Salon on Kingston creates an oasis for community
BROOKLYN — The Salon on Kingston runs its bar on an honor system—but visitors are trusted with more than just paying for their drinks.
They also help create the shows that help musicians connect in this North Crown Heights community art space. They even help break down the stage and clean up at night’s end.
“It feels there really is a mysterious magic to it that is hard to describe,” said Paul Borque, 34, a composer who scores commercials and is a regular.
He arrived with two friends to see a four-piece Tunisian band on a recent Thursday night. Borque grabbed three beers from the fridge and paid through Venmo, although no one checked. Others in the full-house crowd left cash in the plastic jar on the counter. As usual, after the featured perfromers’ set, audience members were invited onstage for an open jam.
The first time Borque visited, the night was solely dedicated to an open jam. He had no plans to perform. Yet when the musicians asked if anyone could play the piano, he volunteered. He was on stage for two hours and has been back every week since.
“I mean, it literally just doesn’t feel like any other venue I’ve ever been to in the city,” he said.
The Salon, open only on Thursdays, hosts jams after the free live shows. Regulars and first-timers gather for the jams, which have been a part of the venue since it opened weeks before the pandemic began. Owner Amber Mazor, 50, said he chose the name to convey the intimacy he hopes visitors will find in the space.
After the Tunisian band’s performance, players who came with their own instruments—including a violin, a guitar, a banjo, a trumpet and a bass—sat in a tight semi-circle to freestyle.
Shawnese Powdar, 19, a student originally from Philadelphia who found the Salon last month, took the mic as people howled and clapped.
“They wanna take, take, take from my young soul,” she sang. “I am tired, I get louder.”
The inspiration came from a racially charged incident at Kingsborough Community College.
“I thought, thank goodness it’s Thursday,” she said, “because I can come here and sing.”
“Regardless of what’s going on in my life, I know that this spot is just somewhere where I can just do that again,” Powdar said. “You know, have that release, have my comfort, my love, like my life, which is music.”
When vocalist Christian Baxter, 34, who lives in Brooklyn and works as a caretaker for seniors, performed, he sang with no words. He freestyled with “oohs,” hitting whichever note came to mind.
The Salon provides “shower-room comfort,” Baxter said: “You’re not necessarily worried about who’s watching with that level of intimacy.”
“See, this place makes you feel,” weekly visitor Adrian West, 41, said as he watched Baxter. “He’s feeling. He’s not forcing anything. This place is different…The spirit that goes through this space goes through the people performing.”
“It doesn’t feel like I’m performing. It feels like I’m connecting,” said Mariam Adeyi, 24, a dancer who is also the resident chef. She prepares a new menu each week for guests.
The open jam lasted more than two hours, ending past midnight. Afterward, the audience and the performers helped wrap cables, put the mics and tables away, and wiped down the counter.
Mazor earns no profit from operating the Salon. Donations collected from patrons each Thursday pay the featured artist. Proceeds from sales of drinks, which go towards maintenance of the space, range from $200 to $300 a night.
The Salon opened in March 2020 after a year of renovations. Mazor said in 2018, he got a 10-year lease, with plans to open a cafe in the space, which had housed a dry cleaner. Then the building went into foreclosure, freezing the rent temporarily.
“We thought, ‘Let’s have something for the community to benefit from,’” said Mazor.
He owns a firm that restores historic Brooklyn brownstones and used warm wood for panels, the floors and the bar.
In the beginning, he invited local musicians to use the space for public band practices and told block associations they could have it for meetings. Then musicians in the area started to hear about it and to come play, some in concerts and some to join open jams. Outdoor concerts took up the entire corner of the block.
During the George Floyd protests in 2020, an exhibition featured the work of 60 Black photographers. Musicians showed up to play at the opening, with as many as 15 performing outside in the cold for hours. Police cars parked on the corner monitored what Mazor called a “musical protest.”
After establishing the sense of community he sought to provide in creating the Salon, Mazor said he is unsure about what may be next.
“What can you do when it’s not commercial?” he asked. “It’s actually an interesting question. And we don’t know the answer.”