Before 12 West (1975), Crisco Disco (opening date unknown), Paradise Garage (1977), or Studio 54 (1977). The Flamingo (1974) was NYC’s first exclusively gay disco. The Sanctuary (1969-72) tried to make this claim but it attracted a good number of heterosexuals couples and single women 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 standards) . 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 it’s 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.
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 would close its door’s in the winter 1980/1981 shortly after the Saint opened and the 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!