Despite our determination to “get off the hill” more often, for many a Brown student, venturing beyond our collegiate bubble and into the depths of downtown Providence is all too rare of an occurrence. Unless there’s a monster truck rally at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center or a Girl Talk concert at Lupo’s, we’re usually more than happy raiding the shelves of Spiritus and entertaining ourselves on campus.
But that didn’t stop Ethan Feirstein ’06 from taking matters into his own hands. After graduating from Brown with a degree in sociology, Ethan moved to New York briefly before returning to the Providence to open up a business of his own. Realizing the need for a downtown bar that appealed to locals and Brunonians alike, Ethan opened Salon in the winter of 2010. Since then, the bar has quickly risen to the top of the ranks, becoming one of the most popular destinations in Providence for anyone looking for a pickleback shot and a killer dance floor.
We sat down with Ethan to pick his brain about life after Brown, and to find out what it’s like being a bar owner in the PVD.
What did you do after graduating from Brown? After I graduated, I traveled for a bit and then worked for a few food and beverage startups in New York. I’m originally from the city, but Providence maintained a special place in my life because my partner is from here.
What made you decide to open up a bar in Providence? I was traveling back and forth between the two while I was living in the city and knew I was interested in the food and beverage industry. I had this sense that I wanted to do something entrepreneurial — something on my own — and decided I wanted to open up a bar somewhere. Originally I was thinking Brooklyn, but then Providence seemed like it needed a bar more than Brooklyn did. I knew it was a riskier venture because there are fewer people, but it also seemed easier to stand out.
How do you feel being here since you’ve graduated? I actually split my time. I’m here 7–10 days out of the month. It’s weird but I like being in NY when I’m here and visa-versa. There’s a lot of opportunity in Providence — downtown is still a work in progress. Since I’ve been here, Zipcar has moved in down the street, as have two Korean restaurants and a café. There are at least 10 new spaces that have opened up since I’ve been here, and that’s only in the last 13 months.
So how did Salon come to be? I had a relationship with the landlord of the building and the space caught my eye. Really, it started off as an informal conversation about doing a bar here but having it feel sort of like a pop-up bar. I wanted to make it seem temporary — the picnic tables are completely moveable and can be thrown away, flipped over, or changed out. I had this idea where I wanted it to look like someone just came in with a bunch of 2 x 4’s and put a bar in this space.
What was here before you guys settled in? Before the bar, it was a series of salons (hence the name), but for about 40 years before that it was a Chinese restaurant. One of the first in Rhode Island I think. Downstairs they had a luau tiki bar and everything, but by the time I got here, you would have never known. Rumor has it that way back in the day, the downstairs was the city morgue. I’ve heard this from fairly reputable sources, and that’s part of the reason behind the name of the downstairs — “The Cutting Room.” There are incinerator-looking things down there, but I’m not sure if those are coal burning or for something else.
Any crazy stories to share? Well, the third day we were open, the entire bar flooded. I was here by myself and water just started rushing out of all the urinals, toilets, and sinks. It was only Providence rainwater, but it was still a disaster. The only fight we’ve ever had were these two girls on New Year’s Eve. There were definitely punches thrown. Also, one time we found a homeless man sleeping in the vestibule.
What’s your favorite bar in the PVD? Honestly, I don’t ever go to other bars when I’m here. As a Brown student, I used to go to Max’s on Thayer (now Hercules Mulligans). We’d also go to Viva, Wild Colonial, and the Red Fez from time to time.
Last but not least, we have to ask, what freshman dorm did you live in? Perkins.