Lost NYC Gay History: Remembering Crisco Disco

Crisco Disco was located at 408 West 15th. between 9th and 10th Avenue in what was once New York City’s old “Meatpacking district”.

Opened in the late 1970’s. Crisco’s as it was called was an after-hours, milti-floor club in an old converted warehouse complete that was open from 9:00 pm at night well into late morning. The DJ booth was a huge Crisco can and it attracted a diverse group, from leather queens, to Twinks to the Studio 54 crowd.

Crisco’s didn’t have a liquor license (you had to buy tickets which you exchanged for drinks) or if you were in with the club owner you could BYOB.

Hank the owner of Crisco had an incredible cocaine habit, he would invite, celebrities, fellow city gay bar and club employees, and all the attractive men he could into his VIP room where a huge pile of blow the size of a card table would be waiting The club’s VIP room was notorious for the free drugs — so famous in fact that Blondie’s song “Rapture,” with the line “Flash is fast, Flash is cool” refers to a “well known coke and heroin dealer who hung out in the club.

Crisco Disco closed in the early-mid 1980’s and the warehouse that housed it sat unoccupied unoccupied over 30 years until it was bought and turned an upscale restaurant during the Meatpacking districts “revitalization”

Unfortunately few pictures remain and not much has been written and documented about Crisco Disco despite it’s important place in New York City’s gay history.

If you have any memories, stories or photos of Crisco Disco please feel free to post them in the comment section below or email me at Will@Back2Stonewall.com

Will Kohler

Will Kohler is one of America's best known LGBT historians, He is also a a accredited journalist and the 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 on such notable media venues as BBC News, CNN, MSNBC, The Washington Post, The Daily Wall Street Journal, Hollywood Reporter, and Raw Story. Back2Stonewall has been recently added to the Library of Congress' LGBTQ+ Studies Web Archive. Mr. Kohler is available for comment, interviews and lectures on LGBT History. Contact: Will@Back2Stonewall.com

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19 Responses

  1. I find it sad that drugs plays so big a role in both the gay community and the wider “culture” if you can call our citizenry cultured. I admit that I used pot in the early 70s but had had enough after a couple of years. I didn’t come out until the late 80s but was not inclined to party with coke or K or anything else. My first lover was in AA so we drank juice on the rocks at the clubs, not in The City but in New England. Did I miss out on anything? No, I had an amazing coming out and danced my but off for those fabulous years – sober. Would not trade it for a card table full of coke, but I can be nostalgic for the clubs, the music, the gay cruising spots, the activism, the parades, the campgrounds, and working in the HIV/AIDS field. Being gay was so much more exciting before cell phones, Grindr, Manhunt and the internet (or was it because I was so much younger then?)

    • MJJ says:

      Part of it is that so many of the formerly fun places aren’t fun anymore, too. NYC and Los Angeles are big dull nothing places now.

      • John Kaauamo says:

        Was “security” for Criscos..1981-2…Seen it all dude..Bananno! Ask a question about Criscos then

        • Michael Chin says:

          I was there almost every night, I’m pretty sure that’s me in the t shirt and shorts, Leaning against the crisco I can about 15/16 years. Great dance club

  2. Michelle G says:

    I loved that place I was only 15 years old when I went there, Mick Jagger and Bianca hung out there and the most famous of them all was this 80m year woman who always had a young gay guy by her side, I think her name was disco Sally. I remember going into the bathroom and there were a roll of beautiful guys against the wall doing the nasty. Those were the days.. I want to write a play about it because it was so interesting.

  3. AJC says:

    Before I moved to New York, I lived in Florence, Italy. There was Crisco Disco there. With a play area. However it being small town you got a bad rep once word got around you’d been there. Embarrassing moment. On one of my first trips back to Europe I took a co-worker there. Wasn’t long until we realized we’d been fooling around with each other.

  4. AJC says:

    I lived in the MPD so went everywhere around there. So raw yet cool and the best music

  5. LJ says:

    I’m actually looking for anyone who may remember my grandfather. His stage name was Jaye Joyce and he toured with Dorian Corey and a few others in a show called the Pearl Box Revue

  6. John K says:

    By 1981-82 I worked security there and it wasn’t all gay then..In fact clubs would begin to come down about 3am and closed at 4am ..so it was a place to unwind for club workers and managers ..some of the clubs were, Studio 54, Red Parrot, Magique, which was the old Chippendales, Club A across the street on the corner from them, Regimes from Park Ave top notch upscale, The Rooftop, Roxy, The Palladium, No Paradise Garage type crowds allowed, My friend Shamshere Wadude, owner of Nirvana Restraunt on Central Park South..We were the biggest after-hours club in NYC at the time, owned by the Bonnano Family..A huge two story warehouse with 25,000 watts coming from DJ Danny Rodriguez’s Crisco can booth. The bass could be felt with your hand on the cylinder bricks on the outside wall of the club. Inside your drinks would move in the bathroom when you put it down to wash your hands. The same people that put in Coney Islands Astroland put this sound system in. On Fridays we wore tuxedos..the red velvet ropes we’re out on the sidewalks..we hand picked who we wanted..trying to keep undercover cops from coming in with recording devices, etc. . Limos, Ferraris, Bentleys, lined both sides of the streets. Taxis would have a line to the corner of 9th ave towards the 6 to 8am hours. Movie stars would come in like Robin Williams, Grace Jones who they played “Pull up to my Bumper” for her. Mob boss owners would bring their wives even. Hank front man spent big money putting 6 bars upstairs all new would lined walls..VIP longe..there with leather couches and palm trees everywhere where you could do your cocaine in a your little groups in peace without strangers sweating you. A lot of beautiful woman models, Designers, Guys from Couple of Columbians with the real deal blow friends of the family..We were snorting Pablo Escobar’s Shit!!! though we did not allow sales of drugs though there was a known allowed dude who sold it cut it with inositol and sold it in Kodack Paper folded over and tucked in. No free base, we didn’t have crack then, or heroin allowed. Gentlemen would be body frisked Hands up in the air on the wall in the ticket vestibule upon entering, ladies would be asked to have their pocketbooks open flashlight looking for knives, guns etc. I would tell them before they come in put all weapons in your cars etc. We literally needed no security on the floor as we had other clubs security chilling also..All respected the mob. And we knew who we were letting in so we created our own atmosphere..hi class $$$ people..from the Hamptons, Upper East Side, Park Ave, Limo drivers woul put a 20 spot in my hand to run people home and tell the original client that they went for coffee. Sunglasses in the 7-8am crowd were a desired commodity..No cops would touch the cars for tickets ..they were paid off ..this was the meat district..Each night was an adventure..I was 24 and on top of the world ..had all kinds of comp..could make my rounds to the clubs before work..free drink tickets..eat at the expensive Nirvana Restraunt only paying a tip to waiters… Lamb etc. There was no other place of our caliber then. The Limelight did not exist..the Tunnel did not exist then..In those years 1981-1983, we were the biggest classiest and most prestigeous after-hours in NYC. Our boss..Jimmy Peanuts a great guy.. The gay stuff was there but that was more in the late 70s..But this club was a who’s who of New York City. If you got thrown out of here…you went from a prince to a pauper as no other club came close..This My Friends, Was One Bad Ass Huge Club…Exclusive. An era gone by in NYC history that can never be repeated or touched again!!!
    PS…it was after the Happyland Social club fire up in the Bronx where 99 people died that clubs seemed to loose some of their appeal…that’s just my opinion!

    • Richie N says:

      you tell the truth Mr K / I wuz dare

    • Leonard Serritella says:

      John K is spot on i worked at crisco’s as waiter and bartender in 80’s so much fun great experience,Peanuts was a great manager terrific guy.The scene was so edgy and unpredictable I thought i was a movie star in the night life.Hank would make his appearance in a black outfit only very cool with Butch in tow as a protector.Right out of cruising. Rubin ,Tootsie,Phil,Dominck all street smart geniuses of the vampire life.I was so intrigued by this culture because we all had one thing in common we never wanted to go home. The VIP on 3rd floor was interesting Stanley would work that door with finesse.Also the doorman at Palladium,i also cut his hair at my shop years later.What a beautiful man smart.charming a friend. The basement was a treat if you were invited to witness the ghosts and stallls of the past history of late 70’s,Great elevator but the cellar was for only for a director researching dark encounters,where the inventories lived cups ect,Time of my life.Than there was Page6 Terry was the manager worked there too, i leave you with just fun memoirs best experience of my life a true education in a night vampiring.Hope some of the staff is still with us. sincerely Lenny.

    • Paul says:

      Exact description! I loved Criscos and was a regular from ‘81 until it closed. Me and Danny Rodriguez were buddies then and still are. I was also good friends with Ruben, a bar tender that was Huggie Bears brother from Starsky & Hutch. I picked up the most beautiful girls EVER there! I’ve never been to a more diverse club till this day! Great, memories. I still have the flyer for the last Halloween party there.

    • Eddie says:

      I worked Crisco till the end 1983. I was known as Eddiebooth, because I worked in the booth collecting admissions and selling drink tickets. My partner at the time also worked there. His name was Lonny and worked the VIP room.

  7. Richie Nilles says:

    it wasn’t the Bonanno family it was Matty The Horse who the club was beholden to …… I know I made the payments ….gr8 days gr8 nights 15 bucks to get in and 2 tickets

  8. Bob says:

    I wandered into the Crisco Disco, pretty much directly off a flight from Ireland in 1980 (I think). I’m straight BTW, just went into a place that was open, for a beer – I don’t remember the no liquor thing, I was fairly pissed by this time as I had visited variour bars (including one where the Inkspots were playing – probably none of the originals, but still). I seem to recall no problem getting a drink. A few guys “chatted me up”, no hassle. I remember one guy had a little spoon hanging on a neck chain – I was fairly innocent in those days, it meant nothing to me.

  9. Tony K says:

    GOD I miss those days. (and this place and others like it) I was in my 20’s in the late 70’s and once got swept up into that private room based just on my looks lol. (It was the first time I had actually SEEN that much coke in one place lol) And yes as someone mentioned Disco Sally was there a lot. A few years later I worked at Chippendales (there was one here ppl tend to forget bc it was actually another disco called Magique that converted to Chippendales on the dead nights, And one night they staged a mock wedding Sally “married” another one of the young dancers, along with drag queen bridesmaids. Those days were perhaps the most graffiti covered decaying and crime ridden this city had seen, YET they were also the most fun. Twas The Best of Times The Worst of Times 🙂

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