Coronavirus

This alternative N.J. nightclub is transforming to stay afloat after COVID canceled dancing

No one was dancing at QXT’s nightclub in Newark on a Saturday night last month as disc jockeys spun ’80s hits by Depeche Mode and Billy Idol.

Clubgoers who normally would’ve gone to the nearly 30-year-old gothic nightclub on Mulberry Street were instead dancing at home as they tuned in on Twitch, a live streaming website usually known for its video gaming broadcasts.

It’s not exactly what Rolando Manna ever envisioned for the club in the six years he’s owned QXT’s. But then the coronavirus pandemic happened.

“That’s been a kind of way to stay in touch with the QXT’s family with these live streams,” Manna said. “There’s a chatroom and you can chat with each other so a lot of the patrons take time to connect.”

QXT’s live-streamed disc jockeys spinning 80s tunes on March 12 on Twitch.Twitch

The nightclub has adapted since local orders have kept non-essential businesses in Newark closed after 11 p.m., effectively putting the kibosh on nightlife. The owners have been streaming DJs, who have sometimes spun at home, since last spring.

There’s no fee to stream the music on Twitch, but the club asks for donations. And it’s not like QXT’s has been getting any revenue from selling drinks. It’s technically a BYOB dance party since everyone is in their living room.

So QXT’s may have to change — at least in the interim — in order to survive.

It’s been closed since March 2020 and may reopen as a tapas lounge in order to draw people in possibly during earlier hours. But Manna said not to expect dancing to come back any time soon.

“Public safety and health before everything else,” he said, adding that he didn’t expect dancing to come back for at least another year.

Turning QXT’s into a lounge that serves food would be a bit of a homecoming for the space. The building used to be a restaurant called Don Quixote, named after the fictional Spanish knight, before Manna’s in-laws bought it in the early ’90s. QXTs gets its name from Quixote, just without the vowels.

Vampires flash their fangs at Halloween party/birthday bash in Newark

Laser lights spin in the cave-like darkness of gothic club, QXT’s in Newark before the coronavirus pandemic. (Lisa Rose | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)SL

Hope Moran, 51, heard about the spot when it opened since she was involved in New York City’s Club Kid scene in the 1980s. She compared the vibe at QXT’s to music venues like CBGB’s or the Pyramid Club in New York City, which is closing after 41 years due to the coronavirus.

“Boys had on makeup and girls had on flannels,” Moran reminisced about QXT’s. “It didn’t matter who you were or what you dressed like. It was just be yourself…and wave your freak flag.”

The last time Alyssa Berman, 26, went to QXT’s was in the fall of 2019. It was hard to find an alternative club outside of Manhattan and she heard a lot about the place by word of mouth.

“Everybody seemed really attached to the place as if it were a freaky haven where people could express their creativity in a way that seemed more and more distant since the 90s,” Berman said.

The club’s following hasn’t forgotten about the beloved space. An online fundraiser organized for the club’s owners has collected more than $34,000 since May. Manna has promoted selling shirts to support the venue during live streams too.

“They’re there for each other,” Manna said. “They support each other. It’s really magnificent thing.”

The funds are going towards paying taxes on the building he bought with his wife around 2015, Manna said. There’s an area for a kitchen in the club, so he is also working to update the space and getting the proper permits to cook there.

The club is located just two blocks away from Prudential Center in Newark’s downtown, which is also close to Penn Station. And with hockey fans beginning to come back, it could mean more foot traffic in the area.

He’s still learning the ropes about running a completely different business other than a nightclub. Manna said he got some guidance from Invest Newark, a quasi-governmental nonprofit that works on economic development, and applied for loans and grants.

Still, finances have gotten tight and the fate of the club isn’t always certain, Manna said. For now, he’s hoping to get some business into the lounge by the summer.

But even as a lounge, Manna said you could still expect to hear new wave and industrial tunes.

“How many years can you play the same music?” Manna said. “I think we still have an audience and a following so I don’t see us changing the music you heard when you came into QXT’s.”

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Rebecca Panico may be reached at rpanico@njadvancemedia.com.

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