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Holding Sway 

New downtown dance club aims high.

click to enlarge AIMING HIGH: People get down at Sway.
  • AIMING HIGH: People get down at Sway.

The logo for the new dance club Sway is a large pink gothic-style "S." Jason Wiest, one of the owners, tells me the name implies both grace and movement. His partner and co-owner, Marcus Pinkney, came up with it.

What Wiest and Pinkney have attempted to create in Sway, which opened in July, is a graduated version of the nightclub experience. They hoped to make Sway resemble an "Atlanta or Dallas club" — and those are most often the comparisons they receive. There's curvy architecture, perplexing art on the walls and platform seating that inspires you to peer down on the dance floor voyeuristically, or lets you sit far enough away so you can huddle in a corner and attempt to have a conversation.

It should be the kind of nice place you bring your well-off cousins when they come into town — a venue that evokes the ruse of a better quality of life. But amidst all of that eagerly put-on class, Sway is not without a winking sense of humor. On a recent Friday night, the bartenders were all wearing skintight football knickers, and if male, were shirtless — in homage to an upcoming Arkansas game, we're sure.

One of the nicest features of the club is its patio/porch area, with high, attractive wooden walls, a built-in bench lining the perimeter, and a glimpse of the surrounding cityscape. It's one of the better porches I've seen anywhere. Comfortable, but with a skyscraper or two in the backdrop. Very nearly cosmopolitan. There was even a little cash-only drink cart sitting out there, with its very own shirtless bartender.

Housed in the space where Pinkney's club The Factory used to be, Sway's target audience seems to be the gay-friendly (as opposed to simply "gay"), dance-happy, young-professional set. But already the club has branched out.

I visited on the first Wednesday Sway was open and the first night it featured a live performance. The clientele was reserved, mostly upper 30s and black. It was an acoustic set of tastefully executed covers.

The patrons on the following Friday, however, were different not only from Wednesday, but from any other club I've visited in Arkansas. There were a few middle-aged gays delivering the sidelong glance of inspection. There were several 9-to-5 looking types in more modestly steered biz-casual day-to-night gear. A few jubilantly awkward women dancing with friends. Fewer readily-identifiable college kids, or the type of migratory small-town gay contingent that comes to the city to liberate themselves on the weekends. In keeping with true Southern city gay-club bonhomie, I found myself chatting with an affable working-class lesbian who was attending with some friends.

The music was of the more-accessible house variety — several pop remixes, traditionally synthed-out stuff.

Generally I have no patience for too-crowded clubs. I don't like waiting forever to get a drink. I like having enough space to myself to flail or do whatever aerobic motion I pretend looks like dancing. This was available at Sway, in part because the dance floor itself was disappointingly populated, but it's possible to chalk it up to the newness of the place, the timidity of some of the older minglers or the allure of that sexy back porch. Regardless, the room had a kind of exuberance about it, like everyone was just glad to be there.

When I first spoke to Wiest, he joked that they were "doing this for the health of Little Rock," at the expense of their own health and overbooked schedules; Pinkney and Wiest both have full-time jobs and trade off management duties on the weekends. But there's actually a note of truth to his quip. Where else around these parts can you close out a Friday to the syncopations of Sheila E's "The Glamorous Life," and actually feel like, for that evening, you almost lived one?

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