Meet the man bringing drama and joy to Brooklyn’s nightlife spaces

Push open the inconspicuous black door on the right under the elevated subway tracks at the Myrtle Avenue/Broadway stop in Brooklyn and you’ll enter a smoky room filled with hazy lights and neon orbs.

Beyond the bright bar, an arched doorway leads to a checkered dance floor. A regal DJ booth hovers directly above huge speakers and a steep double staircase, the centerpiece of a mirrored balcony that refracts every swirling light.

“I refer to a lot of churches and spiritual architecture,” said Safwat Riad, who designed the venue, known as Paragon. “The club is a bit of a modern-day church.”

Through his design work for more than a dozen local venues, Mr. Riad, 35, has set a precedent for playful, geometric nightlife spaces that offer a more welcoming vibe than the average dive bar or warehouse parties.

He sketches his ideas, bends metal and laser cuts wood in a studio in Long Island City, Queens.

It’s where he spent the last year designing Paragon, a bar, restaurant and dance club that opened in Bed-Stuy in April, and draws crowds with DJ sets and performances live since.

Working with Michael Potvin and Azumi Oe, who designed the lighting, Mr. Riad was commissioned to redesign the space, which has gone through various incarnations as bars and dance clubs.

Usually when he embarks on a new project, he starts with a sketch, which he uses to create a digital illustration. He puts this in an app that extrudes 3D renders from 2D images. Finally, he transfers the rendering to an application that allows him to visualize the colors, materials and textures.

John Barclay, who previously co-owned the popular and now defunct techno spot Bossa Nova Civic Club and now owns Paragon, said he fell in love with the space many years ago, and when he first finally had the chance to reinvent it, he knew he wanted to work with Mr. Riad.

“It can be dramatic with the design, which I personally love,” Mr. Barclay said.

“A lot of the nightlife in New York right now is based on what’s been happening in Berlin over the past 20 years,” he added. “Austere, black and gray boxes that seem – for lack of a better term – very masculine and just a bit dark.”

And it’s true: many of New York’s biggest dance halls are in former warehouses or factories that look more like airplane hangars than Studio 54.

But Mr. Riad brought warm colors, graphic shapes and clean lines to a who’s who of trendy Brooklyn spaces, designing DJ booths, bars and doors for dozens of clubs and bars over the course of the year. last decade.

“When I got into this, there was nothing but Output,” he said, referring to the famed Williamsburg techno club that opened in early 2013. “J “felt like the nightlife community wasn’t getting the love it deserved. It wasn’t design rich; it was just very DIY”

His work, which plays with dramatic silhouettes, artistic cutouts and the occasional cheeky shape – he said a doorway from Bushwick’s Heaven or Las Vegas was inspired by an ex-girlfriend’s butt – has an unmistakable aesthetic.

“Everything doesn’t have to be a square,” he said with a laugh. “It’s fun, it’s well designed, and it’s not too serious because some designs end up being too pretentious.”

Mr. Riad, who grew up in Alexandria, Egypt, moved to Secaucus, NJ, when he was 15 years old. He came to the United States with his father, who was sent to the tri-state area as a correspondent for Al-Ahram, an Egyptian. newspaper.

As a teenager, Mr. Riad began moving around the city, where he fell in love with local graffiti artists. In 2010, he found his rhythm in the local art scene, but after having a run-in with the authorities, he decided to focus on wood and metal work. An artist he helped quickly taught him how to write a contract and allowed him to use his studio.

As he turned to design work, he also began researching the history of techno in Detroit, drawing inspiration from how local musicians found beauty in broken machines and decrepit buildings in the late 1970s.

He began visiting DIY and queer techno clubs and imagining how to fuse the musically inspired movement and color of artists like Wassily Kandinsky with the brutalist ideals of architects like Louis I. Kahn.

“Kandinsky always had a vision to paint music,” Mr. Riad said. “And that’s what I wanted to achieve with the Somewhere else DJ booth,” he said, referring to the popular Bushwick concert hall and nightclub.

“When you stand in the middle of the dance floor and watch it with all the lights coming in and out, it’s literally a painting,” he said.

One of the first nightlife jobs he got was at Mr. Barclay’s Bossa Nova Civic Club, where he was commissioned to design the facade of a DJ booth.

He soon worked on projects for Output, Elsewhere, Heaven or Las Vegas, Short stories in the East Village, Greenpoint’s Magic TownEast Williamsburg Rose goldfrom Bushwick mood ring and the annual techno festival Sustain-Release.

He said that his visits to Spectrum in East Williamsburg in the early 2010s were particularly formative.

“I walked in and it was so like a slap in the face; the music, the queer people, the drag,” he said, describing the mirror-lined DIY space. “Queer culture deserves so much more.”

His love for the freedom and joy of nightlife has led him to work primarily with spaces that welcome members of marginalized communities.

“Mood Ring, for example: they’re clearly queer, they’re clearly POC,” he said. “They just want to create an environment that people feel comfortable in. How can I say no to that?”

Some of his design inspirations are obvious, like the halo and devil tails that adorn the DJ booth in Heaven or Las Vegas, while others are harder to place, like the “Beauty and the Beast” roses. nestled on either side of Paragon’s back. bar.

“I’ve done this for all my romantic spirals, because I’ve been through so many breakups,” he said of the roses. “And then you go into the big arch, which was inspired by Mario Botta.”

But whether he’s talking about the Church of San Giovanni Battista or the Motor City, Mr. Riad always tries to think about how people will flow through a space.

At Paragon, for example, it’s impossible to forget the DJ or the dancers as soon as you walk through the door.

“When you’re waiting for a drink, you can see people on the dance floor,” he said. “So it becomes a machine, almost, of circulating motion.”

As he continues to work on nightlife venues, he strives to design more spaces that allow people to experience the liberation he felt on the dance floor, unlike what he described as a more restrictive upbringing.

“It was forbidden to grow up,” he said. “But I’m in love with it because it’s so cool and free.”

About Bernice D. Brewer

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