How to tie a bow tie

Advice from the Guinness World Record holder

Follow these instructions to join the revolution.
  • Follow these instructions to join the revolution.

The Pass, the Under, the Wings, the Flop, the Hole, the Prep, the Stuff, and the Cinch. That’s all you’ve got to learn if you wanna tie a bow tie in front of other people and look cool.

And where can you learn it? We’re outside a hole-in-the-wall at 1028 Broadway, between a black-walled bar, El Dorado, and the old Himalayan restaurant (the one that’s turning into a 55 Thai Kitchen). This is where you come across the little gent in a monocle, homburg hat, and bow tie, painted on the window. And a name: “ZB Savoy.”

ZB Savoy Bowtie Co.

1028 Broadway, East Village

You’d never know, but this is the new HQ for the bow-tie revolution.

Inside, not what you’d expect. Not some real little Monopoly gent with a monocle, but, well, a mess. Shelves half full, cow hides waiting to be cut up. This, you know right off, is an atelier.

The gent in here is actually a cool, 30-something, dark-bearded guy who looks more like the Captain in Tin Tin than Mr. Monopoly. Behind him, a faded color photo shows a dad and two kids chomping long cigars and wearing bow ties, twinkles in their eyes, though the older boy’s face is more serious.

“That’s me,” says Zack Barnhorst. He’s leaning against the seat of a penny-farthing bike that just happens to be taking up most of the space behind the counter.

“Can you teach me to tie one of these suckers?” I ask.

This is his trade. He cuts out and sews bow ties, butterfly types, batwings, thistle ends, diamond points, even big floppy ones you’d expect to see Oscar Wilde wearing. He charges anywhere from $40 to $100 for a custom.

Zach doing The Flop, stage 4 in the bow tie process

Zach doing The Flop, stage 4 in the bow tie process

“I’m actually a musician, a piano-player,” Zach says, “the guy in the corner playing mood music who nobody notices till some drunk comes over and asks for ‘My Way.’ So, I thought, At least if I wear a bow tie, people can say ‘Let’s have the bow-tie guy again’ when they’re planning their next party. Just something to stick out from other piano-players.”

So he started this business. “I figured it was a good time: bow ties have been having a comeback recently. Mainly out of Brooklyn. It’s part of the ‘America’ movement and ‘back to real craftsmanship’ movement, like the craft-beer movement, steampunk, the re-enactment movement, and also conservative politics. TV guys like Tucker Carlson, George Will are leading the bow-tie charge.”

Early converts: Zach, brother, dad

Early converts: Zach, brother, dad

How did Zach become an instant craftsman in this age-old (1600s) craft? “I learned on my mother’s sewing machine,” he says. And he found that, between weddings, celebrities, doctors, lawyers, and the new steampunk generation, he got enough business to be able to ditch the night-job. Here, in this little goblin’s workshop at the wrong end of Broadway (and now in a Little Italy storefront in the James Coffee Company building, 2355 India Street), Zach finds the world coming to him. “Some of our customers? Oh, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, LL Cool J, Kris Kristofferson, Rick Fox of the L.A. Lakers.”

Zach's tie, world's largest official

Zach's tie, world's largest official

A certificate on the wall shows he’s also in the Guinness Book of World Records since he made the world’s largest bow tie, at 11-foot, 3 inches wide, in 2014.

Have to ask: the name, “ZB Savoy”?

“My initials,” says Zach, “and I grew up on Savoy Street, Point Loma.”

So, how do you tie a bow tie?

Zach tries to explain, putting one on himself. Going through the Cross, the Under, the Wings, the Flop, the Hole, the Prep, the Stuff, the Cinch. He sees my confusion. “Basically,” he says, “it’s exactly the same bow you tie doing up your shoe laces. You just need a big mirror and a lot of patience.”

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