The understated downtown nightlife stalwart Sway Lounge is closing on December 27th.
A bartender, who asked not to be named because the bar's owner doesn't want to advertise the impending closure, said that a manager broke the news to the staff at the beginning of Friday night's shift. General manager Pebbles Russell and regular DJ Dima Dubson confirmed the closure after this article was published. Business had been slow over the summer and didn't pick up leading into the fall, prompting the club to close on Thursday nights, according to the bartender, though Russell said diminishing crowds are not why the club is calling it quits.
"It was just time for it to close," she wrote in the email.
Some regulars got word of the closure this weekend:
I've been DJing at Sway lounge for over 10 years. When I started it was one of the hottest clubs in the city, Lindsay Lohan in the corner hanging with piles of celebrities (and piles of other things). It is one of the most fun clubs I know of; always full of New Yorkers, never any bridge and tunnel. I've heard Diplo and A-Trak spin there amongst others. It really is like Cheers because sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. On December 27th Sway will be closing it's doors forever, much like the other clubs on the same block. Tonight I am DJing there. It will probably be my last night there ever. If you've ever partied there with me, I would love to do it one last time with you as a single tear rolls down my face...😿 📷 @lucastaistevens on #35mm
New York magazine called the Moroccan-decorated club in the far western reaches of Soho near the Holland Tunnel "the definitive late-nineties lounge," but it maintained its popularity well into the aughts. One regular, photographer Allen Ying, remembers lines down the block for Sway's free Sunday weird-'80s dance party, including a host stationed at the door turning away people she deemed overdressed. Morrissey night began in 2003 and Ying has been going religiously since 2006. He said the party used to not get going until after midnight.
"I remember going in the first few times and thinking, 'Oh, all these people are here on a Sunday night!'" he said.
Ying recalls the crowd being a mixture of artists, indie filmmakers, photographers, skateboarders, and bar and restaurant workers—people, in other words, who didn't have to report to an office on Monday morning. The musical baseline was Morrissey, but he emphasized DJs would regularly work in a spectrum of other artists rarely played in clubs, including Erasure, Os Mutantes, Diana Ross, and Kate Bush. "People wouldn't think those are songs you can dance to, but they are," he said about Kate Bush.
The club occasionally made headlines when Lindsay Lohan did something wild there, and actor and designer Chloe Sevigny was a regular at Morrissey night, but generally people kept it low-key when celebrities stopped in, the bartender said: "People wouldn't stare and point and stuff. The people who go there don't act like that."
There were occasions where famous people drew attention to themselves, though. Ying recalls a Smiths night when Lady Gaga "went up into the DJ booth and put on one of her own songs. I was like, 'What? Who does that?'"
Wowwww RIP Sway Lounge. That news just broke my heart
— Angelica (@Angelica21) December 12, 2015
Ying reckons that the crowds started to peter out around 2010. He thinks that a combination of factors may be to blame, including the economic crisis and continued increases of New York's cost of living, the rise of social media, and the proliferation of bars and clubs elsewhere, including in parts of Brooklyn.
Now, he thinks, "people don't want to venture to the other side of Manhattan on a Sunday night." Ying still goes on Sunday nights, but says there is less of a cohesive scene these days.
"I feel like when you start letting in people that read about it on Yelp or something, the crowd started to be not as good," he said.
As for all that's come along since, nothing has come near replacing Sway, Ying said. "There's no other place or party as far as I know that's like it," he said.
Both Ying and the bartender recall Sundays as a loose, welcoming ritual where they met many of their friends, and became friendly with strangers.
"There would be people that I never had contact info, never knew their name, but we'd always see each other and hug and kiss and be really friendly," Ying said. Even he didn't make it out over the summer, though.
Even though Sway hasn't been the same since Ease left us, sad to see it close. Big part of the NYC scene, held a lot of great memories.
— Nana Castro (@NanaCastro_) December 12, 2015
Sway was also home to a popular reggae night called Rice & Peas that the bartender believes ended in 2011 or 2012.
The bartender said that Sway owner Dominick D'Alleva wanted the closure not to make a lot of noise (D'Alleva didn't respond to a call and an email seeking comment): "He probably wanted to go quietly because he probably sees it as a failure. It's been a pretty slow year over there and I guess it all caught up."
"To be clear, the closure has nothing whatsoever to do with Sway being 'a failure,'" she wrote. "A place that has been open as long as it has, in downtown Manhattan, is in no estimation 'a failure.' I think all the people who have frequented the club over its tenure can attest to that too."
The bartender said the neighborhood's bars and restaurants have been struggling and closing as nightlife has shifted to the Lower East Side and Meatpacking District, and that "there's not much foot traffic anymore."
The staffer said the closure doesn't have to do with impending development of a luxury apartment tower, which is set to replace two industrial buildings around the corner on Vandam Street. D'Alleva owns the Spring Street building and sold air rights for the project in 2013, and developer Jeff Greene filed to build the 24-story Varman Street tower this month, property records show. Ying already misses what Sway was.
"It was part of your life, almost like a therapy," he said. "It was just a small place to go dance mindlessly, or listen to music, and see your friends."
The bartender is hopeful that Morrissey night can be moved somewhere else. He anticipates the 27th, a Sunday, to bring a crowd the likes of which Sway hasn't seen in a while.
"I'm sure it's going to be hard to get in," the bartender said. "I've already had a lot of people getting in touch with me to get in, people I haven't seen in years."