Paul Sevigny Won’t Stop Partying

It’s just past midnight when the front door of Paul’s Casablanca swings open to reveal a man wearing a dark suit and a black t-shirt. He’s tall, smiling, and speaks with an energetic, slightly hoarse voice. In a few strides, he’s crossed the front bar room. Not unlike Rick Blaine in the film from which this club takes its name, he checks in with a few staffers, shakes his GM’s hand with a smile, and sits down at his table. Paul Sevigny owns the place.

It’s hard to quantify the potential historical significance of a nightclub while it’s still active, but if you look back through the great nighttime haunts of New York history, you kind of know it when you see it. The places that make history tend to be the places that everyone wants to get into: Studio 54 in the ‘70s, The Odeon a decade later. In the same way, it’s impossible to tell the story of contemporary New York nightlife without talking about Sevigny’s clubs.

On any given weekend, Paul’s Casablanca (and its companion club, Paul’s Baby Grand, currently temporarily closed per COVID-19) accounts for hundreds of people waiting along sidewalks in sweltering summer heat and heavy winter snowfalls. Inside is the party Sevigny always wanted to create. “I wanted to come to New York and be an artist,” says Sevigny. “Then, I kind of realized that a lot of the people who were somewhat successful were kind of being pushed around by the galleries, and that never really jived with me as far as art’s concerned.” So he dove into the belly of the beast to make a living, joining a friend of his on the commodities exchange working in the World Trade Center. “I thought, ‘I’m going to go down to the trading floor and make my money there, and paint what I want to.’”

Eventually, he got tired of the work. “I left business to try and do something fun,” he says. “Sure, I’m managing an office full of thirty people, but that’s not why I did this and I’m not really interested in the math. I think there’s better businesses to move into if that’s your goal, and maybe you should stay out of nightlife. This isn’t a business play, this is a fun play.”

What started with The Beatrice Inn quickly grew to his concepts in the Tribeca Grand Hotel, now The Roxy, and Casablanca. He collaborated with Armin Amiri on Los Angeles’s Smoke and Mirrors, but ultimately realized his unique style belonged in New York. After the pandemic forced all restaurants, bars, and clubs closed, Casablanca was the first one to open back up as soon as restrictions were lifted. At 305 Spring Street, on the far western reaches among warehouses and storage centers, the club is removed from the bustle of tourists late at night in the city. The people that show up for the line at Casablanca are coming out knowing that there’s not another bar that’s just as good down the corner, but try their luck anyway. In the post-quarantine version of the city’s nightlife, it’s become one of the beacons that survived the pandemic and is out the other side with a renewed sense of what the bar means to people downtown and an expanded list of people turning up for a night out.

Inside, the dance floor is full. Ty Sunderland, Sevigny’s handpicked DJ, is working the crowd. And that crowd! They’re a curated group, as fits a place where throwing a few grand down for a table gets you nowhere. (Having a distinctive look and an interesting personality, perhaps in that order, goes far.) It’s a striking, if intentionally rough-around-the-edges crew, where the “going out shirt” could be a vintage Blondie tee or a chic find at Buffalo Exchange.

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