Soaking it all in
The Swan Dive’s splashy visuals
I’m dating myself here, but I’ve been around Rochester long enough to have spent my twenty-first birthday at Lloyd’s—which became Fenlon’s, Lloyd’s again, the Jungle, Two89, Benedetto’s, and Havana Cabana. Chances are great that if you live here and have an Instagram account, you’ve managed to catch a glimpse of 289 Alexander Street’s latest transformation: the Swan Dive. Co-owned by brother and sister Jon and Paulina Swan and their friend Nick Ryan, the latest iteration is a far cry from its previous lives or any of the local joints that have recently opened.
The Miami Art Deco theme was Paulina’s idea. Mid-century modern and yet eschewing the oft-used minimalist white backdrop and tiny succulents, the first floor is drenched in a cooling mint green with scattered flamingo accents. The second floor’s hue lands somewhere between watermelon and fruit punch, complete with a ladies’ room lit so hot pink it could give the Police’s Roxanne a run for her money. “In midcentury America, bold colors were all the rage, as were simplistic angular designs in automobiles and furniture alike,” says Jon. “We took those cues and used them to design our space. I personally designed both bars and a couple of tables with the help of Nick Carlton of Weld Works. I even designed our stools and logo to be indicative of the era.”
“Designing these kinds of things is something I am very passionate about. I like to think that people recognize elements that are a little custom, a little different, thoughtful, and tasteful. I love to use old pieces—or parts from old pieces—to augment the character and function of a space from a design standpoint. For instance, the front bar’s top is made of steel and actually came from Pastabilities in Syracuse. I loved the angular nature of it, and that inspired the bar facing, which features a lot of detail. The bases of the stools specifically showcase a tapered trapezoidal fin shape reminiscent of an old Cadillac and were made to mount to the floor to ensure that they would also present clean lines to the eye.”
Speaking of the bar, Ryan created the beverage program. His previous experience includes the Swan-owned establishment across the street, Ox and Stone, as well as other high-volume restaurants during his time spent living in Boston. His background in advertising lends itself to the menu—featuring catchy, humorous names and draught cocktail offerings by the pitcher. Formerly of Roux (another restaurant in the family), Paulina oversees the kitchen, which offers casual, fast Italian food that doesn’t compromise on quality. (I can personally recommend the Fun Guy pizza if you are a fan of mushrooms.) “We really wanted to provide well-made fresh food with a heavy Italian influence from pizza to bar snacks,” says Jon. “There isn’t anything that says that the food and drink options can’t be great in a setting that includes a foosball table and a Nintendo or two. My experience on Alexander Street confirms my belief that if you provide great products, you can revive a venue. People remember ‘restaurant row’ in Rochester; we’re banking on the idea that people miss it.”
In addition to the hard work put in by the Swans, Ryan, and their team, another person played a significant role in achieving the aesthetics they wanted—Jon’s brother-in-law, Hunter Potter. “I visited a show that Hunter put on at a gallery in Manhattan last year,” says Jon. “I bought four paintings because I loved the simplicity of the subject, composition of the color, and how clean the lines were. I wouldn’t say our design was planned around the art, but I also couldn’t say that the design would be what it is without it. We commissioned Hunter to provide us with some geometric murals with colors in mind. Having known his work, we entrusted him with the rest, and we’re glad we did. Hunter is pretty gifted with being able to first digest what we wanted as a customer and then produce a product that went beyond our expectations.”
Potter is the younger brother of Jon’s wife, Sarah. They have another brother named Dylan and grew up in Marcellus, about twenty-five minutes southwest of Syracuse heading toward Skaneateles. Hunter studied at University of Vermont and now resides in New York City. “I loved the upstate (New York) lifestyle and still do,” he says. “I guess I found myself wanting more. Vermont was a baby step and, to be honest, probably a move in the wrong direction. If you’re a small-town kid who already loves partying a little too much in high school, don’t head to Burlington for college! It did give me the fuel for the artistic fire that was beginning to burn inside me. There were a handful of painting and drawing professors that managed to open my eyes to the fact that—for lack of a better term—art was not dead. I had always loved art, but I think the shelter of upstate New York had led me to subconsciously believe it was a thing of the past.”
Thankfully, Potter continued with his artistic pursuits. After returning briefly to Syracuse, he eventually made his way to Brooklyn. In addition to his own work, he painted billboards and signs with Colossal Media. His mural work at the Swan Dive reminds him of that time. “Painting the logo down the stairwell was a blast—it felt good to get the dust off those brushes,” he adds. “The retro, light-hearted color palette is the perfect backdrop for the body of my work they acquired, most of which show strange and outdated household scenes in vibrant and unexpected colors. Each piece shows the presence of a human without depicting an actual human: a call being taken in the other room, an opened medicine cabinet, a freshly lit cigarette, and an overflowing sink. The paintings are fun, thought provoking, and graphic in nature—just like the Swan Dive!”
Potter managed to wrap up the interior by the end of February, in time for the Swan Dive’s soft opening, but also so he could participate in an artist residency at the Sam & Adele Golden Foundation for the Arts in New Berlin, New York. “I have been using Golden acrylics for as long as I have been painting, and to be offered the opportunity to enter their world was amazing,” he continues, “The only description that can do it any justice is the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—except imagine Charlie as me and imagine the candy as paint.” He went there with a goal of understanding the color green and elaborates, “It was a color that always brought me to a dead end as soon as it went on my canvas—very intimidating to work with due to all its real-world associations that were pretty set in stone. So, while there with access to all the paint in the world, I forced myself to use green in every canvas I worked on. After a month straight of green manipulations, I’ve grown to love it!”
Perusing more of Potter’s work, one will immediately notice the influence of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, among others. He comments, “Warhol and Basquiat are the gods—I’m absolutely obsessed with their work, their stories, and the downtown New York City culture they represent. Off the top of my head, I love the chaos of Eddie Martinez, the weight of Barbara Kruger, and the composition of David Hockney. Hockney’s recent show at the Met [Metropolitan Museum of Art] had me coming back several weekends in a row to see his earlier stuff.”
For a person coming from a small town, Potter loves the energy and opportunities that come with living in the city. He attributes his hard work ethic, sense of gratitude, and manners to his small-town upbringing. However, living in New York City—a place where he feels art is taken seriously and valued as a contribution to the community—has given him the confidence to succeed. “Art is everywhere and art is appreciated—I cannot describe how important this is for the entire scene. Much of my motivation comes from the city itself and the desire to give back to it—I want to show the next wave of city transplants that art is still happening and it’s happening right here,” he says.
As for what’s next, he’ll have more certainty about upcoming shows after some scheduled studio visits with galleries. Asked whether organizing something in the vicinity is a possibility—local gallery owners take note—he is definitely open to that.
Aside from painting, Potter is a huge John Steinbeck fanatic. “The Grapes of Wrath had a larger impact on my paintings than just about any single source ever has.” Storytelling is a skill he values and a source of inspiration for his work. He continues, “Good writing will always be a trigger for me, whether it is the lyrics of a song, the script of a movie, or the chapters of a book.”
More of Hunter Potter’s work can be found on Instagram at @hunterbypotter, online at hunterpotter.com, or by contacting him directly: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow The Swan Dive at @swandiveroc. Better yet, visit in person and enjoy the ambience with some pizza at 289 Alexander Street in Rochester’s East End.
While Stacey Rowe is no John Steinbeck (yet), she is a freelance writer and artist currently located in Rochester. Follow her at
@thestaceyrowe on Instagram and Twitter or find her work online at staceyrowe.com.