For a city driven, in many ways, by its youthful artist-entrepreneurial class, there is surprisingly little in the way of hipster night spots.
THE SALON KEEPER Feirstein.
Enter Ethan Feirstein, the Brown University graduate, Manhattan transplant, and bespectacled upstart behind Salon, a watering hole of studied simplicity set to open in downtown Providence as soon as Friday.
"I like bars that feel sort of quirky and random and that are not trying too hard," says Feirstein, 26.
Hence, the picnic table seating, a "Creature from the Black Lagoon" pinball machine — which advises players, on occasion, to "say no to drugs" — and the juvenile cuisine: peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches, fluffernutters, and s'mores.
"I'm convinced that people are going to come here for the s'mores," says Feirstein. "Those are going to be the sleeper hit."
The stripped-down aesthetic, though, has its limits. The Eddy Street bar, just behind City Hall, takes its inspiration from the two previous occupants: Lumiere hair salon and, more recently, Salon Marc Harris. And while Feirstein has jettisoned the old gold-and-velvet foot sinks — vessels for the pampered pedicure — he has kept some of the stylists' upscale furnishings: an enormous mirror and hundreds of thin copper rods hanging along the walls in a floor-to-ceiling shimmer.
Feirstein has even added his own arty homage to the building's recent history: commissioning Brown graduate Leslie Friedman to create custom pink wallpaper adorned with shears, curling irons, and blow dryers.
Rhode Island School of Design alumnus Matt Freitas has fashioned a clever ping-pong table top that fits just so on the bar's picnic tables. Another is in the works. And fellow RISD graduate Carter Blackwell built the bar, which should be a solid resting spot for Salon's signature drinks: Pickle Back shots — Jameson chased by pickle juice — and alcoholic Shirley Temples and Roy Rogerses.
Downstairs, Feirstein has peeled the carpet glue off the floors and scraped the ceilings, turning an old storage space into a bare dance hall he has dubbed "The Cutting Room" — the appellation spelled out in pink fluorescent lights just above the entryway.
Feirstein says he intended the name as a reference to cutting hair. But it has taken on other meanings, too. There is, of course, the record-cutting DJ. Timothy O'Keefe, the city's godfather of electronic music, is helping Feirstein book all manner of house, techno, indie electronica, and garage-surfer DJs.
But there is a more ghoulish interpretation, too: legend has it, the space was once the site of the city morgue; images of knife-wielding coroners are left to the barfly's imagination.
Yes, this being Rhode Island, it is hard to escape the history of a place. A couple decades back, the building hosted Luke's Chinese-American Restaurant. "A week ago," Feirstein says, "two questionable people came looking for Luke's and I was like, 'Really, you haven't been downtown in 20 years?' "