For years, Kristina Kozak‘s wispy metal security grills have graced the windows of Williamsburg nightspots like Bembe, Iona, and Trash Bar. Now she’s getting ready to forge a metal sign to put over her own bar, which quietly opened on Grand Street a few weeks ago.
Its name, Billet & Bellows, refers to Kozak’s occupation as a metalworker — and to leave no doubts about her craftsmanship, she built the curvy, illuminated bar herself, using onyx from her longtime neighbor, Puccio Marble.
Actually, she considered naming the place the Sow’s Ear – a reference to something her father said in 1997, when Kozak bought the building off of Bedford Avenue for just $6,000 down.
“I still think about it,” she said from behind her bar. “He said, ‘You’re trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.’”
Back then, Williamsburg was shady enough that her mother was “terrified to get out of the car” when she first visited. “I walked down Bedford and saw crime and masturbation [in the street],” Kozak recalled.
The Cranbrook Academy of Art grad, who was raised upstate, bought the building anyway; now almost 50, she still lives on the second floor. She had been using the ground floor as an antiques store and showroom, but decided to follow a dream: “When I was 13 years old I had this fantasy when I went to Danceteria and was like, ‘This is cool.’”
When B+B stopped into B&B Tuesday night to say hi to bartender Bree Roberts (also of B-Side), a DJ was spinning Iris Larratt and Maya Jane Coles to the accompaniment of a projector. But the place was a far cry from the clubs of Kozak’s salad days. Instead, she’s aiming to create a comfortable neighborhood hang where the major amenities are the gas fireplace and the tiny smoking patio out back, and where the prices are reasonable enough to attract fellow artists. “They’re going to buy my $5 glass of house wine during happy hour and hopefully it extends past 8pm,” she said of her peers. “I’d be morti-fuckin-fied to charge my friends $14 for a Manhattan.”
Instead, classic cocktails start at $10 and specialty “Heavy on Metal” drinks with ingredients like lavender petals, cranberry jelly, and hibiscus agua fresca are $12.
But are there still enough artists in Williamsburg to keep this casual spot afloat, or have they all moved to Bushwick, where for six years Kozak herself kept a studio (complete with forge) before losing it last year? (She’s now using a fellow welder’s space on North 14th Street.)
“There are people who are here,” Kozak assured, citing a few examples of artist friends who own buildings. “Don’t fool yourself. As much as people are like, ‘Fuck that shit, all these people with their $2 million condos’ and blah blah, there are real holdouts and real people who want to be here – they’re never going anywhere.”
“With all the changes in the neighborhood (all these corporate things like Apple and fucking Starbucks), people are not going to know people,” she admitted. But Kozak is hoping her place will be a gathering spot for the community that remains. “For me it’s not necessarily about the bottom line,” she said. “I just want a fun experience.”
Billet & Bellows, 177 Grand St., nr. Bedford Ave.; 347-294-4642