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Forgotten Gay History – December 14, 1974: NYC’s FIRST Gay Disco “Flamingo” Opens It’s Doors

Flamingo

 

Before 12 West (1975),  Crisco Disco (opening date unknown), Paradise Garage (1977), or Studio 54 (1977) was NYC’s first exclusively gay disco: Flamingo. (Although the Sanctuary (1969-72) laid claim as the first gay disco it attracted a good number of heteros as well and was not “exclusively gay”)  

Flamingo was promoted as the first discotheque for an exclusively gay male clientele and opened on December 14, 1974.  It was located on the 2nd floor of a building at the corner of Houston St. and Broadway in New York City.  Since there was a constant fear police raids  the club had an unlisted telephone number, but members and those in the loops knew they would find it under Gallery for the Promotion of People, Places, and Events housed at 599 Broadway.

Started  by Michael Fesco, a former Broadway dancer and a gypsy in the chorus of Irma La Douce,  members paid  up to six hundred dollars a year “membership” (In 1975 that was a lot of money even by gay sy=tandards) .  The Flamingo was in an upstairs loft space, and there were two stunning women who operated the door,both with gardenias behind their ears.  After passing them at the entrance they were the last women who you would see as in the beginning it was an “all male” club.

The club was famous for the intensity and  its t inventive parties. “They were the birthplace of Black parties and White parties,” says a writer Stuart Lee. adding that there were also set pieces such as a Crucifixion with the models dressed as Roman legionaries, and a Jesus Christ who would, from time to time, turn his eyes heavenward and ascend a cross.

From  DiscoMusic.com:

kryptonbear:

I first went to Flamingo as a guest of my roommate in the fall of 1975.

You entered through the door on the corner of Broadway & West Houston, then up a flight of stairs. Upon entering the club on the 2nd floor, coat check was on the left, with a row of banquettes running along the south wall parallel to coat check. There was an open space leading west from the coat check to a wall with two doorways on either end, which were the entrances to the dance floor. The dance floor itself was a large, white rectangular room with the DJ booth at the top of the wall on the center right as you entered the room. Across the top width of the wall you had just passed through to enter the dance floor was a huge electric board that looked like a piano keyboard and lit up with various colors that shone on the dance floor. Beyond the dance floor at the far end was a lounge area, which was a black room that got very naughty late in the evening .

I finally got my own membership by speaking with Sam, the manager of the club, who told me to just stop by during the week and speak to Jane, a lady who worked during the daytime in the office of the club, which was located behind coat check, overlooking Broadway.  It was that easy for me, which I was surprised at since having a membership there was a big deal at the time.

One of my most vivid memories of Flamingo was a party in April of 1976 called the Tropicana Party. The club was decorated in a tropical motif for the night, and most of the guys that night were dressed in Hawaiian shirts and Levi 501’s. At the height of the evening, the music stopped and the place went dark. With the lights off, a song by Celia Cruz came on, and when the lights came up, the banquettes in the front room were lined with couples dressed as if they were at the old Tropicana Club in 1950’s Havana, Cuba, all dancing to the mambo beat of the music. It was one of the greatest parties ever at THE greatest club ever.

The Flamingo closed in the winter 1980/1981 shortly after the Saint opened its doors and club kids ruined the dance scene.

Have any memories of the Flamingo?  If so post them in the Comment section and lets have these memories dance on forever.

Ooha ooha let’s all chant!

 

 

Flamingo Membership cars

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Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, journalist and owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, and Raw Story,

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18 thoughts on “Forgotten Gay History – December 14, 1974: NYC’s FIRST Gay Disco “Flamingo” Opens It’s Doors”

  1. Saw Donna Summer singing her guts out in the deejay booth, but so zoned on whatever, it didn’t occur to me until Monday morning how live and up close it happened to be. I didn’t have close to the 600 buck membership fee, I was twenty and barely affording rent but “I met a big financier…and I’m still here”, just a lot sadder and hopefully a little wiser….

  2. Flamingo was the greatest club of all time. There was an energy to it, an intent to celebrate life, music and men. I am so happy to have lived through it, and to have lived through it.

    1. I just missed the Flamingo. I was more a Crisco Disco, Anvil, Alex in Wonderland era guy. If you’d like to add any memories of the place please feel free to comment. So much of our history from that time is undocumented.

  3. I use to sit at the front door of the Gallery, the black disco downstairs from Flamingo, on Houston and Mercer, and would come up the block to Flamingo when the door staff for both clubs changed after closing the doors to see the other side of the world: Flamingo and the Gallery were playing drug music only on Sat. PM. Flamingo was white; the Gallery was black. I wrote about my experiences in these clubs and more: The Gaiety, Paradise Garage, Studio 54, Hurrah, 12 West, Crisco Disco, the Anvil, the Saint, the World, Sound Factory,…’Homo GoGo Man: a fairytale about a boy who grew up in discoland.’ (DonnaInk, Amazon, BarnesandNoble)

  4. I was there…My very good friend Richie Rivera was a disc jockey there, also Larry Sanders…I have lots of magical stories of love hat place and time…Flamingo 12 West Infinity were like going to church

  5. Above all Flamingo was where you heard the esoteric and the exotic. The music there was superb, and always full of surprises. I was there from beginning to end, and my favorite DJ was Wayne Scott. No-one could play funk and sleaze like Wayne. “I’ll kill a brick” – Hot Sauce, “Treat me like woman- Jackie Carter. Remember? The music was always best after 5AM when Donna Summers and Michael Jackson were dispensed with hours ago.. A morning at the Flamingo was pure magic, and the slamming and smacking of the tambourines were pure musical ecstacy. Does such even exist any more? But then again, I’m way past 60 now, and things may have changed. Fell free to contact me if you you wish. Bbengt523@gmail.com. The memories linger.

  6. I have a membership card from Flamingo which I be willing to let go to a collector. Please get in touch with me if you are interested. A very rare membership ! Find out why it’s extremely rare ?
    Pierre.

  7. It is my impression, though I have no proof or distinct memory, that 12 West opened before Flamingo.

    Anyone remember the name of the disco located at the end of Christopher Street – SE corner, at the place which later became an AIDS residence?

    1. It was the “ COCK RING”… most of the DJ’s from the A Days performed there – with TOM KOSZALKA – doing the lights. I had a blast there.
      Pierre Labelle.

      1. Also affectionately known as the “C-ring Lounge”. The music was always good there, and one of their house DJs was Wayne Scott of Flamingo fame. And with Wayne, how could you go wrong?

  8. I remember arriving with a Group of Drag Entertainers from the Finnochio Dinner Club from SF,CA in 1979 I was a Dolly Parton Drag Impersonator with Richard Jones that Did Dianna Ross in SF,.. Our First time in NYC… I think this Neighborhood was known as the MEAT PACKERS place or something… We were shocked at seeing the Big Crisco Can .. We were welcomed by many HOT New York Leather Men and Naked Dancers.. I remember the DJ Calling us out .. It was a Wild Experience into the New York World of Dance… A True Experience

  9. While the insanity of the predominately black crowd&disco music of my Saturday night club of choice,the Gallery,would literally rock its Houston& Mercer address midnight-noon,the predominately white gay crowd&clone disco music of another club,Flamingo,would rock the building that was back to back to the Gallery’s on Houston&Broadway every Saturday night at the same hours.After the Gallery’s entry door had closed around 6:00am,the cash box accounted for,Winston&Joel,the doormen of Gallery,would take me around the block and comped through the front door of the Flamingo as the doormen of that club would reverse our tracks to visit the Gallery.It was like a parallel universe to be adjacent to the same drugged induced disco insanity of Flamingo,only of a different persuasion.This men’s private membership club was only open Saturdays from September-May,closing once the constituents left the city for the Pines,FireIsland.The music in Flamingo was less bass,more treble,a faster speed,and accompanied by live tambourines jangling throughout the club.The music was categorized as hi-energy.Harlo’s“Take Off,Satisfaction Guaranteed” was a favorite:
    Take off!
    New York!Feel like dancing,ain’t got no time to lose
    L.A.!:Don’t need bags,only bring your dancing shoes
    Paris!:Ooh,la,la,they don’t need the reasons why
    London!:There’s music all around
    Enough to get high
    Hey,what’s the time of day?
    Seems like I’ve been away
    Free to be the way I feel…today
    Satisfaction guaranteed
    A destination is all I need
    Get a little bit of loving and make it last
    Gotta grab it fast
    Forget the past
    The tempo was too fast for my taste.I found the slower R&B disco at the Gallery easier to move to,like making love with a Barry White album in the background.Patrick Cowley was the mastermind of electro disco,and wrote “Menergy” with the dancers at Flamingo in mind:
    The boys in the barroom living it up,
    Shooting off menergy.
    The guys on the sidewalk working it out,
    Talkin’ ‘bout Menergy.
    Flamingo Fan dancers mesmerized me with their ability to spin and keep aloft giant squares of nylon spun in the air like kites dependent on the rhythm of their two hands.Every man was shirtless,in shape,in jeans,drenched in sweat,and apparently very high judging from the way their heads would tilt back with flickering eyelids looking up to Flamingo’s heaven,a ceiling of sophisticated lights.I can’t say that these clone men were not more into their drug high then into the music or the dance,and judging from their lack of natural rhythm and limited dance moves I would guess they would never understand or enjoy the dance scene of their more tempofriendly neighbors in the Gallery.Most patrons of either club probably never knew or cared that the parallel disco universe existed;Flamingo &theGallery operating simultaneously.Everyone sought and got the pleasure they wanted in the smorgasbord of NYC nightlife.There was always some venue for every walk of life.I wrote about my overextended obsession with dancing both recreationally&professionally from 1976–2004 in the best clubs in NYC,until I crashed&burned from the excesses of the lifestyle. Homo GoGo Man: a fairytale about a boy who grew up in discoland.

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