Nightlife entrepreneur Paul Sevigny on the last days of the Beatrice Inn and why he wants to open his next club on the Upper East Side
New York has always been as much about change as history. (Look at the Four Seasons.) But Paul Sevigny, the DJ turned nightclub impresario, doesn’t despair about it. He loves the Manhattan he knew when he first came down from Connecticut to skateboard several decades ago just as his kid sister, Chloë, did. But this taste-making man about town also knows that a dynamic world capital has to change—even if that means more health clubs than nightclubs.
“This city has to be about moving forward, that’s all there is to it,” he says.
One could say the same for him. His latest iteration is as much about being the name behind Paul’s Baby Grand, his eponymous Tribeca nightclub, as an advertising guru, husband and father. So while’s he’s been out of the limelight of late, he’s not just treading water.
In 2014 he married the sociable Sophie Aschauer, who lured a chic crowd to their Austrian wedding, including Stella Schnabel, Olympia Le-Tan, Rebecca Guinness and Maggie Rizer. André Saraiva, the street artist and owner of the recently closed Le Baron clubs in Paris and Chinatown, was there as well. He painted one of the bride’s family buildings with graffiti. The attire for the rehearsal dinner? Lederhosen and dirndls, worn with equal parts sincerity and irony, in other words business as usual. The New York Post called it “Fräulein Chic.” Then it was back to Sevigny’s art-filled East Village apartment to remake it in 2015 with a nursery.
“I just came home from work and saw Sophie and my son, Wolfgang, and then watched them all go out to dinner with other moms with babies,” he says on a recent Friday night. “I always thought I’d be one of those eccentric old East Village guys without kids, and I never expected to be a father, so it’s a total and completely delightful surprise for me, and I love it.”
His silver hair is no longer blond. His custom blue suit is from Paul Stuart. “It’s only custom because my arms are so long,” he says as he orders a rib eye and bottle of wine in the lobby of the Roxy Hotel, formerly the Tribeca Grand, where his club will soon be filling up at its separate entrance on Avenue of the Americas. “Otherwise I would buy off the rack.”
Now in his mid-40s, Sevigny has gone through growth spurts and changes in every decade. He grew up with adventurous parents who hung out at the Mudd Club and once took him to a Grateful Dead concert when he was little. Eventually his father, an artist and music lover, ended up working for an insurance company and supporting a stable Connecticut life. “He only took his job because it was in the Chrysler Building, which he loved,” Sevigny says.
High school meant (in addition to building a skateboard half-pipe ramp in the backyard and sticking up for his little sister with his fists when required) the Trinity-Pawling School and coming to New York City as much as possible. He hit CBGB and worked in a SoHo skateboard shop. At the College of Charleston, he majored in art but says he was only there for the championship sailing team. After graduating, he ended up working for the money manager Dana Giacchetto, who got in the news for bilking celebrity clients in 1999. A quick career change was in order, and bolstered by the record collection of his father (who died in 1995) he became a DJ. “Eight months ago I would never have thought of it,” he told the New York Observer in 2000, admitting it helped to have a famous sister because people hoped she’d show up at his events.
In 2006 Sevigny renovated a basement restaurant in the West Village to open a speakeasy-like nightclub, the Beatrice Inn. The New York Times said it defined a moment the way Odeon did in the 1980s, and like Amy Sacco’s Bungalow 8, it became the toughest door in town. Uptowners and downtowners from the art, media and entertainment worlds flocked to get in and often did not. The appeal wasn’t just the living-room-like intimacy that Sevigny orchestrated. It was the chaotic dancing on the best little dance floor in the back of the place—gracefully separated like a rubber room from the bar and lounge in front. The music was vintage, funky and defiantly unconventional—less house, more Modest Mouse. Surrounded by genteel banquettes (often an Olsen twin was on one) the acoustics somehow allowed conversation.
“It was the last place before phones and texting,” he says of the club, which was a
victim of its own success when neighbors shut it down due to the late-night activity it brought to a quiet residential street. Sevigny feels that more than exclusivity the secret ingredient was a sense of discovery. “It was a place where people wanted to talk to each other,” he says.
If the Beatrice had a timeless and classy style, the same can be said about Paul’s Baby Grand, which opened in 2013. Sevigny aimed to dazzle with a feminine decor. His sister designed the women’s uniforms to be more pretty than sexy, almost as if she would have worn them as a Mormon wife on HBO’s Big Love. He designed the men’s uniforms to be what he might wear: cream-colored double-breasted blazers and motley bow ties. He also installed Venetian chandeliers, drapes and tufted sofas. The custom wallpaper and tropical art by Josh Smith all suggest old school grandeur by way of Havana, Miami and Fisher Island.
“I wanted to rip off Dorothy Draper, Kelly Wearstler and Bunny Williams to the point where the wrong people wouldn’t even like it,” he says. “And I wanted to design a place for girls because the guys will come anyway. The club just isn’t for everyone.”
Tell that to the hordes that line up at the door and hope to get inside.
After finishing his dinner, he walks past a crowd of dressy young people, mostly in black and forced into the unpleasant position of looking like supplicants under the gaze of towering doormen in parkas. “People take nightlife so seriously,” he says. Inside, he checks his coat and greets staff (including a handsome, snowy-haired bartender who he says was Madonna’s first New York boyfriend) with the warmth of a merry uncle. He hugs his waitresses and busboys. He looks around the room and basks in the warm ambience that makes his complexion glow and blue eyes sparkle. “I only come in for a couple of days a week,” he says. “So when I do I better be happy to be here and able to greet everyone with a smile.”
The truth is that being a husband, father and partner (in Naked Luxury Advertising) and getting out on one of the two boats he keeps in Darien, CT for fishing or up to the slopes for skiing tend to interest him at least as much as nightlife. He can talk about bone fishing for hours.
“Although my wife prefers the city on weekends, so I have to compromise,” he says.
Occasionally he still deejays. Sometimes he thinks about a new club. In Brooklyn perhaps?
“No, I never talk about Brooklyn,” says Sevigny, who manages to be both hip, flip and formal all at once and finishes sentences with a laugh as bracing as saltwater spray. “If you want to play shuffleboard like they do out there, then maybe you should just move to Austin.”
Instead, he wants to open a small place on the Upper East Side, far more age appropriate and simpatico with his noblesse oblige demeanor and Paul Stuart suits. He would model it on intimate clubs in Europe to be so small that a maître d’ would function as a doorman.
“It will be a very small place with very expensive drinks,” he says.
Goodbye, Swifty’s—hello, Paul’s.
Photos by BFA.com.