To much dismay of New Yorkers upon hearing that culturally cherished landmark 218 Sullivan Street was abruptly shut down last week; “heavyhearted” would be an understatement. While they knew their future was limited, Manhattan’s iconic Sullivan Room, located in the heart of Greenwich Village was given only 12 hours to vacate last Wednesday, Nov. 13. The thing is the club didn’t do anything to warrant eviction. Representing a massive defeat, Sullivan Room joins the growing list of shuttered music venues in recent years, robbing Manhattan of its once notorious underground music scene.
Club Planet spoke exclusively with the man who helped preserve the legacy of NY underground, Sergei Skyarenko, Sullivan Room’s owner, and their well-known doorman ‘A.K.’ to bring you the full story.
The Greenwich Village underground institution, which featured acts like Green Velvet, Jeff Mills and Funk D'Void among many, many others, posted the following on their Facebook Page on November 13:
“After months of long, difficult & tedious negotiations with our landlord, our courageous & steadfast battle to renew a multi-year lease has come to an end. To our dismay & bitter disappointment, we have been forced to close our doors immediately & adhere to a legal order to vacate the premises after our final appeal to the courts to keep negotiations alive was denied.
After 12 successful, memorable & pioneering years, there is nothing else to convey at this bitter sweet moment but our Everlasting Love & Gratitude to the Ownership Team, Sullivan Room & Sullivan Hall Management & Staff, DJ's, Artists, Promoters, Partners, Club Patrons & our DIE HARD SULLY FAMILY regulars who have time & time again crossed through our doors and shown their love & support for an underground club experience second to none.
As we literally pack up our mental & physical memories of the last 12 years over the next 12 hours prior to our departure, we will be sending out in the coming days an official, proper & well deserved family "Thank You" to honor the myriad of talented people who helped make this history a success.
In the meantime, please accept our deepest & gracious thanks for all that you have been to the Sullivan Room family, and all that you have provided to the history that is and always will be "The Basement". On behalf of management, staff, please accept our Love & Thanks! Sullivan Room legacy will continue, stay tuned for news!”
Unfortunately, this is indeed the reality we find ourselves in today. “It was a typical situation that you run into with New York real estate where you are forced to make way for new developments being built,” Sergei said, known as ‘Serge’ among Sully family members. They just screwed us by not telling us sooner,” he said. “I feel robbed and extremely disappointed with New York and Mayor Giuliani, followed by the Bloomberg administration for killing the New York nightlife scene. They say this is the ‘city that never sleeps,’ but they are putting it to sleep.”
Sergei said the landlord simply wouldn’t renew their lease. He speculates that the condos going up across the street had something to do with it. As an independent club owner, it’s a sad reality that has been occurring more and more frequently. “It [218 Sullivan] will probably become a Chase Manhattan Bank or a Starbucks, something commercial,” Sergei guesses.
Operating for over a decade, Sullivan Room was born in 2001 at 218 Sullivan Street and where it was originally known as ‘Lion's Den’ until 2008 when it reopened as Sullivan Hall. The club was not just a venue, but more of “an escape for clubbers and DJs alike, they called it ‘a home away from home’,” Sergei told us. It was like a small warehouse. Sully “helped develop so many local DJs because no one else would give them a chance.” Sullivan Room was kind of owned by the community. It was a place to dance, a rabbit hole to get lost in - not a place to go for the sake of being seen.
Sullivan Room was a relic, one of the last of its kind, after NY nightlife saw the closing of Limelight, Palladium, Tunnel, Twilo, and Wetlands to name a few. A.K., Sully’s infamous friendly face at the door, recalls the underground scene that he grew up in i.e. going to clubs every night of the week. “New York was a journey not a destination,” he said. “It’s about dance culture, not one aspect of dance music, and the culture is lost in so many different ways.”
These days, strictly underground clubs are few and far between in Manhattan, and that’s why people are heading to Brooklyn, to Output, to TBA, to Bossa Nova etc. They want good times and good music, not just bottle service. Brooklyn has played an important role in “underground” revival, but in Manhattan, the underground scene we were once known for is gone. Verboten is doing a great job with their deep house and techno party. But many of the “clubs” in Manhattan A.K. says, “are simply event spaces and not clubs. Clubs are a lost art. To me a DJ is a maestro, not the focal point of the room,” he says. This past year has brought Finale, Marquee, Tao Downtown, Sankeys and soon Space to the area, and so far Finale and Marquee have both proved to be another “bottles and models” platform.
Known for having a good policy at the door, gatekeeper A.K. is hugely responsible for that. From the door to the dance floor, there were just so many good vibes. “I try to make it about the people and the party. I always make sure that the customers feel comfortable. Some of these relationships turned into friendships. I’ve ran into people in the middle of Manhattan who were like, ‘Hey, you know you introduced me to my wife!’ ”
A.K. recalls, “We broke many ordinances on many nights, many many nights…that’s what made it so fun. Sergei created something truly magical…it was a ‘global rest stop of dance culture’.”
For all those needing closure, there will be a “wake” on Friday, starting at 7 p.m. by the fountain in Washington Square Park, marching towards 218 Sullivan around 8 p.m. for a proper goodbye, which will include a candlelight ceremony and a speech by Reverend Duke. Sergei also announced that he and A.K. are working on producing a documentary on the club, highlighting the cutting edge music and captivating atmosphere that Sullivan Room had provided for the community.
But, there is so much techno history, so many stories, that there is just too much to catalogue. “Madonna came here two years ago right after she got divorced from Guy Richie. She didn’t even come with an entourage. She really enjoyed it as an escape; Sullivan Room was just that kind of place,” Sergei explains.
Sergei isn’t quite sure about where he is going next. “The Sullivan Room Records legacy will go on. We will still throw events for the label. I’m not sure if I’m going to do Sullivan Room elsewhere, but I might rebrand it with possible.”
“For now, I’m going to focus on DJing, focus on my music. But I really just need some light after 12 years of being in a basement,” Sergei says half-heartedly.
Keep up with the latest from ‘SR SERGE’ and 'GRASS IS GREENER'
May you rest in peace Sullivan Room, rest in peace.