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Whatever’s Cooking: Will Stewart Says Goodbye to His Zax Supper Club

A dinner at ZAX presented by Maia Ruth Lee and Violet Denison. ZAX

A past dinner at ZAX presented by Maia Ruth Lee and Violet Denison.

COURTESY ZAX

For the past year and a half, the artist Will Stewart has governed ZAX—the weekly Bushwick supper club he runs out of the space that he lives and works in—with relatively simple rules: the food, frequently made by guest chefs, has to be vegetarian and cost $5 or less. In that time, the restaurant has become an institution within certain art circles, appreciated for fostering a casual sense of community that is often absent from New York. It has drawn an average of 40 diners per week. Now, with the project coming to a close, ZAX is going out with a bang, throwing nightly events until the end of the month.

“The whole space was centered around the idea of environment and providing a community, a space to come and be together,” Stewart told me over the phone. “There were no monumental events. The whole idea was sort of this continuous, reliable thing.”

With that said, over the time that ZAX operated, there were flurries of activity that moved beyond dinner and drinks. The gallery Lana’s operated for most of 2015 in the space next to ZAX, and when Stewart left town for a few months in the winter of the same year, a pop-up shop run by Hannah Buonaguro staged events and performances. “Those all kind of ran tangentially to the space, and so now we’re kind of finishing it up oddly enough with a bunch of events,” he said.

Stewart said he “basically put out an open invite to everybody who was involved in one way or another in the space” to come in and use it however they see fit. Last week saw an afternoon screening of Lifetime original movies presented by Stephanie Harris and a performance by Georgia Wall and Sharon Mashihi, among other events. Still on the docket is a one-night-only group exhibition, on September 27, with Rin Johnson, Dorian McKaie, Am Schmidt, Zoran Starcevic, and Daniel Sullivan, as well as, on September 29, a night of readings and performances organized by the Manila Institute.

Entry is free each night, and there might be a bit of food—rice balls cooked by Stewart made with white rice left over from the restaurant—although “those are pretty much gone now,” he said. “The initial offering’s gone and I’m working every day, so I don’t have time to make food anymore.” To drink, there will be tequila sunrises.

“When I stopped doing the restaurant there wasn’t anything sad for me about that,” Stewart said. “I think the community of people who came to rely on it maybe feel a little more sentimental about moving on. For me, I’m like, Yeah, I’ve been having a party every week for the last year and a half. I need to take a little break.” The artist did acknowledge that this wasn’t necessarily the end of the project. “We’ll see if something appropriate comes along again,” he said, “because it was really inspiring to see how successful something as simple as [this] could be within a community. It became something really beloved.”

Standout nights for Stewart include something cooked up by the minds that are now behind the Hudson, New York restaurant TABLE | TABLE and a meal by Frank Traynor, of the “mud bath and seltzer house” the Perfect Nothing Catalog, which is currently based out of Rockaway, Queens. For that night, Stewart told me, Traynor “brought a seltzer maker and made carbonated coconut water and rum, so he carbonated the rum, which was really interesting.”

However, at the end of the day, the supper club was special for Stewart not because of any one meal but rather “because of how un-special it could be, if that makes sense,” he said. “There was none of that New York FOMO going on if you didn’t come to a dinner—it’s not like, Shit, I’m not going to see that ever again.” For diners, explained, there was always “next week—I’ll have whatever’s cooking next week.”

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