Since departing Austin for NYC last year, Paul Oveisi has been a busy man - running music for Hill Country BBQ's expanding empire, and now opening his own intimate space in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, dubbed ZirZamin. Indie Sounds got the scoop on the new venue, what Paul thinks about the NYC music scene, and whether Austin is still in his future.
Indie Sounds: So, you have a new venue - in NYC - called ZirZamin. For starters, what does ZirZamin mean?
Paul Oveisi: It means "underground" in Farsi. I went back and forth on this a lot. I really, really wanted to call the club ZirZamin but a lot of folks said it was too ethnic or too tough to pronounce. After awhile, I just decided to go with my gut. I couldn't stop thinking about the word. It means more than literally "underground" but reflects the attitude musicians have in Iran, where the government prohibits music and artists literally have to find hidden spaces to work on their craft.
We're also physically underground in one of the last sanctioned cellar bars in Manhattan. And, musically, we're going to be bringing in some acts that play much larger venues but want a metaphorically underground venue to work on side projects or develop songs.
IS: Tell us about the new venue and how you came to open it?
Paul: It's the former location of the old Zinc Bar. Lots of great acts played in this basement bar over the last 30 years or so. It was exactly what I was looking for, intimate but funky in a great location and with a separate bar and music room. For the last two years it was known as Bar Henry and its owner (who also owns the building) wanted a tenant who could bring in live music and had some experience. We struck a deal pretty quick. I've had some tough landlords, this guy gets it. He checked around on me and felt like I was the right guy.
I converted the space from a wine bar/fine dining room into a very old world front bar - almost exclusively lit with candlelight. No TVs, no point-of-sale screen glow. Just natural light from dozens of candles bouncing off century old brick and a marble floor.
The back room is flanked by some comfy sofas, low and high tables and centered around a Persian rug, which hosts an upright piano and an intimate performance space. An antique mirror backs up the artists and casts a very cool glow up on the low copper ceiling. Vocals sound eerily hypnotic in here. We've been tinkering with funky instrumentation like tubas, bass saxophone, dobros, santurs, cajons ... along with the traditional guitar, bass and drums. It all sounds so damn good.
I dig how enigmatic it is. People walk in all the time and are initially confused by where the music is. I tell my bartenders sometimes to not tell 'em anything. Let them find it. You have to walk through an almost hidden theatrical red curtain in the back of the bar, go up a couple of steps through a little hallway flanked by the open kitchen (you'll see Juan or Reid cooking up breakfast tacos or melting chili con queso) and then through another red curtain to find a very dramatically presented music room. I love watching people's faces when they see the room for the first time.
IS: How often will you be hosting music? And what kind of music will you be booking? Will it be a home for Austin acts when in NYC?
Paul: Ultimately, there will be music every night of the week. We'll certainly bring in some Austin acts but it's gonna be an eclectic mix of world music, funky ensembles, and surprise guests. It won't be predictable but it will be good. There won't always be full disclosure on the public calendar. There will be some late night impromptu jams from artists who don't want to be announced publicly. We've had a few jams already that were intoxicatingly fun, tequila aside. The beauty of being in the Village is the improvisational/musical spirit is so strong here. We had a guy walk in on his way to a gig a couple of weeks ago with this trombone and just ended up sitting in and almost missing his actual announced gig. I want more of that.
IS: Looks like it has a great Austin food menu too? What about Lone Star?
Paul: Had to have either Lone Star or Shiner. And Shiner isn't carried in NYC yet. The menu is simple (only six items: breakfast tacos, brisket tacos, chili con queso, a salad, grilled cheese and an amazing burger) but not without flair. It was designed with the consultation of Hill Country's Charles Grund, Jr. We also have a very dynamic selection of booze at the bar and will be continuously tinkering with the cocktail menu. Oh, and we carry my friend Tito's vodka.
Working with the incredible folks at Hill Country BBQ has helped me tremendously. I've become inspired to be working around food. The chefs and cooks remind me so much of musicians. I want to spend coming years working up dynamic mixtures of music, drink and food. It's a rare venue that commits to all three. Heck, at Momo's I never dreamed of having a menu, and we kept our booze selection minimal and simple. We all just obsessed over music. Marc Glosserman at Hill Country honestly wants to achieve all three and he's also obsessed with it. I love working for him. I want pretty much the same thing ultimately, just more intimate.
IS: So, you mentioned Momo's. It closed at Christmas in the most abrupt and sad way. The big question everyone in Austin has is - will you open another venue here?
Paul: Maybe. I get asked that all the time. I just don't have a plan yet. It's totally possible and there are a few folks who want to help facilitate this.
IS: What else is keeping you busy in NYC?
Paul: Walking. If I'm not at the club, I'm exploring Greenwich Village, SoHo or back home in Brooklyn taking our dog to Prospect Park. Who knew spring lasted this long? I've actually never lived anywhere with defined seasons. It's incredible.
IS: Have you yet formed any views about the music scenes in Austin and NYC. What's the same, what's different?
Paul: Austin has an astronomical amount of talent per capita, and it's probably the most fun city of that size in the world. New York has this incomprehensible critical mass and diversity. Particularly in the creative realm. People here are thinking, doing and moving at a high level. Oh, and the food. Geez the food. The only reason I haven't gained weight is because I've walked more in the past six months than maybe the prior five years combined. I've never had Thai food even close to what's up here.