Inside the Menswear Speakeasy VK Nagrani
Photos by Rocio Segura for VK Nagrani
VK Nagrani is not just a business man. He’s a style guru for men in need of something more than a fast, anonymous retail experience. He considers his store his home, and his clients are like his brothers. “It’s not really a shop,” Nagrani says. “It’s a place you come to to elevate your sense of being. It just makes you appreciate the finer things.”
With his eponymous store, Nagrani is redefining the New York shopping experience. The first floor of his boutique is meant as a buffer to separate the casual shopper (or the occasional lost tourist) from those seeking the real deal. A vending machine of luxury socks stands to the right of the entrance, along with a selection of shirts and jackets curated by Nagrani. There’s also T-shirts, scarves, and grooming kits stocked on the shelf above.
Just behind the counter, a section furnished with repurposed post office boxes holds cubbies to deposit cell phones, allowing total privacy for his preferred customers. Next to them, a staircase leads down to Nagrani’s modern speakeasy, which caters to a particular kind of man: His customers are successful, work hard and play harder, but remain boys at heart.
As I enter the sublevel, I find Nagrani sitting with three other men around some glasses of Jane Widow bourbon. Are they friends? Employees? Clients? It’s not clear, because that’s just the kind of place VK Nagrani is. Comradery is the standard for anyone who enters.
According to Nagrani, our era of fast fashion is missing something. While bars and restaurants remain convivial, social spaces, men’s retail today is designed as a quick in-and-out errand. “Product is one thing, but the experience is essential,” he says. “People are yearning for a different experience, especially today when the world seems to be falling apart.”
He walks behind a bar made from Milton Bradley video game chips from the ‘70s and ‘80s. He pours me some bourbon into a glass hand-crafted by a Michigan artist. Each one is unique, requiring six to eight weeks to complete. They’re custom-made for the store, featuring a gorilla’s head engraved on the bottom – Blue Gorilla is the name of VK Nagrani’s holding company.
It’s just the beginning of the full experience, which involves putting on a pashmina robe and some velvet slippers. The owner insists on making his clients feel totally relaxed while he gets to know their taste and sartorial needs. Nagrani continues the tour of his “bat cave” – Bruce Wayne is his model client and muse, he says.
But his regular customers are his first priority. He keeps a collection of wooden barrels on a shelf: Each one bears a client’s name engraved on the front, and contains his “poison of choice.”
Circling the ceiling is repurposed light fixtures pulled from a carousel. Around the corner is a Japanese slot machine from the 1950s, which he stocks with quarters for entertainment during parties. Just down the hall is the bathroom, the walls comically collaged with the tackiest tattoos you could find. The floor is painted with the design of a backgammon board because checkers was too cheap and chess was too pretentious. Next to the bar is a door to the courtyard for the guest who prefers a hand-rolled cigarette with their bourbon. A narrow wall of the outside space features a painting of Superman and Batman in a romantic embrace.
“The idea is men will always be boys,” he says. “And we designed this place to reflect the childhood.”
The entire space is the ultimate fortress for the young at heart. Style is present in every feature of the room’s décor but more importantly, so is personality. It’s the same approach he takes with the items he sells. A narrow room dubbed “sock alley” features a wall of colorful socks and a library ladder that rolls across. Each item is made by true artisans rather than corporations. From a pair of nail clippers made by a Japanese man whose family has constructed samurai swords for centuries to family-owned-and-operated shirt makers in Italy, he carefully selects every item he chooses to feature.
“It’s not really a shop,” he says. “It’s a place you come to elevate your sense of being. It just makes you appreciate the finer things.”
VK Nagrani is located at 87A East Houston Street in New York. To make an appointment, call or go online.