Posted: 2022-06-09 20:04:52
Modified: 06/09/2022 20:02:44
NORTHAMPTON — Last summer, as other restaurants and bars that had managed to weather the faltering pandemic economy began reopening to masked patrons, the owners of Iconica Social Club faced an unforeseen roadblock that threatened to thwart their own business recovery plans.
In their Masonic Street parking lot, an urgent fix from the Department of Public Works to an outdated sewage system had left a 25-foot crater dug into the ground. A plume of dust emanated from the repair and the unmistakable clatter of a jackhammer just below the club’s brunch patrons crushed co-owners Will Swyers and Ximena Salmerón’s dreams of welcoming local artists to their doorstep.
As Swyers said, “it was like a glint of sunlight crushed by the toilet.”
“Initially, we were very optimistic for a short-lived pandemic,” Swyers explained. “We are performers, we are actors, so we always dreamed of having a fully functional stage where we could produce our own work, form a theater company, perform and be open to community feedback, to hold open mics.”
“Then, obviously, the pandemic lasted much longer than expected. Follow that with the repair and it felt like our dreams were shattered,” Swyers said.
But those dreams are no longer crushed.
Costing its owners only the four parking spaces needed to accommodate a makeshift platform stage, Iconica is set to host local performers until September in partnership with Northampton’s Department of Arts and Culture.
Masonic Street Live! will serve as an outdoor venue for free music performances every Friday and Saturday from 6-8 p.m. and free salsa lessons on Monday nights. The city will also be sponsoring Thursday bluegrass nights at the same time and space in partnership with Signature Sounds Parlor House.
Announcing the initiative, Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra said, “I am keenly aware of the importance of downtown to our local economy. In order to build on the successes of Summer on Strong, I wanted my team to focus on a location at the top of Main Street. »
“Iconica Social Club had already established a welcoming plaza in the Masonic Street parking lot, so it was the perfect place to expand our vision of outdoor entertainment at this end of the street,” she said.
Swyers and Salmerón also aim to transform the annex and replicate Iconica’s interior eccentricity on the exterior. The interior of the social club is full of antique tchotchkes and rare estate finds – a low circular table dedicated to tarot readings, a faded newspaper from the morning following Lady Diana’s death, a downstairs bathroom covered from top to bottom with authentic checks (signed and dated) from the 1980s, and a gilded chandelier hanging next to a skylight in Iconica’s attic kitchen that’s responsible for a handful of candles precariously deformed from the fixture.
Salmerón envisions a handful of picnic tables, potted plants resembling those lining Summer on Strong’s outdoor food strip, and lighting to brighten up the place. But finally, she says, Masonic Street Live! the partners will strive to rely on community members to style the venue, curate the menu, select the artists and cultivate a dynamic experience.
“At the moment it looks like a parking lot, but visually it could become a fantastic space,” Salmerón said. “We listen and talk to people and try to be responsive to the public and create something that is intellectually crowd-sourced.”
So far, Salmerón has found that the visiting crowd loves to indulge in his three-layered chocolate cake with chocolate cream cheese frosting — no surprises there. Iconica also launched its beer and wine license last week, finding that while live musical performances pair well with a pint of beer, salsa dancing with strangers might require something a little stronger, say, a margarita.
The venue has hosted two artists in the past, local artist DJ Nightshade and septuagenarian rocker Ray Mason and his 1965 Silvertone guitar. Masonic Street Live! is available on www.northamptonartscouncil.org/2022/06/masonic-street-live.html.