Nick's Picks: Swan Dive
Swan Dive, a new bar and restaurant that sits in the two-story 289 Alexander Street building where Havana Cabana previously operated, is Rochester's next must-visit nightlife destination.
Owners Jonathan Swan, Paulina Swan, and Nick Ryan, who have combined experiences at Roux, Cibon, Ox and Stone, Dorado, and the Daily Refresher, aim to bring the comfort of a dive bar and the flavors of a high-end restaurant together with their newest venture.
“We want to completely wipe the slate clean of what people think of a normal restaurant.” says Jonathan Swan.
Upon entering Swan Dive, which is a much bigger space than the exterior of the building would suggest, guests are first greeted by a striking color palette. Seafoam green dominates the first floor, with small splashes of neon pink throughout.
“We really did want to stand out in terms of vibe and certainly the décor, so that’s why we went with the bold, monochromatic color scheme,” says Swan. “We kind of got entranced in midcentury modern design theme and concepts.”
The first floor of Swan Dive extends back with a natural progression between settings. There is a wooden bar on the building’s left side, followed about fifteen feet after by a bustling open kitchen on the right, and then about ten feet past that, a horseshoe-shaped bar in the back of the building.
This unique design allows guests to move freely and socially, while also getting a look at the works of the bars and kitchen.
“We wanted the customer to feel immersed in the industry of a restaurant and just be a part of the actual process,” says Swan. “Visually, if people felt like they were walking through the kitchen to the bar, that makes them feel in with us. We want to encourage people to be social, to ask questions, and let their guard down."
A spacious, open second floor outfitted with two long communal tables, a couch, foosball table, and darts, will serve as a hangout spot and change of scenery if people want to migrate from the first floor bars. Sparsely decorated and painted with myriad shades of pink, this area will quickly become one of Rochester’s most Instagrammed locations.
Classic Italian-American fare like pasta with vodka sauce and chicken parmesan share space with finger foods such as mozzarella sticks and chicken nuggets on Swan Dive’s eclectic menu. While the purpose for this marriage of unlikely cuisine is to provide familiarity and comfort to diners, this does not come at the expense of quality.
“Those aren’t regular mozzarella sticks and regular chicken nuggets,” says Swan. “We are physically making fresh mozzarella and breading it in-house, then we’re chopping whole chicken breasts and breading them ourselves to order—it’s elevated bar food.”
Comfort food with an upscale twist extends to Swan Dive’s pizzas. Some pies, like the Jimmy Jimmy, made with garlic cream, broccolini, aged gouda, and chiles, are more complex, while others, like the O.G, made with pomodoro sauce, mozzarella, and basil, are simple. Even Swan Dive’s most basic pies have an interesting flavor and form that sets them apart from the typical Neapolitan-style pizza that you might find at any number of restaurants in Rochester.
“We wanted to fit this niche where it’s a cross between a Pontillo’s pizza and a Rocco pizza, so it has that crushable crust but with an upscale topping,” says Swan.
Where Swan expects to make most of his money, at least in Swan Dive’s infancy, is at the bar. Mirroring the food menu, both bars offer diverse creations ranging from beers in cans and shots, to wine and unique cocktails like the Show Up—made with rum, Singani 63, passion fruit, Campari, and spicy bitters.
With a few successful soft openings under its belt, Swan Dive will make its public grand opening tomorrow at 6 p.m.
In the coming months, Swan plans to implement a pizza delivery service and add some entertainment options to the second floor. Thinking long term, Swan aims to make his newest venture a strong part of the East End neighborhood.
“I just hope that we become a facet of the Alexander Street revival,” says Swan. “That’s the goal, to improve this area through bar and restaurant openings.”
Follow Nick’s Picks on Twitter at @NickAbreu585.