Popular French Venue Zebulon Closing This Week

The band Friend Roulette playing at Zebulon on April 2011. (Photo by Stefi Sakata via Flickr, Creative Common License)

A popular meeting place for French people in New York, the Zebulon bar in Brooklyn, will close definitively this Sunday after eight years of live music. Its founders plan to open a new location next year.

“This is the end of a great adventure,” sighed Guillaume Blestel, one of three founders along with brothers Joce and Jef Soubiran.

When the “café-concert” opened in Williamsburg in 2004, the area was booming. Success was immediate. Those who have passed through its doors know that to find a free table was a challenge. Concerts were usually packed and it was not uncommon to see big names (Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors and some jazz greats) rocking the bar’s narrow stage. In addition to the local groups, Zebulon also regularly hosted francophone artists.

“The idea was to recreate what we had found 15 years before in the East Village,” explains Jef Soubiran. Zebulon started off as a “café-concert” focused on jazz music. Little by little, local bands brought indie rock and world music to the stage.

“Zebulon is one of the rare New York places where music is set free. Musicians started and finished playing whenever they wanted. We would say, ‘let it go,'” said Blestel. “One day, [French poet] Andrée Chédid’s granddaughter told us, very excited, that it was the first time she saw Robert Wyatt [considered one of the greatest drummers in history] playing in a bar. That’s what Zebulon was about”.

But the rapid gentrification of the neighborhood brought about the end of the bar. A trendy, almost chic neighborhood, Williamsburg doesn’t want concerts until the early morning hours anymore.

“We had a lot of problems with the neighbors. When we moved here we wanted to release the music. Nowadays the inhabitants of the neighborhood want peace and quiet,” laments Blestel.

Another problem was the place’s small size. “People thought business was great because it was always packed. But when you want good musicians, you have to pay them. And even having 150 people per night wasn’t enough considering the rising cost of living and taxes. We should have bought the little garden nearby, but back then we didn’t have the means to invest. Today we’re paying the price.”

In the bar’s last days in businesses, Kyp Malone from the band TV on the Radio and Sarah Neufeld of Arcade Fire should set the Zebulon stage on fire one last time.

One Comment

  1. Very interesting I use to live in Williamsburg and can attest to the gentrification. My rent went sky high and now I live in Bay Ridge.

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