Tag Archives: Studio 54

Gay History - April 26, 1977: Studio 54 Opens in NYC

Gay History – April 26, 1977: Studio 54 Opens in NYC

On this day in 1977, crowds gathered outside 254 West 54th Street in New York City waiting and hoping for a chance to enter what would soon become the global epicenter of the disco craze and the most famous nightclub in the world: Studio 54,.

The masterminds behind Studio 54 were Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, college roommates at Syracuse University who got into the nightclub business after their first venture, a chain of steak restaurants, failed to flourish. But before taking Manhattan by storm and becoming famous for openly and shamelessly excluding all but the most chic, famous or beautiful patrons from their establishment.

Rubell and Schrager sunk about $400,000 to renovate the old CBS studio which was a giant risk.

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A relatively unknown woman who deserves the lion’s share of the credit for making 54 into the celebrity playground that it became was Carmen D’Alessio, a public-relations entrepreneur in the fashion industry, whose Rolodex included names like Bianca Jagger, Liza Minnelli, Andy Warhol and Truman Capote. Her buzz-building turned the grand opening into a major item in the New York gossip columns, and her later efforts—like having Bianca Jagger ride a white horse into the club for her 30th birthday party—stoked the public’s fascination with Studio 54 even further. Not just the usual celebrity suspects—actors, models, musicians and athletes—but also political figures like Margaret Trudeau, and even Jackie Onassis.

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We’ll never know the amount of cocaine that went up nostrils at Studio 54 – suffice it to say, the tons of glitter dumped from the ceiling helped conceal the thin layer of wall-to-wall powder.  While blue-collar Americans stood in line to never make it past the velvet rope, the popular people snorted and cavorted under big sparkly disco balls.  

via GIPHY

Ian Schrager, took more of a behind-the-scenes role, but Steve Rubell basked in the glory of his newfound celebrity status.  Rubell was often spotted in gay NYC clubs, and was infamous for pressuring his own bartenders and busboys to sleep with him to stay employed and get ahead, but still, for some reason, remained in the closet.  Soon, this double lifestyle and intense drug use took its toll.

Rubell could be a real dick to his employees.  Attribute it to his drug use and insane lifestyle if you wish, but whatever the case, it created some disgruntled employees…. one in particular would cause the whole thing to come crashing down.

A male waiter went to the IRS and told them about Rubell and Schrager’s shady bookkeeping practices.  Apparently, they had been keeping vast sums of cash in Hefty garbage bags and stowing them in the ceiling.  Turns out, Rubell and Schrager had only paid $8,000 in taxes since they opened, while were making more than $75,000 per night.

Rubell hired close friend and the infamous and vilest closet case lawyer Roy Cohn to represent him and also bargained with the IRS, saying he would reveal a big secret if they’d be lenient.

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The secret? Rubell claimed that President Carter’s Chief of Staff, Hamilton Jordan, had snorted cocaine in the Studio 54 basement.  The allegations couldn’t be substantiated, but they made life miserable for Jordan.  They brought scandal to the White House and had the FBI knocking on Jordan’s door.

In the end, Rubell and Schrager pled guilty and were sentenced to three years in prison.

Studio 54 was over.  Liza Minnelli sung “New York, New York” at the farewell party and the doors were closed.  It reopened in the 1980s under new management, but it just wasn’t the same.  Disco was dead.

After serving their sentences, Rubell and Schrager amazingly rebounded and became “respectable” hotel operators – making more money than ever.

Steve Rubell died of AIDS in 1989, but Ian Schrager has kept the hotel business thriving to this day.

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

Flamingo

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  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 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!

Flamingo Membership cars

Gay History - February 22: Edna St. Vincent Millay, Andy Warhol Dies, and Roy Cohn's Birthday at Studio 54

Gay History – February 22: Edna St. Vincent Millay, Andy Warhol Dies, and Roy Cohn’s Birthday at Studio 54

February 22nd.

1892: Popular openly bisexual poet Edna St. Vincent Millay is born. Milay received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923, the third woman to win the award for poetry, and was also known for her feminist activism. She used the pseudonym Nancy Boyd for her prose work.

Millay’s 1920 collection A Few Figs From Thistles drew controversy for its exploration of female sexuality and feminism. In 1919, she wrote the anti-war play Aria da Capo, which starred her sister Norma Millay at the Provincetown Playhouse in New York City. -Weaver”; she was the third woman to win a Pulitzer.

What wasn’t widely publicized is that Milay also identified herself as bisexual, having many affairs with both women and men before her marriage.

During her years at Vassar, she was said to have begun her exploration into relationships with women, some of which were deeply passionate. This included English actress Edith Wynne Matthison, who was twice her age.

They wrote to each other. In one of the letters, Millay wrote: “You wrote me a beautiful letter. I wonder if you meant it to be as beautiful as it was. I think you did; for somehow I know that your feeling for me, however slight it is, is the nature of love.”

“When you tell me to come, I will come, by the next train, just as I am. This is now meekness, be assured; I do not come naturally by meekness know that it is a proud surrender to You,” she added.

When she got married in 1923, Millay and Eugen Boissevain, her husband, had an agreement that their marriage would be sexually “open.”

Millay once claimed her husband allowed her personal freedom, and that they lived like two bachelors.

Learn more about Edna St. Vincent Millay HERE

1979: Studio 54 throws a gala fifty-second birthday party for the despicable closeted gay attorney and former McCarthyite Roy Cohn. The event draws several hundreds of the city’s luminaries – including Donald Trump, Barbara Walters, members of both Democratic and Republican parties and most of the city’s elected officials.

If you’re indicted, you’re invited!’ comedian Joey Adams joked. ‘Cohn invited 150 guests. Three thousand to four thousand showed up,’ said Steve Rubell, owner of Studio 54 and a principal client of Roy Cohn’s.(Cohn defended Rubell after the raids at Studio 54) His exclusive guest list included all his influential clients and the powerful people that had open accounts in his ‘favor bank.’ 

The evening unraveled like most debauched nights under the legendary disco ball. Rubell commissioned a custom birthday cake that bore the image of Roy crowned with a halo.

7 years later Roy Cohn would be dead of AIDS denying he was gay to his very last breath.

Learn more about the most hated and feared closeted gay man in America Roy Cohn by clicking HERE

1987: Andy Warhol dies at the age of 58.

Lesbian anarchist and man-hater Valerie Solanas entered Andy Warhol’s sixth-floor office at 33 Union Square West on June 3, 1968, carrying two guns and a massive, paranoid grudge, and shot Warhol. No one would have guessed it would kill him 19 years later.

Two bullets from Solanas’ gun tore through Warhol’s stomach, liver, spleen, esophagus and both lungs. He was briefly declared dead at one point, but doctors were able to revive him. He spent two months in the hospital recuperating from various surgeries, and would be forced to wear a surgical corset for the rest of his life to hold his organs in place.

The shooting had a major impact on Wahol’s life and work, even beyond the considerable physical scars it left. He became much more guarded, abandoning much of his filmmaking and more controversial art and focusing more on business, founding what became Interview magazine in 1969.

The shooting intensified Warhol’s fear and loathing of hospitals, though he embraced alternative health treatments like healing crystals. This reticence produced fatal results on February 21, 1987, when Warhol died of cardiac arrest suffered after gallbladder surgery, a procedure that he had delayed for several years due to his fear of hospitals. 

Learn more about the shooting of Andy Warhol by Valerie Solanas by clicking HERE