Uptown Kingston's Salt Box May Be Your New Salt Bae

"A Dive Bar With Style" in the Old Crown Lounge Spot

The elegant stone building at the intersection of Crown and Green streets has sat quiet since Crown Lounge closed in December 2020. Under the Crown’s owners, Jamie Niblock and John Krenek of Exit Nineteen, the space had been a sumptuous and jovial meeting place with exquisite craft cocktails, sultry lighting, mink-toned walls, and leopard print curtains. Since reopening as Salt Box in late February, almost everything has changed—from decor to concept.

“[Crown] was doing really well in spring and summer here, but when winter came again with the social distancing guidelines—the place is so tiny,” says Noah Blaichman, whose real estate development company owns the building. “I’m sure that prospect was nearly impossible to fathom.” His firm tried to rent the spot, but amid pandemic uncertainties, there wasn’t a lot of commercial real estate interest. Blaichman, who now co-owns Salt Box with three partners in that space, is adamant that he had no intentions of opening a bar there—or anywhere.

But sometimes it’s the people that sell you on an idea. When dear friend and longtime bartender at Sophie’s, Blaichman’s favorite East Village haunt, Ama Keates came upstate for a stay at Hotel Kinsley, she fell in love with the Kingston. But she felt it was missing one thing—a bar like Sophie’s that hit that sweet spot between grungy dive bar and fancy craft cocktail lounge. “I told her, ‘I have no interest in opening a bar, but if you do I would open one with you,’” Blaichman recalls saying before sending her to see the space on Crown Street.

Where most people saw problems—several different rooms, small-to-nonexistent kitchen—Keates saw potential. And so the inklings of a neighborhood bar were born. Blaichman brought another long-time friend onto the project, Ava Hama, to help with design. “We’ve been best friends since 9th grade,” Blaichman says. “She is a costume designer for film and TV and has amazing taste. I knew she’d know how to make the space pop.” Together the group collaborated their way through conceptualization and remodeling sans architect.

The historic building trades the cabaret vibes of its previous incarnation for a vintage vendor stall aesthetic with touches like plush velvet folding chairs, retro salt tins, a standout matchbox collection, and a mirrored bathroom wall. “We changed everything—nothing structural—but no surface is the same,” Blaichman says. There is a new vintage backbar and bar (both from Zaborski’s), new light fixtures, new floors upstairs, and new fridges in the basement. Each of the three main seating spaces sports a slightly different vibes. “The front bar room is a kind of classic Americana homage, the back room is more of a gentleman's lounge. And upstairs is sort of a disco-Midcentury room,” Blaichman says. The Crown owners had converted the bank drive-through out back into outdoor seating, a function that will be revived come May.

The decor isn’t the only thing that’s different. While Crown was known for its craft cocktails, made with housemade shrubs and bitters, Salt Box considers itself a “stylish dive bar” with a focus on accessibility. “We are not a cocktail bar, we are a bar that can make cocktails,” Blaichman clarifies. “We have really affordable beer and the fixings of liquor and mixers, but no cocktail menu at the moment.” They can make any classic from a martini to a Manhattan on demand, but you’re going there for the $4 cans of PBR and $5 Bud Light drafts. For now, domestic beers reign supreme, though Blaichman hopes to add a couple of local beers on draft soon.

As the kitchen is shoebox-sized, the menu is accordingly and charmingly small: tots, instant ramen, Brazi Bites (gluten-free cheese puffs), and tinned fish with crackers. Monday, March 20 will see the launch of the rotating food pop-up program with a visit from Jingle John’s BBQ. “I want to do pop-ups three to four nights a week,” Blaichman says. This summer the bar will have a pop-up food truck parked outside that will host a rotation of local chefs.

A rarity in the region, Salt Box is open seven days a week from 3pm to 3am serving a mixed crowd of boisterous locals, selfie-taking out-of-towners, and service industry folk. “There was really a demand for something between Stockade and Snapper’s, an affordable and accessible middle ground that is open daily—a place for an after-work drink,” Blaichman says.

In the future, expect dance parties upstairs and movie nights in the old ATM drive-through pavilion, but for now Blaichman and team are just pumped to be open. After three weeks in business, he reports, “It’s a baptism by fire, but it’s been a lot of fun.”