At midnight last Friday, hopeful attendees of the Jane Ballroom waited behind the velvet cord, trembling and patient. The queue meandered down Jane Street as revelers lined up to celebrate the nightclub’s final night open to the public.
The ballroom at the Jane Hotel in the West Village was packed to capacity of 275 people. The crowd was a mix of former employees — party bookers, DJs, bartenders — dating back to the 2009 opening, along with 20-year-olds and college students looking for a drink and a banquet to climb.
Carlos Quirarte and Matt Kliegman, the outgoing ballroom operators, chatted with actor Justin Theroux, her partner at Chrystie Street Saloon, Ray’s Bar.
For years, the ballroom was embraced for its celebrity crowd, plush velvet sofas, draping potted palms, and the feeling of having just entered the empty mansion of an eccentric relative. The venue, which also includes a rooftop bar, will be closed to the public in anticipation of the building’s upcoming sale to hotelier Jeff Klein.
It has been a destination for young celebrities such as Lindsay Lohan, Kirsten Dunst and Mary-Kate Olsen and a venue for fashion shows – Cynthia Rowley in 2009 – and the after parties including Thakoon in 2010 and Rodarte in 2016.
Takeover of the building by Mr. Klein, the hotelier behind the Sunset Tower Hotel in West Hollywood, California. At a time when a spate of private clubs has opened up across Manhattan, Mr. Klein plans to convert the ballroom and other non-guest rooms into a members-only club, SVB New York City. It will be modeled after his San Vicente Bungalows in West Hollywood.
The hotel itself, which has shared bathrooms and cabin-like rooms originally built for seafarers, will remain open to the public. Membership dues in New York are $150 per month for those under the age of 35 and $350 for those over the age of 35. An opening date has not been announced.
“New York is a city that’s changing rapidly,” said Mr. Kliegmann. “You have to be willing to evolve or change, and the winds of change are coming our way.”
Trade pier to the Bohemian enclave
With its stately mansion overlooking the Hudson River, the building offers an up-close look at the neighborhood’s development over the past century.
In 1908, the American Seamen’s Friends Society, a charitable religious organization dedicated to the moral well-being of seafarers, opened the building as an alternative to the neighborhood’s seedy hotels and boarding houses to serve the men of the many ocean liners that docked north the jane street
Most notably, in 1912 the Society provided surviving crew members of the Titanic with food, clothing and a prayer service. It has been a YMCA at various points and in the 1950’s it was the Jane West Hotel. RuPaul Charles, the performer and TV presenter, lived in the tower’s penthouse in the 1980s.
In 1998, the cult rock musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” premiered at the then Hotel Riverview and in 2001 the Jonathan Larson musical “Tick, Tick … Boom!”. was also premiered there.
“This Strange New York House”
The hotel’s turbulent past was attractive to developers. “It looked like the house Wes Anderson used for ‘The Royal Tenenbaums,'” said Sean MacPherson, the hotelier and restaurateur who took over the hotel in 2008 along with owners Eric Goode, Ira Drukier and Richard Born.
“I tried to make it look like it was this weird house in New York,” Mr. McPherson said. He transformed the space from the Hotel Riverview, a flophouse with bulletproof glass in the lobby and exterior walls painted battleship gray, into the Jane Hotel. He designed the interiors himself, including the ballroom.
Once the hotel was up and running, he hired nightlife producers Mr. Quirart and Mr. Kliegman, who were throwing parties downtown at the time. The couple had also just opened a restaurant, Smile, on Bond Street.
With the ballroom, Mr. MacPherson wanted to strike a charmingly unconventional note. Mister. Quirart and Mr. Kliegman, hardly the domineering arbiters of nightlife in the vein of Studio 54’s Steve Rubell or downtown queen bee Amy Sacco, were party people rather than party monsters, which suited the ballroom’s laid-back vibe.
Women’s Wear Daily dubbed them the “nightlife nice guys,” though the egalitarian ethos didn’t stop the ballroom door from being touted as one of the toughest in town.
“The big models and bottles scene, we were never good at that. That wasn’t our thing. We didn’t know that crowd,” said Mr. Quirart. “Our friends were artists and creative people. Athletes, nerds, artists. Just everyone.”
This “Breakfast Club” is ideal for nightlife. “It was the living room of downtown New York,” said James Cruickshank, a former director of nightlife at The Ballroom. “It’s not often that you can call a nightclub ‘cosy’.”
After the opening of the ballroom in June 2009, things started immediately. “It started with a bang,” said Mr. Quirart.
“An Olsen here, an Olsen there”
Musician and producer Mark Ronson DJed at the Jane, as did Radiohead’s Thom Yorke – always unannounced. PJ Monte, who DJed off and on at Jane for a decade, recalled Julia Fox, Paloma Elsesser and Richie Shazam in the crowd and “an Olsen here, an Olsen there.”
The bang Mr. Quirarte field hit the street. Neighbors soon banded together to complain about noise and disruption on the block caused by revelers. An enterprising neighbor, Anthony Locane, wrote the Olsen twins a tongue-in-cheek message that appeared in the New York Post.
“Dear Mary-Kate and Ashley,” it said. “I thought I should write to you both on behalf of all the little kids in the neighborhood who haven’t slept since the club opened. They thank you for allowing them to stay up past their bedtime.”
News media attention and neighbors’ efforts resulted in the ballroom being closed for seven months.
(When asked about the news that the ballroom was closing, Mr. Locane said, “There is no love lost. Not at all!” By now he had moved to the Upper East Side.)
The club reopened in spring 2010 and bounced back immediately. Angelo Bianchi, a former doorman at the Beatrice Inn, was called in and turned the door inward to reduce street noise.
“What made Jane so special was that it was so open to younger people, to people doing interesting things,” Mr. Bianchi said. “It was a euphoric atmosphere.”
Author Cat Marnell recalled standing on the steps of the Jane Hotel smoking a Parliament cigarette one evening in May 2011 when Courtney Love, her idol, emerged from a black city car in a champagne-colored dress.
Woman. Marell and Ms. Love were both at the hotel to celebrate the launch of the website XOJane.com, where Ms. Marnell was the beauty editor.
“It was the most amazing night,” she said while watching musician Michael Stipe; Jane Pratt, editor and radio host; and wife love talks in front of the fireplace in the hotel’s spacious ballroom. Woman. Love, she said, threw cigarettes into the flames.
“I’ll miss it, but it took its course,” said Ms. Marell. She included the scene with Ms. Love in her 2017 memoir How to Murder Your Life and plans to recreate a scene from her 30th birthday.
The homely and generally permissive atmosphere that Mr. Quirart and Mr. Kliegman’s hope for creation came at a price.
“We fixed furniture every weekend,” said Mr. Quirarte, referring to guests tearing upholstery with heels and breaking chair legs.
Once a guest managed to walk away with a life-size stuffed peacock hidden under a pile of cloaks. A disco ball hanging in the center of the ballroom was whispered to be from Studio 54.
“We didn’t stop that rumor,” Mr. Quirart said. The truth is that the ball was from Mr. MacPherson’s Los Angeles home at the time, he said.
Mister. Quirarte remembers Snoop Dogg and Woody Harrelson as memorable patrons. Former government. Eliot Spitzer, who left office in 2008 after it was revealed he was linked to a prostitution ring, has been in the ballroom a number of times over the years.
“I thought, ‘He should be home, what is he doing here?'” Mr Quirart said. “I guess he didn’t care.”
Guests fondly recalled the freedom of a pre-Instagram world in the ballroom’s early years.
“Dating out was really about going out,” said Yale Breslin, a creative producer who was a ballroom regular in the early years. “You weren’t concerned about the picture, the caption, the filter, who would see it, when you would post it.”
One last hop on the couch
Recently, the Ballroom has shed its theatrical past with nights of live performances and book readings. Performer Annie Hamilton had a residency earlier this year that consisted of two shows in which she retold candid anecdotes and intimate misadventures. She recently returned to Jane for the New York Comedy Festival. “I liked performing there because you could just lie on the floor, like in a living room, and talk to people,” she said.
She joined the Jane in her late teens while attending college and has mixed feelings about the new chapter. “I’m sad it’s going, but I love the San Vicente Bungalows,” she said.
Outside on Friday, there was a similar mix of emotions. “It’s the end of an era,” said Niambi Moore, a stylist. “I’m a little sad, but I’m ready to show up one last time, hop on the couches one last time,” she added.
Dean Holmes, an economist at Columbia University, said: “It was a fun place. One of the places with good music.” And the ballroom will be a private club? “I’m not against it,” he said. “I like places like that.”
Mister. MacPherson said he and the other owners did not put the property on the market. “The hotel wasn’t for sale, but Jeff approached us and we made a deal,” he said. The sale is expected to close within the next month.
Mister. Kliegmann and Mr. Quirarte, who recently opened Pebble Bar near Rockefeller Center, is now working on a renovation of NoHo’s Smile restaurant, in addition to running the Georgia Room and Bar Calico at the Freehand Hotel. Mister. MacPherson’s latest project is a refurbishment of the Chelsea Hotel.
Back in the ballroom around 1 a.m.: “Unholy” by Sam Smith and Kim Petras boomed through the speakers as the guests continued the legacy of table dancing in this room one last time.
Streaks of light bounced off the disco ball and reflected off the room’s crown molding. Beneath the broken cornice, the story ranged widely – from Titanic survivors gathering in prayer to partygoers dancing in praise of a place they would miss.
“It’s a building with a history that you can’t fake,” said Mr. Kliegmann.