PROVIDENCE — More than a decade ago, native New Yorker Ethan Feirstein thought downtown Providence needed a Brooklyn-style dance hall that had a neighborhood vibe. It had to be casual, where young people could gather for late nights and where local DJs could spin tunes. And it needed to be unpretentious.
And in 2010, Feirstein made it a reality when he opened The Salon, a bar with specialty cocktails, pinball machines, and eventually became the city’s “home of the pickleback” shot (which was once popular among New York City bartenders who spread their pickle fever to other cities).
It had more than a bar or cocktail lounge, but was less rowdy than a traditional nightclub. The Salon became the spot to meet others after dinner, where guests could sit on picnic tables upstairs, or dance in front of the DJ booth downstairs. The club was even listed as the “it place” to drink and dance in Providence by New York Magazine.
But then March 2020 put the club’s decade-long anniversary year to a halt. Like the rest of the nation’s bars and restaurants, The Salon closed. For a few weeks, they tried to reopen for outdoor drinks with tables laid out on the street in the summer, but the lack of foot traffic from a still quiet downtown made it less than worth it.
Finally, after rumors of The Salon closing for good swirled around the city’s industry, Feirstein turned the “BAR” sign outside back on and unlocked the doors last month. It came after they made a round of renovations, replaced old equipment, purchased new inventory, and rehired (and hired new) staff. Some of that was funded through a Restaurant Revitalization Funds grant the club received last year.
“If it had not been for those funds, I question if we would have been able to actually reopen at all. I know those funds were a lifeline for a lot of small businesses,” said Feirstein, who also owns The Boombox, a karaoke bar inside the Dean Hotel.
His team, led by general manager and local DJ Norlan Olivo, rolled out with a new slate of specialty drinks, like the frozen “Miss R.I. Lemon,” a take on a Del’s Lemonade mixed with vodka and a pretzel rod stuck straight in. The “Garden Party” is London dry gin, cucumber, basil, lime and tonic. The “Four Oh One” is your choice of mezcal or tequila with jalapeño, grapefruit, and lime. Or “The Bird,” which is dark rum, Aperol, tangerine, bubbly ginger beer, and lime.
Olivo is also putting a whole new emphasis on local musicians and influences.
“We naturally have an international appetite for music in Providence,” said Olivo, who is originally from the Bronx but moved to Providence when he was 10 about two decades ago. As a DJ, he spent time working with local bands touring the US and Europe. He said The Salon’s DJ calendar that he’s curating is more reflective of the city’s Puerto Rican, Dominican, Cape Verdean, and Cambodian populations that are predominant and growing. They’ve booked acts like the local DJ Sèga Genn, WattzBeatz, DJ Slick Vick (from Boston), DJ Corv, and DaHuey X — just to name a few.
Every third Friday, the club will host house and disco nights. Other times, they’ll have salsa, reggae, and bachata dance nights. Whenever there’s a fifth weekend in a month, they’ll have bigger acts come in or host fundraisers for local nonprofits.
Slices of Hotline Pizza, the toughest pie to grab in town that became notorious for their Detroit-style pizza, will be available until they’re sold out every Friday. Other than through the company’s Instagram account, The Salon will be the only place in the state that will sell Hotline Pizza.
Olivo has also led the transformation of the space, which was first raw and open when Feirstein took it over in 2010. Pre-pandemic, the first level was a large room with high ceilings and picnic tables scattered about that could be moved to create a dance floor.
“It was kind of a challenge. There wasn’t a lot of intimacy and it could be intimidating if there wasn’t at least 50 people in the room at once,” said Feirstein. “We wanted to make it more quiet and inviting.”
They repurposed the picnic tables and refashioned them into banquette seating. They reused partitions they had in the basement and made them into planter partitions to carve up the space and create seating areas. Back in the early 2000s, The Salon’s space was rented out to Marc Harris, a salon owner whose flagship store is still located on Newbury Street in Boston. The hair salon left behind items like a mirror wall that is now falling apart, so Feirstein recently covered it in posters that they had from previous DJs they hosted, flyers from musicians in-residence at other local venues like Aurora (permanently closed), and old event posters from Lupo’s (a former, beloved concert venue that first opened in the mid-1970s).
“The space really just needed some TLC, to give people a reason to hang on the ground floor before just descending into the basement,” Feirstein said.
The Salon’s space has a host of Providence history within its walls. In the early 1950s, Tin Cheung Luke opened Luke’s Chinese-American Restaurant in the space, located just behind City Hall. Workers would make it a go-to lunch spot, and out-of-town shoppers would make it a staple stop on the weekends. A plate of chow mein cost 90 cents. Bread and butter was served with every meal.
They later converted one of the dining rooms into the “Luau Hut,” a Polynesian-themed restaurant that served exotic drinks and dishes to pair with the straw-wall covering and bamboo poles. Luke’s stayed open well into the 1980s, the building’s current owners, Cornish Associates, said.
The Lukes owned a beloved restaurant in downtown for decades. It’s something the workers at The Salon are trying to build for another generation.
“We saw the nightlife really slow down — both in downtown and just about everywhere else,” said Olivo. “But this summer, we want to keep awakening the city with this new, improved, and even more modern Salon.”
The Salon is located at 57 Eddy St. in Providence, Rhode Island. It is open Fridays and Saturdays from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. TheSalonPVD.com. New DJ schedules and updates will be posted on their Instagram @TheSalonPVD.