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!
38 thoughts on “Gay History – December 14, 1974: NYC’s FIRST Exclusively Gay Disco “Flamingo” Opens It’s Doors”
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….
Glad you are here man. ((HUG))
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.
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.
I remember Flamingo had the most beautiful flower arrangements and the most beautiful men in New York. I saw one man on the dance floor, I couldn’t take my eyes off. And years later, we became lovers. Such a fabulous club!
I went about 5 times…and overtime was incredible. the music, the ambience and the men.
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)
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
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.
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 ?
I never knew the membership was $600. My BF at one time was the dj Armand Galvez. We worked on an annual membership booklet with Peter Caminett and Andres Lander(one of the creators of Flaming) I wonder if any of those booklets exist. Yes it was a dance club of MEN. Very little drag. Mostly blue jean and plains shirts. Healthy happy hunky Men.
Afaik the booklets still exist. Is this the Flash one or something different? A friend who went there had told me of his copies before
HI Pierre, Are you the same Pierre Labelle, formally a private chef in NYC? Hmmmm I wonder. If so please drop me a line. We had many of the same friends and even had a fling at one time back in the late 70’s early 80’s. Michael LaBue firstname.lastname@example.org
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?
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.
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?
I think it was the Bailey House.
Crisco Disco. In the Meatpacking District
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
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:
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
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.
I have experienced Flamingo and as a member I was there in the weekends.. several parties such Black Night, White Party , Tropicana Party .. DJs Richard Rivera, Wayne Scott, Howard Hewitt .. nights with Diana Ross, Linda Clifford and a few female famous models and actresses.. Loved and missed it a lot…
All everyone talks about is Studio, we would start there then end up at Flamingo. The men were great looking and really would party. The intimacy of the club really offered us flamingettes an exclusive atmosphere. Wish there was a reunion but all my crew is gone. A very special time I will never forget. Dare I say, I believe better then the Saint.
It was light years better than The Saint!!!!
The Saint was more for the masses.
Very Staten Island.
I went to Flamingo once, friend of a friend who lived in NYC. It was in the fall of 1977. We arrived around 2:00am or later, and I guess that night, it was no alcohol, so the sixteen years & older crowd could be admitted. The music was really good, and some of it I never heard anywhere else before or after. The sound system was so loud, their was considerable acoustic distortion, and every one there but the three of us, appeared to have indulged in some kind of hallucinogenic or other recreational drug. I didn’t know about the back room lounge area, mentioned in other comments, so can’t say whether it was there or not, and who was admitted or wandered in, etc. I had an ok time for a gay disco, and it was a fragile time for the “Sexual Revolution” and being a gay man. I think prostitution was an issue, as well as unsafe drug usage, and promiscuous, drug fueled sex and excess. I am not being judgmental, because the coercive hard sell is still the norm in so many areas of American life. I am sad so many talented, intelligent, and loving men later died in the epicenter of the HIV epidemic- San Francisco, NYC, and Washington, DC.
I can remember going into the back lounge. I was very intimidated. Flamingo, in my opinion, had the most beautiful men in New York. (There was no club like it.) In a way, it was not just the most beautiful club, it was also the most intimate, and made me feel special.
I had Lunch with Evelyn Bourricaud this past week at Art Basel / Miami Beach… I meet Evelyn at Flamingo in the late 70’s & instantly we became friends, they were very few women attending Flamingo – there was another woman I meet there Maria DeSimone who became my long time friend. We live on with our memories & what memories.
Flamingo defined my transition from a closeted gay man to an out and proud dancing queen. It came at a time in Gay NY history that will never be repeated. To be a member, welcomed up that nondescript staircase, was to enter the center of the universe. No more hiding. No more mafia bouncers. They came from everywhere to share what we had become. I will forever cherish my Flamingo memories and all those gorgeous, hot men who passed through my life for that brief moment when we owned the world. I wouldn’t be the man I am today, over 40 years later, if not for Michael and what we created in Flamingo.
We were members of Flamingo and 12 West…I preferred 12West…my high school friend was a DJ at Flamingo and Sandpiper..We spent summers at Cherry Grove…Spent much time at The Garage…finally got tired of all clubs..bought a house in FL and moved..
Who was your dj friend?
I decided to google Flamingo, in the hopes there would be any remembrance of, “in my opinion” the best, most exciting discotheque of all times. Those days in NYC were easily the best times of my life. The 70s’were like non other past, present or future. Like the article says, it was the most exclusive discotheque in the world. This article pretty much says it all. I hope that are others who may want to compare note or maybe even remember me by name. Please send me and email: email@example.com
My Saturday night club of choice when I was an18 yr.old debutante to the NYC underground disco scene in1976 was being surrounded by a predominately black crowd demanding R&B disco music from the genius of a young seriously drug induced DJ NickySiano at ‘the Gallery’ on Houston/Mercer Street. The Gallery rocked the small-scale club midnight Saturday to noon on Sunday. Another exclusive club was also open only Saturday nights in the same building as the Gallery, only one floor above with an entrance on Broadway/Houston. It was predominately a white gay crowd, offering the members disco music of another genre than the Gallery. Flamingo played music categorized as High-Energy Disco. No Soul. But the club members&DJs of Flamingo would rock the building that was back-to-back to the Gallery the same hours every Saturday night. It was like an episode of ‘Twilight Zone’ to discover that two adverse universes were in synch with their hours of operation. I was a hick male hustler favored by the staff of the Gallery where if I walked in freely to get lost in the dark crowded dance-floor where I learned to let go of choreography I used in HighSchool to win Prom King and on the stages of the GaietyBurlesqueTheater to dance for money. I learned to dance-free style, embracing a spirituality later known as ‘Body&Soul’. I was the token young entitled accessory keeping company with the door-staff of the member’s only’Gallery’.After the entrance closed@ 6:00am,Winston & Joel,the doormen of the Gallery, would take me around the block where we were comped entry to ‘Flamingo’ as the doormen of that club would reverse our tracks to visit the ‘Gallery’. It was a mind-f**k to be adjacent to the same drugged induced disco insanity of Flamingo, only of a different persuasion. Flamingo was a men’s private membership club open only 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 eponymy of high-energy music was Take Off’s “Satisfaction Guaranteed”:
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
A destination is all I need
The tempo was too fast for my taste.I found the slower R&B at the Gallery easier to move to,like making love with a BarryWhite album in the background. Flamingo fan dancers mesmerized me with their ability to keep aloft giant squares of nylon spun in the air like kites. Every man was shirtless, in shape,wearing jeans, drenched in sweat, and apparently 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 tempo-friendly neighbors in the Gallery. Most patrons of either club probably never knew or cared that a parallel disco universe existed: Flamingo & the Gallery. Everyone sought and got the pleasure they wanted in the smorgasbord of NYC nightlife. There was always some venue for every walk of life. http://www.christopherduquette.com
I was a young 18 year old woman and often went to Flamingo with a gay male friend 1978 – 1980.
Perhaps an exception was made for a few members because i did see other women from time to time. Not many. Or maybe it was “men only” for the “Black” parties. Flamingo occasionally threw Black and White parties and i know Black was off limits to girls. According to my friend it was essentially a sex party so no chicks allowed.
I remember the fruit juice bar was to the left of the dance floor. No alcohol was served because everyone was high on poppers, MDM, coke, etc.
The music and sound were fantastic! Better than any other club in NY by far. It was amazing. The dj’s played music i never heard anywhere else.
Everyone was beautiful as was New York at that time. Soho was a fabulous deserted lofts district that was somewhat affordable and occupied by a truly diverse crowd. No Chanels. No Balthazars. Very much like the streets of the meat packing district before it too was Disney-fied.
I recall the same friend took me to a club on the West Side Highway. He introduced me to several acquaintances and a few weeks later told me about how the girl i met jumped off the roof to her death. Crazy times or perhaps crazy drugs. It was near Gulf Coast which of course came later.
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 tempo-friendly neighbors in the Gallery. Most patrons of either club probably never knew or cared that a parallel disco universe existed; Flamingo & theGallery operated 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. http://www.christopherduquette.com
Late junction/experimental/and a kid at heart
Please check out my Pretty Mad Disco playlist on SoundCloud under my name. I created an illusion about being in this gay nightclub from the 1970s New York called Flamingo
From Andrew Varnavas
60s Experimental and Blues fan
I am happy to hear someone mention Flamingo. I have spoken to so many guys who never heard of the club. We have been to all the other clubs you have mentioned, but once we went to Flamingo, us was the best. Just a great place and club with soo many beautiful guys. Loved band so proud to be a member. Great to hear someone who knows and mentioned the club. Still have an invite from 1978 Need Years Party. Man I would love to be at a reunion. Such great looking people, great parties and great memories.
I remember vividly before going to any of those above discos – “ The 10 Floor “ – was the place where a small group of Fire Island / Cherry Groove / guys used to take a bus – perhaps called- Islander – after the disco would close & continue the party on the bus – to Fire Island.
I even remember meeting Ed Sullivan at the “ Sanctuary “ disco – church turned into disco…
I think that’s in 1969… omg!