are everywhere, and Allegria Hair Salon is just such an intersection.

The Italian word “allegria” means “happiness.” And this was the idea that informed Mr. Codispoti’s vision when he opened his first hair salon after several decades of working at other barbershops in the city, including some with acrimonious partnerships. “I wanted a happy name,” he said, “a breath of fresh air in a place of my own, to take care of both sexes, people from all backgrounds.”

A student of the tonsorial craft since he was an adolescent in Italy, Mr. Codispoti arrived in Brooklyn in 1955, and within five years he had received his New York State barber’s license. But his formidable skill with scissors is nothing without his gift for camaraderie. Mr. Codispoti is, above all else, a humanist. His jovial nature and obvious interest in the people he meets foster great devotion and a loyalty that extends beyond the barber’s chair and through generations. And when you spend decades as a barber in and around the courthouses of Downtown Brooklyn, it makes sense that you might make some fairly high-profile friends.

For instance, the space occupied by Allegria Hair Salon in the Brooklyn Marriot was arranged by Howard Golden when he was Brooklyn borough president; he has known Mr. Codispoti since the early 1970s.

Raymond J. Dearie, a senior United States District Court judge for the Eastern District and a former chief judge of the district, has been a regular customer of Mr. Codispoti’s since 1971.

“You can’t just come in for a haircut,” Judge Dearie, 70, said with great reverence as he waited for his turn in the chair on a recent Saturday. “This is a place to relax and enjoy everyone’s company.”

Among the imported marble and sconces and four antique mirrors at Allegria are four leather barber’s chairs and, in the far corner, a manicure table. Congeniality is provided by Mr. Codispoti and his staff. The judge assumed his chair and commenced to blarney with the salon’s owner. Ross Cangelosi, a Sicilian immigrant and stylist who has known Mr. Codispoti since the 1960s, snipped the locks of a longtime patron’s 8-year-old son. Joanne Wells, a hairdresser from Trinidad, smoothed a young woman’s hair; and Khana Iskhakbayeva, from Russia, worked the hair and nails and makeup of three bridesmaids from a wedding party that was staying at the hotel.

The conversations, of mixed accents and context, swirled harmoniously as sparrows.

As Judge Dearie approved of his fresh haircut and paid his bill, he stopped to add further reflection.

“Frank has the warmest heart imaginable,” the judge said. “He’s just so genuine, and sensitive. It’s an honor to know him.”

“You got that backwards,” Mr. Codispoti said before kissing the judge on both cheeks and telling him that he loved him.

Published on The New York Times Post: A Little Off the Sides, Camaraderie on Top

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