Photos by Sam Polcer
“Out of whiskey. We have cognac.” Supplies were limited and going fast. There was no next weekend to order for, no points awarded for shutting down with a surplus. After the 20 minutes it took to wade six feet from the entrance to the bar, a shot of cognac was good enough. Everyone who came out on December 9 for Zebulon’s last night ever was up for a drink.
Given the notable acts it’s hosted in the last decade—bands like Grizzly Bear who played there on their way to much bigger rooms—the club must have been this full before. But it was still something to see. Starting at 8:30, there was at all times a permanent peak-plus fullness that pushed a few dozen people out onto the sidewalk: just as it would become too tight even to live, the crowd self-corrected; folks shuffled out to endure a light rain drizzling into whatever third choice filled their glasses.
Zebulon was rarely that packed when it first opened in a pretty deserted corner of Williamsburg in 2003, a once-industrial block that a decade later still has room to squeeze in a few more glitzy boutiques. Throughout its exsistence, it was more often a really comfy place to see a friend’s band than the hottest spot in town. But its distinctive features—an aversion to charging a cover, dedication to true eclecticism that had almost nothing to due with quick-shifting music trends on the Internet—were rare even then.
Even as he’s forced out by rising rent and noise complaints from the upscale residents moving in to the safely gentrified neighborhood, owner Jef Soubiran (a French expat who opened the club with his brother Joce and their friend Guillaume Bestel) didn’t go so far as to claim that his club closing would be the death knell for Brooklyn’s music scene. Asked if the neighborhood could produce another spot like Zebulon, he replied, “Yes, of course. You just need to give lots of time and lots of love for little money.”